New Zealand drew the MCG’s biggest non-Ashes Boxing Day crowd in cricket’s professional era as its chief executive David White suggested the Black Caps would happily be more regular guests for the showpiece day of the Australian Test match calendar after a 32-year wait for this opportunity.
Australia last hosted New Zealand for a Test match on Boxing Day in December 1987, and despite that match’s healthy attendance of 51,087 on day one and 126,184 for five days, the trans-Tasman neighbours had been relegated to early season Test series’ for the intervening years as Cricket Australia chased fixtures against countries that offered more lucrative overseas broadcasting deals.
However, the roll up of 80,473 to the MCG was the most sizeable Boxing Day attendance outside of England visits since 85,661 turned up to see Greg Chappell’s team face the West Indies in 1975 – two years before the World Series Cricket split. It made a compelling visual and financial case for New Zealand to be invited to play Test matches during the holiday season more often.
“It’s an event that’s always been held in high regard by both Australians and New Zealanders, and I know a lot of Kiwis have been looking forward to being at the MCG today,’ White said. “The NZC and CA boards have an excellent relationship with a lot of bilateral exchanges in recent years and we’re confident that will continue into the future.”
The MCG crowd was not only large but also lively, with the vast New Zealand presence bringing plenty of extra noise and life to the occasion, from the playing of the national anthems and the roar when Trent Boult bowled Joe Burns in the day’s opening over, to the chorus of boos that greeted the exit of David Warner and the entry of Steven Smith late in the morning session.
At the same time, the spectators were treated to an absorbing contest between bat and ball on an MCG surface that offered significantly more bounce and marginally more seam movement than those prepared for the past two years.
According to CricViz, the amount of seam movement on offer over the first two sessions of day one stood at 0.58 degrees, compared to 0.52 degrees for the same sessions of Australia’ Test match against India in 2018 and 0.47 degrees against England in 2017. Overcast and somewhat muggy conditions also aided the New Zealand bowlers in their pursuit of bend through the air, fetching 1.7 degrees of swing in the first 30 overs versus 0.9 degrees of swing for the corresponding period of the India Test.
Whether this was enough movement to ensure a result remained up in the air by the close of day one, as the Australian top order fought their way into a decent position through the efforts of Smith, Marnus Labuschagne, David Warner and Matthew Wade. Even so, there was still useful movement on offer for the likes of Colin de Grandhomme with the old ball late in the day.
Stuart Fox, the MCC chief executive, has stated bluntly that the pitch needed to reap early wickets because it was unlikely to deteriorate. “Ours haven’t shown that [deterioration], so that’s why we’re trying to liven up things at the earlier stages of the game – the lateral seam movement is quite important,” Fox said recently. “Age has been a bit of a factor with the pitches. As we move forward the next three years we’ll have new pitches here that hopefully there might be a new brand of cricket for the MCG.”
Warner, who had started his innings fluently, was noticeably discomforted towards the end of his innings when he was struck on the chest by a prancing delivery from Boult, and he did not look comfortable again before edging a full delivery from Neil Wagner into the slips cordon six balls later.