Australia and India’s Boxing Day blockbuster ruined by dead MCG pitch
Mitch Marsh and the MCG pitch were both subjects of the Melbourne crowd’s ire. (AAP: Julian Smith)
Boxing Day is supposed to be slow.
It’s the one day of the year where it becomes socially acceptable to do as little as humanly possibly thanks to an unspoken, nationwide agreement that yesterday was kinda insane, right?
It’s a bits and pieces day, picking off and combining a random assortment of leftover foods, sleeping whenever the mood strikes and maybe breaking out whatever new toys have been acquired.
These are the ingredients for a perfect day of summertime laziness. But they are most definitely not ingredients for a perfect day of Test cricket.
If a rollicking Perth Test was like Christmas for cricket fans, then the start of this MCG match has been Boxing Day in every sense of the term.
It was a sleepy, sluggish, hungover opening day in Melbourne on a pitch that showed no interest in getting out of bed. It turns out the groundsman really did protest too much, with promises of a pitch more akin to last week’s Perth Stadium firecracker than last year’s comatose MCG effort turning out to be fibs.
Tim Paine lost the toss, but had he won it and bowled there would have been hell to pay. (AAP: Julian Smith)
Astonishingly, Tim Paine suggested at the toss that he had contemplated bowling first anyway had the coin fallen in his favour.
You shudder to think what the headlines would be this evening had that call have been made, as it became clear after three deliveries that this deck was as dead as they come — it probably would have only taken the first ball had Mitchell Starc managed to land it on the turf.
On this deck, and with the Kookaburra not swinging in clear overhead conditions, batsmen were in from ball one. Slip fielders disappeared after a few overs, Paine moved ever closer to the stumps to better cope with the many balls skimming through to him on the half-volley, and Nathan Lyon was introduced out of desperation before the 10-over mark.
Combine that with some excessively watchful batting and a crawling run rate, and you had yourself a pretty rank post-Christmas trifle.
It’s too early to say this pitch is as poor as last year’s, as there are still four days to play and most of the problem 12 months ago was that the pitch did not deteriorate a single smidgen for the duration. But should it reach those depths again, the possibility of ICC sanction is not out of the equation.
The only people laughing during the first two sessions were West Australians, whose admittedly weak claim to snaring the Boxing Day Test at the snazzy new stadium was met with immediate dismissal and derision from Victoria.
The question now seems somewhat less absurd.
Those same West Aussies would also have had their irony senses tingling when Mitch Marsh was repeatedly booed before commencing bowling spells.
WA footy fans are regularly criticised when their parochialism turns into booing, but they generally don’t use it to lay in to players from their own team.
Chances were few and far between on the day, and a couple flew just out of reach. (AAP: Julian Smith)
In some ways, we should be thankful for Marsh’s unfavourable welcome and Cameron Bancroft’s multi-layered television interview because if not for those two sideshows, there would have been precious little cricket-related to discuss around the barbeque today.
The highlights came from Mayank Agarwal, India’s aforementioned new toy, who looked more than suited to opening the batting at Test level, and Pat Cummins, whose ability to bounce out two wickets on a day and pitch like this is bordering on superhuman.
Cheteshwar Pujara and Virat Kohli did what they do after tea, but even that seemed unspectacular — and that, in a nutshell, is why pitches like this are so disappointing.
Pujara’s century in Adelaide and Kohli’s in Perth both came during periods of duress for the team and in difficult conditions. They required great skill, patience and tenacity, and were widely appreciated as a result.
But on a deck like this? Pujara can get to 50 without you realising he’s there. Kohli’s silky strokes still catch the eye, but there’s no element of danger, no sense that the batsman is overcoming any great challenge in order to succeed.
So all we can do is hope that the forecast hot weather bakes that long stretch of dirt and grass and turns it into something more watchable.
One day of sitting on the couch and letting the crumbs pool on your stomach is bearable. Any more than that and you probably need to have a good hard look at yourself.