Peter Roach, head of cricket operations and scheduling at Cricket Australia (CA), stated that there have been no instructions from the governing body to the curator at the Melbourne Cricket Ground (MCG) over the nature of the pitch for the Boxing Day Test, especially after the two-day game between Australia and South Africa at The Gabba in Brisbane.
After 34 wickets fell in six sessions as Australia won by six wickets on an overly seaming pitch at the Gabba, match referee Richie Richardson gave a rating of ‘below average’ to the pitch and gave a demerit point to the venue, something which has been accepted by CA.
“We encourage all our matches to look at how we make the right balance over it going deep into the fourth day. We say that not being disappointed when a match goes into the fifth day; late on the fourth day gives a chance for the game to go a bit further,” said Roach to reporters at the MCG, near the Dennis Lillee Statue.
The fallout over the pitch at the Gabba means the spotlight is firmly on the MCG to dish out an even contest between Australia and South Africa, starting from Boxing Day. Last year’s Boxing Day Test at a drop-in pitch of the MCG was over within three days, as Australia thrashed England in a one-sided Ashes contest to retain the urn.
“One of the beauties of Australia is that we don’t employ curators. The venue, or the states, employ curators, in some respects. We give guidance and discuss how we think Test cricket needs to look.”
One of the beauties of Test cricket in Australia and why it thrives is because we have these unique characteristics from one side of the country to the other, and we want to see them come out. We don’t want them to be the same from Perth to Sydney, to Hobart – we want to see those characteristics. We are not one to express what they need to be – they know their conditions far better than what we do,” added Roach.
Roach revealed he was yet to have a deep conversation with MCG pitch curator Matt Page, ahead of the Test match, considered as one of the most highly-anticipated events in the Australian sporting calendar.
“I think we can be assured, (with) Test cricket on Boxing Day, there is always pressure for the curator. Test cricket, in any weather, is always pressure for the curator. I haven’t spoken to Matt – we will. But … he knows where he needs to land it on Boxing Day. Given the weather, given the conditions, he will try to get that as right as he can.”
“I think the MCG is trying to get to a point where they can provide a pitch with pace and bounce, acknowledging the deterioration of drop-ins here, has been a challenge. Whether that is the same as last year, he will tinker.”
“Conditions play a part. It is going to be a lot hotter, thank goodness, in Melbourne than what it has been in the last couple of months. That will play a part in how he prepares the pitch.”
The head of cricket operations and scheduling at Cricket Australia expressed confidence over Page and his team of ground staff at the MCG producing the best-possible pitch for the match.
“We don’t expect what happened at the Gabba to influence what’s going to happen at the MCG. We expect all curators to again find that balance between bat and ball, given the unique characteristics of the venue that they’re at,” Roach said.
“The MCG is a different venue to the Gabba they’ve got now. The current curator has now been here five years and has tinkered a little bit every year to try and make that as perfect as he can and we hope that comes out on Boxing Day,” he concluded.