Safety fears for the MCG as Sheffield Shield match abandoned

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Cricket Australia (CA) is expecting a “please explain” from the International Cricket Council (ICC) after the Sheffield Shield match between Victoria and Western Australia at the MCG was abandoned because of fears over player safety.

In accepting the blame, MCC chief executive Stuart Fox says an internal directive to “push the boundaries” and produce a more lively wicket led to an overcorrection and, ultimately, a dangerous surface.

WA batsmen Shaun Marsh and Marcus Stoinis both underwent concussion tests after being hit by Peter Siddle deliveries that rose sharply and unexpectedly.

Extra moisture left in the wicket had led to divots early on Saturday, which hardened under a baking sun and made the surface unplayable.

The match was abandoned on Sunday in another blow for the maligned MCG wicket, which has been criticised as being too docile in recent years and has received unfavourable ICC ratings.

Head curator Matt Page and his ground staff face pressure to get the mix right for Boxing Day when Australia and New Zealand will battle on a strip that hasn’t been used in the Shield this season.

“We don’t want to overcorrect and go backwards again and everyone be conservative,” Fox told reporters on Sunday.

“We’re very disappointed with what’s happened. It’s really unfortunate but player safety is paramount.”

CA’s head of cricket operations Peter Roach has made contact with New Zealand officials to reassure them that the MCG’s Test pitch will be of a high standard.

Roach expected questions from the ICC which he said “deserve an answer”.

This is a setback, none of us wanted it, we’re disappointed about it, but we are confident that the Boxing Day Test will have a really good wicket,” he said.

The MCG’s contract with CA to host the Boxing Day Test ends this summer.

Rival venues such as Perth’s Optus Stadium are eager to pinch the feature match but Fox was adamant it should remain in Melbourne.

“It’s probably the biggest, most iconic Test in Australia, … this is its rightful home,” he said.

Pitch troubles have plagued the MCG for almost 40 years, the Boxing Day Test pitch most noticeably receiving a “poor” rating after the 2017 Ashes clash – Australia’s first such rating for an international surface. While that was a blow to the great stadium’s reputation, in a practical sense it had no bearing on the MCG’s ability to host international cricket given that a new rating system came into effect just days later.

But that hasn’t stopped the criticism of what has continued to be a fairly lifeless deck. And the pressure is on curator Matt Page to produce a pitch for this year’s Boxing Day Test against New Zealand that strikes the right balance between bat and ball for the biggest event on the Australian cricket calendar.

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