The marquee match of Australia’s home summer schedule – the annual day Boxing Day Test in Melbourne – could be stripped from the MCG if there are repeats of this year’s sub-standard pitch that has been formally rated as ‘poor’ by the International Cricket Council.
In the wake of the drawn fourth Magellan Ashes Test that attracted criticism from both competing teams, commentators and administrators, the ICC acted upon a report from their Chief Referee Ranjan Madugalle (who officiated at the match) to deliver the verdict which is unprecedented for an international venue in Australia.
Had the Test finished two days later, the nation’s most famous cricket ground would have been slapped with three demerit points as part of a new ‘name and shame’ system from the ICC that came into effect on Monday.
From January 1, international grounds that produce inferior pitches will incur two demerit points if deemed ‘below average’ by the match referee, three points for pitches rated ‘poor’ and five points for those classified as ‘unfit’.
Furthermore, any venue that accumulates five demerit points over a rolling five-year period will be banned from hosting any international matches for 12 months while a ground that racks up 10 demerit points will have its right to stage Tests and limited-overs fixtures stripped for two years.
If such a ban were imposed on the MCG it would cover all international matches include the Boxing Day Test, an annual tradition for more than 20 years at a ground which hosted cricket’s historic first Test match in 1877.
And which holds the record for the highest single-day Test attendance of 91,112 set during the 2013-14 Ashes summer.
As it stands, Cricket Australia now has 14 days to respond to the ICC’s harsh critique of the lifeless MCG Test pitch before a sanction – which could range from a formal warning to a fine of up $US15,000, as well as a directive for action to address the pitch’s shortcomings – is announced.
It is expected, based on historic precedent, that given the ‘poor’ rating is the first for an Australia Test venue the MCG will be issued with a warning rather than a financial penalty.
Should the MCG produce another harshly rated pitch during the next five years, that fine could be increased to a maximum of $US30,000.
Cricket Australia Chief Executive Officer James Sutherland expressed disappointment with the character of the Boxing Day Test pitch and the assessment that it subsequently attracted, and added that CA would work closely with the ground’s administrators to avoid a repeat.
“We were disappointed that the traditional characteristics of the MCG Pitch did not come to the fore during the Boxing Day Test,” Sutherland said today.
The most recent Ashes fixture drew a five-day aggregate of 262,616 people, but the game ended in a draw when both captains agreed a result could not be achieved on a slow, flat pitch that showed no sign of changing in character or appearance throughout the entirety of the match.
It yielded just 24 wickets over the course of five days, but also produced slow scoring due to the lack of pace and carry it exhibited from day one.
“The bounce of the MCG pitch was medium, but slow in pace and got slower as the match progressed,” a statement issued by the ICC today.
“The nature of the pitch did not change over the five days and there was no natural deterioration. As such, the pitch did not allow an even contest between the bat and the ball as it neither favoured the batsmen too much nor it gave the bowlers sufficient opportunity to take wickets.”
The Melbourne Cricket Club, which is responsible for the preparation and maintenance of the ground’s playing surface and facilities, announced it will conduct a review into the preparation of future wickets and will canvass input from a wide range of sources.
“We are disappointed with the pitch that we produced for the Boxing Day Test,” the MCC said in a statement issued on Tuesday evening.
“We recognise that the surface did not contain the bounce, pace or subsequent deterioration that we expected, and was not conducive to a balanced contest between bat and ball.
Fox also pointed out earlier this week that the MCG has hosted only two drawn Tests since drop-in pitches were installed at the multi-use stadium almost 20 years ago (Australia against India in 2014-15, and the recent Ashes match).
But the four first-class matches staged at the venue so far this summer have all failed to yield a result as bowlers struggled to find any assistance from the surface, prompting calls for changes to the soil composition used in the pitches that are grown in concrete troughs before being laid in the wicket block.
In announcing the new ‘name and shame’ regime under which match referee ratings are published on the ICC’s website, the Council’s Chief Executive David Richardson explained it was based on the belief that there should be consequences for venues that produce inadequate or unsatisfactory pitch and/or outfield conditions.
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