The feeling of being let down despite having no expectations can be cruel and can break a person. And the MCG, over the course of the last decade, has broken many a person. In this Truthful Tuesday, we look at why the Boxing Day Test needs to move out of MCG for the better of the sport.
In a time where people across the world are putting extra locks to their doors and are scared to interact face-to-face with people in their own house, the Aussies just hosted an AFL Derby between West Coast Eagles and Fremantle Dockers in front of 25,000 people. I kid you not. There were TWENTY FIVE THOUSAND PEOPLE who watched an Australian Football game live inside the stadium in 2020. It is almost as if the country exists on a completely different planet altogether. This is absolutely GREAT news, yes, but there is also a downside to all this - ummm, Cricket Australia (CA) are now pretty confident that they will somehow get to host the prestigious Boxing Day Test at the Melbourne Cricket Ground (MCG) despite the state of Victoria being the worst COVID-19 affected region in the entire country.
Practically, the chances of the Boxing Day Test - which some four and a half months away - happening at the MCG, despite CA’s optimism, are feeble: Victoria currently has more COVID-19 cases than every other state in Australia combined and Melbourne is in a stage 4 lockdown due to the entire city being a walking coronavirus hotspot. By the time December beckons, even in the assumption that the coronavirus situation eases out in Victoria, other states such as Western Australia and South Australia would be better equipped and much safer to host matches with substantial crowds. However, Cricket Australia’s affinity towards tradition could see them take the extreme and stupid measure of letting the MCG host the Test - and boy do I not dread such a scenario coming to fruition.
Of course, I fear for the general safety of the fans and the players - if the match has an audience in the first place, that is - but that is not really what I’m ‘dreading’. What’s giving me nightmares is the fact that the players and the fans will have to endure the pain of playing/watching a Boxing Day Test at the MCG. Oh yes, if there’s one venue in the entire world that I’ve grown to hate, it’s the MCG. These are words that, as a kid, I never thought I would utter, but here we are.
What’s wrong about the MCG that has made me vehemently dislike it - to the extent that I’m desperately hoping for an age-old tradition to get broken? I don’t know, what’s NOT wrong about the MCG other than the fact that it can hold up to 100,000 people in the stadium? Year after year I have - like a million other fans - curiously tuned in to Boxing Day Test matches at the MCG in the hope of getting a good contest, or at least a half-decent cricketing wicket, only to be left terribly disappointed by the appalling nature of the pitches.
Boxing Day 2018 was when it peaked - despite the horror show that was on display the year before against England, a game in which the ICC rated the pitch ‘poor’, I gave the MCG the benefit of doubt that it’ll dish out a ‘sporting’ wicket, only to watch Mitchell Starc’s delivery in the VERY FIRST OVER die on its way to the wicket-keeper. That was the breaking point that made me - and I’m pretty sure a lot of angry and disappointed fans like me - give up. The 2018 Boxing Day game scarred me so much that I was celebrating a Sheffield Shield game between Victoria and Western Australia at the MCG getting called off a few weeks prior to Boxing Day 2019; I got my hopes up, for a brief while, that the abandonment would result in the Australia-New Zealand Boxing Day Test getting rescheduled to a different venue but well, that wasn’t to be.
So, this time around, you can understand where I’m coming from. The pandemic might be a curse, but the Boxing Day Test getting moved from the MCG would be a blessing in disguise. Think about it: do we really want two quality sides like India and Australia - both of whom are the absolute top of their game - slug it out for five days on a wicket that is lifeless and incapable of delivering a good cricket match? Would it not be so good if we could instead get these two fine sides to battle it out on a pitch that’s worthy of being called a cricketing wicket.
The last time these two sides met at the MCG - I’m going to render the 2018 clash null because that was just a grade cricket side pretending to be Australia - the two teams combinedly scored 995 runs in the first innings and (spoilers) the game ended in a draw. God forbid should the match take place at ‘The G’ once again this year, expect no different result. There has not been a close, competitive or half-decent game at the MCG since 2012 and that, incidentally, was an Ashes encounter. All that the MCG has dished out to the fans ever since, for a good part of the previous decade has been mediocre contests - most of the times one-sided, too, due to the imbalance in the strength of the teams - aided by disgraceful, dead and lifeless wickets which offer no swing, seam, turn or bounce. The absolute worst part about the ground is that despite it being a graveyard for the bowlers, the sluggishness of the wicket somehow makes even batting look unattractive.
It pains me that India and Australia will not lock horns at the Optus Stadium this time around. Their clash at the newly-built stadium in 2018 was such a spectacle and it’s truly a farce that the fixture was sacrificed just to not break the chain of tradition, which is hosting the Boxing Day Test at the MCG. Sure there is no harm in holding tight to a tradition that has existed for over four decades, but what good does it do to the sport if it is, time and again, making a mockery out of the game - and not enhancing it? Does it not defeat the very purpose?
The Footballing equivalent of this would be the FA Cup final being played at Wembley year after year with the condition of the pitch resembling the Stadium of Light. Sounds gross? Well, that’s the Boxing Day Test at the MCG since 2013. That said, perhaps there is still hope; hope that Cricket Australia might yet hand the Boxing Day clash to Western Australia - or any other state association other than Victoria - due to the rather unsafe state of the city of Melbourne at the moment.
It’s time to break the chain. These are unprecedented times, so if the Premier League and Champions League can be played in empty stadiums, if Wrestlemania can be hosted at the Performance Center and if the Wimbledon can be cancelled for the first time since WW2, there is no reason why the Boxing Day Test should not be moved out of the MCG, especially when there is little but no chance of the stadium hosting over 70,000 people like it always does. Cricket will be the beneficiary of such a move and, hopefully, it will serve as a lesson, a kick in the backside for Victoria to make MCG wickets ‘desirable’ once again.
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