Pitch report – Melbourne Cricket Ground
We run the rule over the venue for the fourth Ashes Test in Melbourne, where a veritable cricket cauldron will oblige as many as 100,000 fans hungry for a sporting pitch.
<b>Established:</b> 1854<br><b>Capacity:</b> 95,000, approximately<br><b>Floodlights:</b> Yes<br><b>Ends:</b> Members End, Great Southern Stand End<br><b>Home Team:</b> Victoria<br><b>Head Groundsman:</b> David Sandurski<br><b>Test History:</b> 105 Tests; 60 home wins, 30 away wins, 15 draws<br><b>Last 10 Tests:</b> 8 home wins, 2 away wins<br><b>Last 10 Tosses</b> 9 batted first (4 wins, 5 defeats); 1 fielded first (1 win)
<b>Overview</b><br>It may be known as the Melbourne Cricket Ground, but in truth the MCG is the premier multi-sport venue in Australia. The 'G, as locals call it, hosted the Olympics in 1956 and the Commonwealth Games 50 years later, with countless international matches in both rugby codes, football and Aussie-rules in between.
But the highlight of the Australian sporting calendar is for many the Boxing Day Test at the MCG. At one point the vast bowl had a capacity topping 125,000, but the conversion of virtually all areas of the ground to seating has seen the total drop below six figures.
With the giant three-tier Great Southern Stand circling almost half the ground and holding nearly 50,000 people, the MCG remains one of the most spectacular and imposing venues in any sport. The MCG hosted the first three Tests in history, and has gone on to host over 50 Tests against England alone.
The Melbourne surface traditionally stays true with even bounce, allowing for a fair contest between bat and ball, although not always between Australia and opposition.
Prior to South Africa's victory here five years ago Australia had won nine matches on the trot at The 'G, although the balance has shifted as Australia's fortunes waned, and they've now lost two of the last five games here. The ground was evacuated in August 2006 when a fire broke out in a stand under construction, causing minor damage to the roof and an area of seating.
<b>Last Time Out</b><br>Sri Lanka were blown away inside three days in December 2012, with a decision to bat first backfiring entirely. Meagre totals of 156 all out and 103 all out were no match for Australia's 460 all out in a humiliating innings and 201-run defeat.
Fast bowler Mitchell Johnson laid the opposition to waste with a six-wicket haul, with the visitors genuinely rattled – as batsman Kumar Sangakarra, wicketkeeper Prasanna Jayawardene and seamer Chanaka Welegedara limped away from proceedings injured.
Australia's selection of a strong pace attack and a solitary specialist spinner in Nathan Lyon was, indeed, correct – but the one-sided result was more due to the awful insufficiency of the visitors.
<b>They Said</b><br>"Anytime you walk out onto the MCG it is an amazing feeling. I still remember when I walked out there on debut in the T20 against South Africa in 2009. I didn't know what to expect, but now it is one of my favourite grounds to play on. I just think the stadium itself sets the bar. You look up at the stands from the middle of the pitch and just say 'Wow'. Where else would you want to be? On Boxing Day you're playing for your country, there's going to be thousands of people there, and you'll be there with a big smile on your face." – Australian batsman <b>David Warner</b>.
"To play in front of a Boxing Day crowd, it doesn't get any better. It may be a world record crowd, so to go out and open the batting against that I think it's going to be great fun – daunting, but amazing as well." – Australian opener <b>Chris Rogers</b>.
"I hope I can take this opportunity and grab it. It's up to me. I'm looking forward to it and geared up for it. If I can get my game in the right order then I hope I can take this chance. Boxing Day Test – it doesn't get any more exciting than this, packed out, 100,000 people at the MCG. It's something all of us are looking forward to." – England spinner <b>Monty Panesar</b>.
"I'm looking forward to it. Obviously, I have special memories there. I hope we can repeat some of that. Boxing Day should be pretty easy to get up for – there will be 98,000 or 100,000 people in there. If you can't get up for that, you're wrong in the head or something." – England seamer <b>Tim Bresnan</b>.
<b>Happy Hunting Ground</b><br>With the veteran Ricky Ponting and Michael Hussey retired, solid records at the MCG among Australia's current batsmen is far and few between, although captain <b>Michael Clarke</b> orchestrated a fine ton here against the Sri Lankans last year.
Bowling-wise, the guts and determination of seamer Peter Siddle has brought 21 wickets in five matches, with a venue average of 22.19 some seven runs fewer than his career aggregate. <b>Mitchell Johnson</b>, meanwhile, has 19 from five.
For England, seamers <b>Tim Bresnan</b> and <b>James Anderson</b> rendered the Aussies a right mess in 2010, while batsman <b>Alastair Cook</b> and <b>Ian Bell</b> and spinner <b>Monty Panesar</b> are the lone survivors from 2006's drubbing.
<b>Weather Forecast</b><br>Perth saw temperatures sporadically touch on a scorching 40 degrees Celsius, but Melbourne is expected to bring somewhat cooler conditions. Day one will prove the hottest, with partly cloudy conditions likely to line the weekend before more sun arrives on Monday. Not a drop of rain in sight, and not much of a south-westerly breeze to speak of either.
<b>Conclusion</b><br>At the time of writing there had been little said or written about the pitch, which is in direct contrast to 2010 and 2011, when the build-up was dominated by talk of a veritable greentop.
That never came to pass – don't let Australia's 98 all out against England fool you – and instead the groundsman merely produced a good cricket wicket which had something on offer for everyone. Sri Lanka's 2012 collapse, meanwhile, is too much of an anomaly to take into account.
The fact that there hasn't been a draw here in 16 years and 15 matches tells you that there's generally a sporting pitch on offer, but while it may do a bit, the bounce is true and batsmen with solid techniques can flourish.
Generally, the toss isn't hugely significant on a pretty consistent pitch, and so the captains often look to overhead conditions when deciding whether to bat or bowl first. December, admittedly, is largely sunny in the Southern Hemisphere – hence a very high percentage of choices to bat first.
The last 10 Tests have brought something of a trend, though, with nine decisions to bat first resulting in only five wins. Let it be acknowledged, the one skipper to buck the norm – England's Andrew Strauss in 2010 – walked off with a handsome innings victory.
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The hosts had declared on 396 for nine.