The MCG roars back to life

Boxing Day Test Match in Melbourne
Boxing Day Test Match in Melbourne

The Melbourne Cricket Ground (MCG) has roared back to life, with the sacred venue providing so much joy again to the Australian public this week. The MCG is sacrosanct to Australian sporting culture, but the venue has been deprived of competitive cricket, or any crowds at all, due to the pandemic.

Australia secured the urn through an emphatic victory by an innings and 14 runs over England in the third Test. Pat Cummins' men retained the Ashes in just 11 days of Test cricket.

MCG curator Matt Page previously owned a horticultural marvel, where no one could get anyone out, and equally no one could score. But the MCG's typical status as a graveyard, or a "batting road" due to its nature as a drop-in wicket, was challenged this year.

This year's MCG pitch was different, with a recreated center housing 11mm of grass, sparking Cummins' call to bowl first.

The MCG covers were dragged off the center wicket on Sunday, all set for another Boxing Day Test. But the players were greeted this time with an old-fashioned green seamer made in preparedness for a better Ashes contest between bat and ball.

Rather than the golden glow of Australian decks, a thick layer of grass could be seen, coupled with a light sprinkle of rain and overcast conditions on Day 1. It created a compelling contest, and brought the bowlers back into the frame - albeit the match was over in just under two days and one session.

It was evident to see with Cummins taking three early wickets on the morning of Day 1, after Australia made a shock selection to play Scott Boland. Boland has averaged 13.22 at the MCG in first-class cricket since 2018.

On Day 2, James Anderson put on a masterclass of fast bowling. He wrestled back the momentum for England, where he picked up 4/33 from 23 overs. It was dubbed his 'best ever bowling spell in Australia' as he registered an economy rate of just 1.43.

On Day 2 and Day 3, England's batting lineup was blown away, with Mitchell Starc ripping through the top order before Scott Boland's incredible debut figures of 6/7.

The course of the match bucked recent MCG trends, which have called forth batting dominance, but through dead pitches, rather than classy batting. Commonplace was a slurry of mistimed shots and the chief mode of dismissal seemed to be deliveries chopped onto the stumps.

The last Ashes Test played in 2017/18 petered out to an unconsolably boring end, as the two sides shook hands for a draw late on Day 5 - with the third innings barely underway. Alastair Cook scored 244 in that match, the MCG's highest ever score, as England racked up a score of 491.

In 2018, India made a first innings total of 443, before Australia did the same by scoring 467 in 2019. Across those three Test matches, six centuries were scored.

The 2020 MCG Test match was a marked improvement, with a slightly greener surface creating a better contest between Australia and India last season. Both India and Australia's pace attacks extracted value from the surface, while 11 wickets were taken by spinners.

India ended up winning the match off the back of an incredible century from stand-in captain Ajinkya Rahane - the only century of the match. The wicket was true enough to score such a series-defining hundred, but it was earned through a spectacular innings, not gifted by a dead wicket.

MCG crowd returns to fever pitch

Melbourne has borne the brunt of the harshest and most dire Covid-19 situation in all of Australia. The MCG has been robbed of the AFL Grand Final for two years in a row.

In March-May 2021, the MCG experienced a brief run of large crowds at the football, before spectators were once again banned from sporting events in Victoria.

AFL Rd 6 - Collingwood v Essendon
AFL Rd 6 - Collingwood v Essendon

In 2020, no crowds entered the MCG until the Boxing Day Test match against India, but it was still capped at 30,000 spectators per day.

It's a colossal stadium that can house up to 100,000 spectators, with even a half-filled stadium dwarfing most crowds around the world. Up to 57,000 people packed into the MCG on Day 1 (Boxing Day).

That was followed by 42,000 people on Day 2, who were roaring as Scott Boland took two late wickets in front of his home Victorian crowd.

41,000 people even turned up for Day 3, which barely lasted 90 minutes, as Australia's bowlers regained the urn at the MCG.

With South Africa and the West Indies touring Australia in the 2022/23 season, it is yet to be confirmed which nation will play at the MCG.

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Edited by Rohit Mishra
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