Why Gabba debacle won’t be repeated on Boxing Day

All eyes are on the MCG pitch this week after the first Test match between Australia and South Africa in Brisbane wrapped up in less than 32 hours.

The Gabba curators came under scrutiny after 34 wickets fell in six sessions of play during the series opener, with the heavy layer of grass and soft underbelly generating additional seam movement over the weekend.

Proteas captain Dean Elgar asked umpires during the evening session of day two whether the pitch was unsafe, but Australian skipper Pat Cummins hinted that there may have been a desperate ploy to avoid defeat.

“No way, no it was fine,” Cummins assured reporters in the post-match press conference.

“When you’re going to lose the match, you’re going to try anything, aren’t you?”

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Attention shifts quickly to the Boxing Day Test, which has been subject to plenty of pitch controversy over the past five years.

The forgettable 2017 Ashes Test ended as a draw after the drop-in wicket proved a batting paradise, with only 24 wickets falling over five days and England opener Alastair Cook compiling an unbeaten 244.

The pitch, which drew heavy criticism from teams, commentators and administrators, was subsequently awarded a “poor rating” by match referee Ranjan Madugalle.

MCG curator Matt Page potentially overcompensated last summer when the Boxing Day Test wrapped up on the morning session of day three after Scott Boland cemented his name in Ashes folklore by taking 6/7 in the second innings.

England was ultimately rolled for 68, with the marquee event wrapping up in less than 181 overs.

Australian batsman Steve Smith described last season’s MCG pitch as “seaming as far as I’ve seen in my career on any wicket”, with match referee David Boon rating the drop-in wicket as “average”.

MCG curator Matt Page.  Photo by Darrian Traynor/Getty Images
MCG curator Matt Page. Photo by Darrian Traynor/Getty ImagesSource: Getty Images

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Following the recent Gabba debacle, Page will be under pressure not to produce another spicy pitch that unfairly favors bowlers, so cricket fans should expect the MCG to have less grass covering next week.

“If you look back at last year, they would say that the balance was probably just in favor of the bowler and they would look at that and say if we want to err one way this year, it’s probably a little bit back towards the batter ,” Peter Roach, Cricket Australia’s head of cricket operations and scheduling, told The Age last month.

“It’s certainly not a directive to say we went too far, we still want that contest between bat and ball, but it’s trying to adapt to how the game is being played today, which I believe is different to how it was played three or four years ago.”

Meanwhile, Melbourne’s warm weather should assist curators in lessening the amount of moisture and seam movement ahead of Boxing Day.

“Preparations are going well at the MCG ahead of the Boxing Day Test. The weather is looking good for the next week, which will continue to aid our preparations,” MCC chief executive Stuart Fox said.

“As always, we are aiming to prepare a pitch that provides a good balance between bat and ball.”

South Africa’s unproven batting attack could also tempt MCG curators to create a slightly more batter-friendly deck, which would also help ticket sales.

The second Test between Australia and South Africa gets underway at the MCG on Boxing Day, with the first ball scheduled for 10.30am AEDT.

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