Australia v South Africa, 2nd Test, Melbourne, 2nd day

The MCG's makeover

Peter English on the changes being made to the MCG

Peter English at the MCG

December 27, 2005

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The MCG keeps evolving as a modern-day stadium as the years roll by © Getty Images
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A red-and-white crane joins the light towers as the current guardians of the MCG. Next month, it will disappear as the transformation of the ground from a huge cavern to a humungous one is completed. The extra capacity is only about 10,000, but the spectacular and uniform changes add more than volume to the modern-day coliseum.

When the Great Southern Stand was finished in 1992, it was hard to believe that it could be improved. A decade later, the replacement Ponsford and Olympic stands and members' areas are bigger, better, more comfortable and probably louder. More than 71,000 spectators arrived for day one and there was still breathing space in the upper reaches where telescopes and a love of heights are prerequisites.

Cricket was not the main focus of the A$434 million redevelopment - the second Test is the only game to be played here this season - but it will benefit from the 2006 Commonwealth Games project. Expect a ground record for next summer's Boxing Day Ashes Test when the capacity will be more than 94,000. The current mark sits at 90,800 for the 1960-61 match against Frank Worrell's West Indians.

Forty-five years later, the ground is as unrecognisable as the eight running-track lanes currently buried under the turf that was clattered by the boundaries of Ricky Ponting and Michael Hussey. The tartan surface will reappear after this match and be the focal point for the athletics meet in March.

The demolition began in 2002, and 55% of the ground was rebuilt to produce a gleaming new model. For supporters, the seats are 80% bigger - the corporate ones have cushioning - and the dining rooms are larger while the players benefit from new change-rooms in the Ponsford Stand and practice facilities that include indoor nets. One pitch has even been made to replicate a spin-friendly surface.

A sparkling stadium is not the only thing attracting supporters to the Test, with Cricket Victoria introducing a Ladies' Day that it hopes will match similar sporting occasions such as Melbourne's spring racing carnival. Today was the designated event and Belinda Clark, the greatest female batter in Australian women's cricket who retired after the Ashes loss, was honoured with a motorcade at tea, but the women lining up for the 500 special gift packs before lunch missed Hussey's exciting race towards his century.

The material handed out to the "uninitiated" ladies included definitions of terms - "lbw stands for `leg before wicket' and is the way a batter can be given out" - and other tips about cricket-watching. "Don't be alarmed when you see the bowler rubbing the ball in a certain spot," the ticket-briefing reads. "They're not scratching an itch down there, but simply shining up one side of the ball."

Day three is promoted as family day and involves a mass walk with Merv Hughes, the current Australia selector, from the centre of Melbourne to the ground over a specially-made footbridge. All Victorian roads now seem to lead to the new MCG.

Peter English is the Australasian editor of Cricinfo

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© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.

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