MCG ready for showpiece occasion
The project managers always told Stephen Gough that the MCG would be ready in time for Sunday's Boxing Day Test. But the Melbourne Cricket Club chief executive made no attempt to hide his relief this morning as he looked out onto the resurfaced ground, with the Australian team training in the middle on a perfect summer's day.
It was a world away from a few weeks ago, when an extended period of wet weather and the Commonwealth Games resurfacing project had the arena looking like a sodden bomb site. When asked if he had become nervous, Gough admitted: "As a layman, yes, but the project-management team would say 'The program says, with the work to be done ... notwithstanding the rain, we'll get there,' so we'd take comfort out of that.
"But it is much more relieving when you see the grass starting to [be put] down instead of mounds of dirt and sand and gravel. There's a lot of satisfaction for everyone - [curator] Tony Ware and his team, the sub-contractors who were doing the work, all of the MCC staff."
The completion of the new Ponsford Stand and the successful resurfacing has Gough describing this Test as an unofficial "reopening" of the ground. He was hopeful of a crowd "somewhere towards 60,000" on Sunday, despite Pakistan's dismal performance a few days ago in the first Test in Perth.
While the Australians trained this morning, Cricket Australia officially opened its "Wall of Fame" inside the new stand. Photographs of 24 Victorian cricket greats are now displayed in the Ponsford stairwells.
One of those players, the former Australian captain Bill Lawry, did not mince his words when he spoke about the mooted transfer of the Test to the Telstra Dome in Melbourne's Docklands if the resurfacing had not been done in time.
"This ground, when completed, will certainly be the best sporting facility in Australia - and possibly the world, as far as cricket is concerned," he said. "Congratulations to the Melbourne Cricket Club for getting this Test match on time ... it would have been a tragedy to play a Test match at the other stadium."
Ware was pleased with how the playing surface was looking, saying the drop-in pitch was hardening up well. "It's hardly a normal preparation for a Test match and we were [under pressure], we were under construction, but the last part of it - putting the grass back in and the sand - was the quickest part of the whole project and we were never uncomfortable we weren't going to make the date," he said. He added that the outfield grass would not shift underfoot, and indeed the Australians didn't have any problems during their practice.
"I thought it would be quite soft underneath but it seems pretty hard," said Glenn McGrath. "They've been mowing it and rolling it each day so they say it will improve again until the start of the Test so we'll wait and see, but it's a lot better than I thought it would be."
The resurfacing means the arena is now flat - the previous square had a run-off from the centre to help with drainage. "I always prefer running in flat - the ground's a lot smoother, a lot flatter so I'm looking forward to bowling out there," said McGrath. "When the square's flat as well it's a bonus for the bowlers."