The fourth Ashes Test match of the 2017-18 Ashes Series, the Boxing Day Test match will be a test match that won’t be remembered fondly by many people as it turned into being a dull draw due in most part to the drop-in pitch at the Melbourne Cricket Ground (MCG)
Australia won the toss and elected to bat first, and both Cameron Bancroft and David Warner put on an opening partnership of 122 before Bancroft fell leg before wicket off the bowling of Chris Woakes for 26, before David Warner brought up his 21st Test century the ball after getting caught at mid-on on a no-ball off the bowling of debutant Tom Curran.
After Warner (103) and Usman Khawaja (17) both got out, Steve Smith and Shaun Marsh put on a 100-run stand for the fourth wicket before Curran officially got his first Test match wicket after Smith chopped-on for 76. From there, Australia lost 7/67 to be all out for 327, a score well-below what Australia was expecting with Shaun Marsh (61) being the only other player to pass 50.
From there the match changed, and Alastair Cook was the star of the show, scoring the highest score by a player who has “carried the bat” in the history of Test match cricket, 244 not out as he regained the form that has seen him approach the 12,000-run milestone in Test match cricket, and is now the sixth-highest run-scorer in the history of Test match cricket, surpassing Mahela Jayawardene, Shivnarine Chanderpaul, and Brian Lara during that wonderful innings at the MCG.
In terms of other contributions for England, Joe Root got out on 61, which is the fifth time in a row that Root has failed to go onto make a century after reaching 50, while Stuart Broad made 56, surpassing the 100-run milestone in the series as England got bowled out for 491.
From there, the chances of an Australian victory and a five-nil whitewash were all but gone. However, Australia managed to save the match comfortably in the end thanks to the Australian captain Smith (102 not out) as he surpassed 600 runs in the series, and his deputy Warner (86), who missed out becoming just the third batsman to score centuries in each innings of a Test match held at the MCG.
However, the talk towards the end of the match, and certainly afterwards, was the pitch, and the supposed lack of life in the pitch for anyone to truly succeed on, which meant neither Australia or England could make a realistic push for victory.
In my view, the pitch offered variable pace and bounce, but it was only subtle, which meant it was difficult for the bowlers to take wickets, and the batsmen to score runs. There was little encouragement for the spinners as the match progressed, which meant no team could progress the match forward to force a positive result.
Overall, when you consider the facts, it was a below average pitch, and something needs to be done to make sure drop-in pitches perform more closely to the characteristics of a normal pitch.
I don’t think the MCG needs to rip up their drop-in pitches to start again, but I think the answer to “naturalise” the drop-in pitch lies below the pitch, at the bottom of the pitch rather than on the surface of it, and I think the bottom of the pitch needs to be softened and broken-up a little bit to get the types of pitches that people are looking for.
In addition to this, the MCG drop-in pitches should be installed at a lower-level ground during the winter months to allow the traffic of different sports, such as Australian rules football, rugby league, rugby union, and/or football to run over it to make the pitches more natural and maybe a touch softer. However, getting a club(s) to agree to having these pitches installed at their ground during the winter months will take a lot of convincing, and not too many, if any, would agree to such a strong request.
So, while the drop-in pitch debate continues, Australia and England head to the Sydney Cricket Ground (SCG) for the final test match of the series with Steve Smith just 26 runs away from reaching 6,000 Test match runs, and if he does it in the first innings of the match, he will be the equal second-fastest (along with Sir Garfield Sobers) to reach the milestone in the history of test match cricket, in terms of innings.
David Warner will be aiming to score his fourth test match century in as many matches at the SCG, while Stuart Broad is currently two wickets away from 400 in Test match cricket.
The pitch at the SCG will be under scrutiny since it hasn’t hosted a first-class match this season, but historically, it has been a pitch that has always turned, and has also been a pitch that has been good for batting.
I think Australia will bounce-back from a difficult Boxing Day Test match to win the final test match of the series in Sydney to claim the series four-nil.