MCC officials are confident of producing a good Boxing Day pitch while preparing to ward off attempts to poach the summer’s showpiece Test match after the MCG was plunged into crisis over the weekend.
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.
Marsh said he was hit by unpredictable deliveries about “four or five times“ during his 57-ball innings – he and Stoinis were both cleared of concussion.
However, he feared for their safety in conditions which the 36-year-old former Test batsman had never seen in first-class cricket.
“When you see balls coming off a length and into your grill you start thinking about it,” Marsh said.
Marsh and Victoria captain Peter Handscomb backed the highly-respected Page to produce a better wicket for Boxing Day.
But they agreed with Australian Cricketers’ Association chief executive Alistair Nicholson that the correct call was to abandon the Shield match.
“When player safety comes into it, there’s no debate from our point of view,“ Nicholson said.
CA will attempt to reschedule the Shield match, with rules stipulating it should now be played in WA, but if it can’t be rescheduled the two teams will split the points.