MCG - Boxing Day Test Delay
By John Richards, Operations Director, Pitchcare.
Having been in Melbourne, and actually watching the start of the Test match against South Africa on television, I feel I am in a position to give a considered opinion on the circumstances which led to the half hour delay on the first day.
The Boxing Day Test match at the MCG is a major institution in the Australian sporting calendar. This year, in addition, there were three highly significant factors that put the arena, and the performances of everyone involved, under greater scrutiny.
After 3 years of development work, at a cost of nearly £200m, this was the first major event in the completed arena. Secondly, it was the first time a day of a Melbourne test match was being shown live on television. Thirdly, the crowd of nearly 72,000 was the biggest cricket attendance in Australia for five years.
The day's play was due to start at 10.30am, a half hour earlier than normal, and the TV coverage began at 10.00am. The discussion point right away was the delay, apparently caused by the pitch being damp. The cameras showed the length of the wicket and there were some areas which were darker than others.
The Curator at the MCG, Tony Ware, had watered the wicket on Christmas Day because of the forecast high temperatures. In the opinion of the two umpires the wicket needed more time to dry out and they ordered the delay.
Tony was then interviewed and he stated that the wicket was playable and that the umpires were unfamiliar with local conditions, and therefore overly cautious. "English wickets would play badly with that much moisture, but all it does with our wickets is make them play a little slower," said Tony.
There was support for this view from former Australian captain, Mark Taylor, who said on TV that a local umpire would not have delayed the match.
Ricky Ponting, the Australian captain, was obviously that concerned about the wicket that, when he won the toss, he chose to bat and promptly hit an impressive hundred!
There is no doubt that the delay caused some embarrassment to the Australian cricketing authorities, particularly because of the circumstances mentioned above, but the fact is the wicket played superbly over the whole five days. It produced over 1100 runs and a win for Australia on the final day.
In the end it comes down to a matter of opinion between, on the one hand, two non-Australian umpires and, on the other, an experienced MCG curator. In the cricketing world, however, the opinion of the umpires is the one that matters.
Whether that is right or wrong is not for me to judge, but if I were asked to give my own view on the situation the phrase mountain and molehill comes to mind.
NB - a quote by Tony Ware, two years ago, in the lead up to the Boxing Day Test against India. "I like good cricket," he said, "It's no fun if sides get bowled out for 100 on the first morning. India shouldn't worry too much, they will be okay here."
"The MCG is probably the fastest pitch in Australia today. I usually leave a little moisture in the pitch, so it will not be at its quickest on the first day. It will quicken up towards the end of day one and perhaps will be at its quickest on day two."