The Boxing Day Test wicket was on Monday on the verge of being the subject of an official rebuke from the International Cricket Council, who were expected to brand the heavily criticised wicket as below average at least.
The flat strip in Melbourne that contributed to a tame draw in the fourth Ashes Test was widely savaged, including by n captain Steve Smith after he scored his 23rd Test hundred on the fifth day, and by England skipper Joe Root.
A review has been launched into what transpired at the MCG and days after both captains agreed to call off the match on the last afternoon the ICC was expected to hand down a formal warning.
An top-line n international pitch has never been given a ‘poor’ rating by the world governing body but that remained a possibility on Monday. The other option that was being considered was for a less severe ‘below average’ rating to be dealt out by match referee Ranjan Madugalle.
Either way, the formal warning stood to be the ultimate insult for a world-famous venue that prides itself on the hosting of the Boxing Day Test and the enormous crowds that turn up to view it. The ICC also has the ability to fine the MCC as much as $15,000.
It would not be the first match played in this summer to be the subject of an unwanted pitch rating. The wicket on which the day-night women’s Ashes Test was drawn at North Sydney Oval was labelled as below average.
However, the MCG’s status as a revered Test venue makes last week’s debacle more significant. Outgoing Cricket Victoria chief executive Tony Dodemaide even suggested after the match that the state of the drop-in wickets at the MCG was such that “it may be that we need to dig them out every so often (and] start again”.
Only 24 wickets were lost across the five days on the Melbourne drop-in wicket as bowlers struggled for with a shortage of pace and carry and the fact that the pitch did not break up as the game went on.
The ICC warning would serve as a huge wake-up call not only for the operators of the MCG but those who run all of ‘s premier grounds.
The pitch has been judged under a set of regulations that is about to expire, replaced by a demerit-points system that can result in international grounds receiving suspensions of up to two years.
That system will come into play on Thursday, the first day of the fifth Ashes Test at the SCG.
Venues accrue two points for a below average pitch, three for a poor one and five for one that is deemed unfit. A ground will be suspended for a year if it reaches five points in a five-year period, or for two years if it gets to 10 points. There are further demerit points that can be dished out for substandard outfields.
“I think everybody accepts that if we want to have entertaining products, exciting matches, an attractive form of cricket, then the pitches need to be good and there needs to be a good balance between bat and ball, particularly in Test matches,” ICC chief executive David Richardson said when the points system was announced last year.
The n team is not foreign to playing on pitches that have been frowned upon by the ICC. In February last year the wicket in Pune for the first Test between and India was rated as poor by match referee Chris Broad.
The ball had spun prodigiously from the outset and the game, won by as Steve O’Keefe claimed match figures of 12-70, was over in three days.
In 2011, the pitch on which played Sri Lanka in a Test at Galle was also rated as poor by Broad.
Under the existing regulations the ICC have not announced ratings of below average, only releasing them if pitches were poor or unfit. That will change from this week when ratings will be made public.