Boxing Day Test worth ‘two AFL Grand Finals’
The Boxing Day Test is going nowhere.
Melbourne Cricket Club is locked in "productive discussions" that should see its expiring contract renewed long before next year's blockbuster against India.
Interstate raiders have been eyeing the timeslot and recent lifeless MCG Test pitches have only fuelled talk that Perth Stadium could pinch Melbourne's match.
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But MCC chief executive Stuart Fox said a multi-year contract was in the pipeline.
"We're really confident we'll lock down a longer-term deal at some stage into the future,'' Fox said.
"I think Cricket Australia have been pretty open about that, as have we. The Victorian government are obviously involved as well, and who'd want to move the Boxing Day Test?
"It's the equivalent of two AFL Grand Finals across five days. The discussions are well down the path, and they've been really positive."
Up to 80,000 people are expected to fill the stands on Thursday for New Zealand's first Boxing Day appearance in 32 years.
Cricket Australia chose to roll over its deal with the MCG only for 2019, but Fox said that was a "temporary measure" as CA underwent significant changes.
But chief executive Kevin Roberts is now running a smooth ship.
The Herald Sun understands cricket chiefs want a far more generous deal from the state government before promising it the Boxing Day Test for 2020 and beyond.
The AFL was able to lock its Grand Final in at the MCG until 2057, but that was largely thanks to help from the state government.
The MCG is completing an $11 million upgrade of its lights, which will see LEDs installed to enhance the TV experience for viewers at home.
The new lights will reduce flickering during super slomo replays and boost the broadcast quality of colours during night games.
The sunny forecast for the Boxing Day Test means that the lights are unlikely to be needed, however they will be switched on for the January 4 Big Bash derby between Melbourne Stars and Renegades.
Richmond residents will be glad to know the significant reduction of light heads in each tower will also reduce light spills.
The iconic MCG light towers were erected in 1984, using technology that was from about 1960, and so the upgrade will significantly cut energy consumption.
The MCG would be happy to consider a day-night Boxing Day Test, which Shane Warne has endorsed, although that decision rests with Cricket Australia as the venue hirer.
MCG CURATOR PROMISES BOUNCE
The MCG has promised a Boxing Day pitch with as much pace and bounce as possible, but curator Matthew Page has warned "we're not Perth Stadium and we're not the Gabba".
Melbourne Cricket Club has splashed more than $1 million on fixing the lifeless decks and, while a five-year project will take several more years to complete, the most scrutinised 22 yards in cricket will be on trial on Thursday.
"For Melbourne, (pace and bounce) will be as good as we can get it," Page said yesterday.
"We'll try and get as much carry and pace in it day one as we can, and obviously get the sideways movement as well.
"We're trying to produce something that's going to provide a contest and exciting cricket."
Returning New Zealand quick Trent Boult said the wicket was an unknown for the Black Caps.
Page is set to cut the grass on Tuesday and on Christmas night will put the covers on before the pitch is rolled shortly before play on day one.
Page said grass would "absolutely" be left on the pitch to help provide seam movement and bring spinners into the game.
The most recent Sheffield Shield match was abandoned because of a dangerous pitch.
Page said he was following orders to be "bold" and juice that one up with moisture to test the limits.
The MCC maintains a few extra hours of sun would have saved that deck, although it delivered important benchmark data for Boxing Day.
Moisture levels will be reduced by 1 or 2 per cent for the Test strip.
Page was happy with the pitches for the first two Sheffield Shield matches, as spinners Mitchell Swepson and Steve O'Keefe picked up bags of wickets.
The MCG's historical problem has been that its pitches lack a key characteristic.
While Perth's pitches crack and bounce, and Sydney's decks traditionally turn, the G's consistent trait has usually been that it delivers an unattractive grind.
It is hoped that the five-year project, which started after the ICC slapped the MCG with a "poor" pitch rating after the 2017 Ashes bore, will at least deliver a far better balance between bat and ball.
The project has seen the concrete slab under the surface removed, with pitches now stored on a natural base, and ground staff have been buoyed by the extra carry this summer.
A full renovation of the Yarra park wicket nursery, where the pitches live, is about 50 per cent completed while two different base types are also being trialled.
"We're currently rebuilding four of our pitches, and we're also looking at a different type of clay," Page said.
"It's a higher clay content and our hope for that new clay is that we will see some more pace and bounce and potentially somemore deterioration.
"But it hasn't been tried in a tray as yet."
Page will conduct further experiments on two pitches that will be dropped into the practice area and used later this summer.