Kevin Roberts, the Cricket Australia chief executive, is counselling the MCC (Melbourne Cricket Club) against overreacting to the abandonment of the recent Sheffield Shield game between Victoria and Western Australia by preparing a safe, flat surface for the Boxing Day Test match next week.
Under pressure from both CA and the MCC to produce a more equitable surface from the same ageing pitches in concrete trays that have helped cause the MCG to be regarded as the most moribund surface in the country, the ground’s curator Matt Page prepared a Shield pitch that retained too much moisture, allowing divots to be created by the ball on day one that made the pitch increasingly erratic as it dried.
While the abandonment of the match was a source of considerable embarrassment to the MCC, Roberts said he was eager to ensure that the pitch for the Test match between Australia and New Zealand on December 26 – New Zealand’s first in Melbourne since 1987 – would have plenty of live grass on top to allow the bowlers to gain movement and pace off the surface.
“We’re really keen to ensure that the MCC doesn’t overreact to the situation in the last Shield game. The great news was that no players were injured in that situation. We learned a lot from it. And they’re not overreacting,” Roberts said in Melbourne. “And, Matt Page is a master of his craft and we’re really looking forward to him expressing that with his team… So we’re confident that there won’t be an overreaction, and that will see a better balance between bat and ball at the MCG.”
“The preparation of that specific pitch started around last weekend, and we can expect more grass on that wicket than we’ve seen over the last couple of Boxing Day Tests, and we’re really appreciative of the work that Matt Page the head curator is doing. Also the calmness of Stuart Fox, the CEO of the MCC in this situation, no one’s overreacting to the unfortunate situation a week or two ago.”
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Page is working with a square that has been somewhat renovated from the 2017 surface on which Alastair Cook laboured to 244 during the previous Ashes series on Australian soil, after the removal of the concrete slab under the wickets. However, they remain old pitches laid in enclosed concrete trays, distinct from the porous steel tray on pillars used at Adelaide Oval and Perth Stadium, both of which are now considered leading surfaces among Australian grounds.
Roberts said the broader trend for the season had been a positive one, before the pudding was slightly over-egged for the final Shield round before the start of the Big Bash League. “Other than that, the last Shield game, the condition of pitches at the MCG has been on a significant increase over the last period of time since Matt and the team took the concrete base out from under the pitches and replaced it with sand,” Roberts said.
“The feedback from the curators is that it feels different to roll, the feedback from players is that it feels different and even sounds different to play on. It sounds like proper turf wicket now rather than something that’s more like a concrete deck, so we’re really optimistic about Boxing Day.”
Speaking at a launch for a scheme under which the car manufacturer Toyota will provide funding for the provision of extra equipment for grass roots women’s competition, Roberts said that he had taken heed of calls by Australia’s Twenty20 captain Aaron Finch for the use of DRS in future editions of the Big Bash League, but ruled out its inclusion this season.
“We’ll review the BBL in the ordinary course at the end of the season. I was really happy to see the opening match last night and to watch that from home, the first tactical timeout as well,” Roberts said.
“I think Aaron makes a really good point, and also a really good question about DRS. We’re not going to be looking at that right now but, like all things cricket, as each season passes we review and we consider how we can improve and I think Aaron makes a fair point and one that we would consider going forward.”