Trapped inside Telstra Dome
The Telstra Dome stadium is modern, comfortable, characterless and ugly. The whole area has an industrial feel to it. There is a lot of metal around: docks on one side, train lines running on the other and a railway station under reconstruction next to it. Unlike the Melbourne Cricket Ground, or most other cricket grounds in Australia, where the approach is through greens, you take a flight of stairs from the main road and get on a bridge with curved metal bars protruding above your head.
All cricket grounds don't need to conform to the same ideal, you might argue, and hell, this is not even a cricket ground. Befittingly for an Australian Football League stadium, it has a media box square of the wicket. I can tell you how wonderfully Daniel Vettori varied his length, but just don't ask me about his line.
This was the Colonial Stadium when cricket was first played here in 2000. The owners haven't changed, but the sponsors have. Telstra is Australia's biggest telecommunication company, state-owned so far, but about to be privatised. They sponsor AFL grounds in Melbourne and Sydney, and it's hardly a surprise that stadiums should be sponsored. It's one trick that sports bodies in the subcontinent haven't caught up with yet.
Despite the novelty of the occasion, more than half the ground was empty, which didn't surprise many locals. This is still springtime and the real cricket season does not start here until November. Cricket lovers in Melbourne, says Gideon Haigh, cricket historian and long-time Melbourne resident, have a strong sense of tradition and occasion. Many of them plan their cricket calendar around the Boxing Day Test. There are never too many empty seats on the first day of the Boxing Day Test and the MCG holds nearly 100,000. Empty stands are a depressing sight, but don't blame the Melbournite for it: this match was foisted on him when he wasn't switched on.
There is a bigger reason why it is difficult for a cricket lover to warm to the Telstra Dome, though. It's the roof. There was a mild drizzle when I was walking to the ground and it got stronger. So let's be grateful for the roof without which the game wouldn't have started. As I was walking through the gates I was wondering what would have happened if Chennai's MA Chidambaram Stadium had a roof when Australia played there last. Could the series have been 2-2 hadn't rain washed out the last day, when India needed just over 200 with all wickets intact?
But watching cricket in an indoor stadium is a strange, unreal and, even cold, experience. It does not help of course to have vast swathes of empty dark grey seats in front you and the dark grey roof closing in. Yes, cricket would perhaps not be possible outdoors in Melbourne at this time of the year, and for sure, this is only a novelty that is unlikely to become the norm in the near future. But since changes are constant and inevitable, it is worth asking if cricket needs protection from the elements.
There can be strong arguments in favour of it. It will ensure that we never have to endure the frustrations of rain delays, washed out days and bad light. Spectators and television channels will always get their money's worth. And even fewer Tests will end as draws. But cricket will be a poorer game for it.
The sky is an elementary part of cricket. Yesterday, the roof opened while the Rest of the World team were practising, revealing a gorgeous blue sky and bathing the ground in sunshine and, after having spent a couple of hours under the suffocating roof, it felt like a new world had opened up. But the argument against the roof isn't a romantic one. It is fundamental. Cricket does not need to be protected from nature because nature, despite playing the occasional spoilsport, considerably enhances the game. Conditions are fundamental to cricket. The sun, the clouds, the breeze all play their part in making the game lively and interesting. The sun bakes the pitch for the spinner, the clouds make the atmosphere heavy to aid swing bowling, the breeze assists movement. The cost of an odd rainy day is a trifle considering what cricket stands to lose by closing itself out to nature.
Sambit Bal is the editor of Cricinfo