A world record crowd of 91,092 turned up to watch the cricket at the MCG on Boxing Day.
They were short-changed.
Not by the failure of England’s batsmen to take on the Australian attack – that is a matter for Graham Gooch and his ponderous charges – but by the sub-standard over rate.
Cricket will no doubt bask in the reflected glory of the remarkable attendance figure, which is a reflection of the Melbourne’s public’s love of sport, the inter-generational appeal of Test cricket and the successful ‘eventification’ of Boxing Day.
Yet the game does not deserve such loyal patronage, given the neglectful way in which it is administered.
Those who stayed until stumps spent more than seven-and-a-half hours at the MCG, but saw only 89 overs bowled. In other words, even with an extra half hour at the end of the day, the Australians did not manage to bowl the statutory minimum of 90 overs.
The most dramatic cricket came in the last session, when Mitchell Johnson was at his rampant best and the crowd was baying for blood as the new ball was taken. Yet by then, many ankle-biters and old-timers had, reasonably enough, been taken home.
Both sides were to blame.
The Australians had a series of impromptu team meetings at the northern end, discussing tactics and the like, while the massive crowd waited for action. It was intolerable conduct, but, as ever, the umpires did nothing about it.
The most outrageous time wasting, however, came courtesy of Kevin Pietersen. He repeatedly asked for assistance from the dressing room during his innings and the crowd had to wait while he was treated for an unspecified condition out in the middle.
As this column has argued before, the centre of the MCG is not a medical treatment room. If you are not well enough to bat, get off and let the next bloke in. Otherwise, get on with it. Again, the umpires failed to act.
Finally, with Pietersen desperate to ensure that England did not have to face any more quick stuff from the Australians at the end of the day, Pietersen decided to slow the game down in the most blatant manner.
He pretended to find a gremlin in the pitch – at the non-striker’s end! – and decided to do some gardening. At one stage, Johnson started to run in to bowl – either in ignorance or because he was so annoyed at the delay – while Pietersen was several yards out of his crease at the non-striker’s end.
The umpire, who had failed to pull Pietersen into line, sent Johnson back to the top of his mark to start again.
This was an extraordinary situation. One man, in defiance of all authority, was in effect telling the 80-odd thousand spectators left in the arena to that they could go and get stuffed.
Umpires Aleem Dar and Kumar Dharmasena were made to look impotent and the game was held in contempt.
The paying public deserve better and it is about time that players, umpires and match referees were made accountable for this disgraceful state of affairs.