Ben Roberts, who writes at World Cricket Watch and Balanced Sports, inspects the MCG and ponders what it might have in store for us this boxing day and beyond.
With the series now square it is fait accompli that the Australian and English cricketers will be met by an 80,000 strong MCG crowd. The enormity of the occasion will hopefully be matched by a stirring contest. The MCG pitch however is unlikely to become too excited about the occasion.
Players from both sides may be in shock shifting from the fast, green and bouncy WACA pitch to the MCG that two weeks ago appeared lifeless and dull. Between the England XI and Victoria, no amount of generous declarations, or charitable bowling from Andrew Strauss could manufacture a result. The MCG wicket gives very little easily to either batsmen or bowler, calling upon them to play cricket with great concentration.
The slower and more benign nature of the MCG pitch is a relatively new phenomenon due in no small part to the use of drop in pitches. With greater usage of the ground by Australian football it became difficult for the ground team to prepare reasonable pitches for the cricket season and thus they turned to drop in pitches, maintained off site during the winter months.
After the Second World War the MCG pitch was known for being full of life. In fact an MCG ‘sticky wicket’ was thought of as being a fate worse than a Gabba ‘sticky’ for a batsman. Centuries on this pitch in the decades post the war were highly regarded.
In 1990 Bruce Reid took 13 wickets against Graham Gooch’s English tourists. Reasons for this match being won and lost provide insight into playing on the MCG pitch. Reid bowled consistent line and length and waited for loose shots. The English batsmen, despite having led on the first innings, showed no concentration in the second innings and collapsed. Geoff Marsh and David Boon then mustered their powers of concentration, batting for 5 hours on the last day to score just 169 required for victory.
England more than likely will select Tim Bresnan over Steve Finn for the MCG test. James Anderson has performed well in all tests so far and Chris Tremlett was by far England’s best at Perth. Both have natural assets that, used consistently, should succeed at the MCG. Bresnan will provide extra brawn to the attack and energy when nothing is happening. As well, he provides lower order batting that was missing in Perth.
Both Mitchell Johnson and Ryan Harris will be assured of selection. In addition, it is assumed that on the MCG pitch a spinner will provide balance to the attack. No doubt Ben Hilfenhaus bowled very well in Perth without great reward; but since a selection must be made my opinion is that Peter Siddle is the better option for the MCG wicket.
Harris showed in his performance at Perth that he is a wise craftsman. He had great control of both swing and seam in dismissing the English batsmen. Should Hilfenhaus, also a craftsman, be selected Harris may be forced to bowl with more aggression than craft, limiting his effect. On a lifeless MCG pitch Australia will need aggression as well as swing and seam. With Harris and Johnson the in form bowlers, Siddle becomes a better option for a truly balanced attack.
Excluding Michael Hussey and Shane Watson, batsmen from both teams failed to display much concentration during all four innings at Perth. Ricky Ponting has succeeded on Boxing Day before, and he and other struggling batsmen, Michael Clarke, Paul Collingwood, and Phil Hughes should take note of the innings’ that Marsh and Boon played 20 years ago.
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