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MCG drop-in pitch to be upgraded to Perth standard

The technology used to create lively pitches at the start of the India series will be brought to Melbourne next year

Daniel Brettig
Daniel Brettig
The pitch at Perth Stadium started green and produced an absorbing contest, Australia v India, 2nd Test, Perth, December 13, 2018

A lively looking pitch at the new Perth Stadium ahead of its debut Test between Australia and India  •  ESPNcricinfo

Perth Stadium's highly entertaining pitch for Australia's second Test victory over India will form the blueprint for a major overhaul of the MCG's ageing drop-in wicket block, with the old concrete beds and trays to be replaced by higher tech variants at the end of this season.
While there is a high degree of interest in how the MCG pitch will play this Boxing Day, given last year's bore draw during the Ashes and the "poor" rating handed to it by the ICC at the end of the match, ESPNcricinfo has learned a far more significant change will be made in March when the concrete base of the pitches that has been in place since the late 1990s will be removed and traded for the system now favoured by Adelaide Oval and Perth Stadium.
Specifically, this involves the replacement of the solid concrete base with pylons to support the pitches in porous trays, rather than the current concrete trays, meaning there can be a greater flow of moisture between the pitches and into the wider sand and earth base around them, allowing for greater variation and deterioration over the course of a match. This development was pioneered largely by Adelaide Oval when its switched to drop-ins in 2013, and was followed, with the addition of a different soil formula to try to replicate the WACA pitches of old, in Perth.
The fruits of these developments were clear for all to see in the first two Tests of the summer, as Adelaide and Perth provided a much more even contest between bat and ball than several of those recently provided by the MCG during the biggest traditional five-day fixture of the global calendar. Australia's coach Justin Langer was unbridled in his praise of the Perth pitch in particular, as it offered steepling bounce and pace in addition to the variation offered by cracks opening up over the course of the match.
"A couple did something off the cracks but that's okay, it's like if you play on other wickets and it spins every now and then, it might spin out of the rough. But it had everything," Langer told Fox Cricket. "Nathan Lyon was probably the difference, not only Man of the Match but we selected the spinner and India didn't and we saw what great influence he had on the game so it spun and bounced, it was fast, it bounces, it swung a bit. Anyone who says there's anything wrong with that wicket, they must've been watching a different game."
The MCG's surface was the source of plenty of consternation throughout last year's Test culminating in its poor rating by the ICC's match referee Ranjan Madugalle, who stated: "The bounce of the MCG pitch was medium, but slow in pace and got slower as the match progressed," Madugalle said. "The nature of the pitch did not change over the five days and there was no natural deterioration. As such, the pitch did not allow an even contest between the bat and the ball as it neither favoured the batsmen too much nor it gave the bowlers sufficient opportunity to take wickets."
Stuart Fox, the Melbourne Cricket Club chief executive, had stated at the end of the match that the pitch and the technology surrounding it would be reviewed. "While this Test pitch did produce a good contest, it has not contained the bounce and pace that we expected. As the game progressed, the surface did not deteriorate nor bring the level of unpredictability that was anticipated," Fox said. "We review all elements of our performance at the conclusion of every event, and the quality of the pitch is no exception."
To that end new head curator Matthew Page, who was appointed before last year's highly criticised Ashes surface but started in the job after the match, reviewed the ways pitches were prepared for the MCG and also how its drop-in technology had fallen behind the likes of Adelaide and Perth. Numerous short-term changes have resulted, including a reduction from 10 to seven pitches on the square to allow for more wear and tear; renovation of existing pitches to improve their clay profile, and placement of a layer of sand on the concrete slab in the centre of the MCG to soften the connection between the pitches and the base.
Last summer there was not a single outright result in any of the first-class matches scheduled at the MCG. So far this summer, Victoria have beaten New South Wales by an innings thanks largely to Marcus Harris' unbeaten 250, before fighting out draws with South Australia and Western Australia.

Daniel Brettig is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. @danbrettig