The Sheffield Shield clash between Victoria and Western Australia at the MCG has been officially abandoned because of a “dangerous” pitch, raising grave concerns about the venue’s viability for the looming Boxing Day Test.
The match was suspended on Saturday, with the rival captains saying they would examine the surface again on Sunday before deciding if play could resume after efforts to improve the surface produced neglible results..
Vic captain Peter Handscomb and WA’s Shaun Marsh conducted a joint inspection two hours before Sunday’s scheduled 10am start, and agreed to abandon the contest.
It is the first time in Australia’s entire history of first class cricket that a sub-standard pitch has forced an abandonment.
The captain’s decision was yet another chapter in an increasingly disastrous story for the home of the Boxing Day Test.
Marsh feared someone would be seriously hurt, as he and his Western Australia teammates endured a barrage of unpredictable deliveries on Saturday from Victoria’s pace attack.
Marsh and Marcus Stoinis were both struck in the head by Peter Siddle deliveries which climbed much higher than the batsmen had anticipated, and they later underwent concussion tests.
There is now genuine concern for the state of the Boxing Day Test pitch, although Cricket Australia head of cricket operations Peter Roach said the pitch being used in the Shield match was not the one being prepared for the Australia-New Zealand Test.
— Victorian Cricket Team (@VicStateCricket) December 7, 2019
The MCG pitch has been the subject of much controversy in recent years and the latest debacle will not impress the ICC.
It was rated “poor” by the ICC after the Boxing Day Test in 2017 and scraped through with an “average” ranking after England’s Ashes visit last summer.
“(Head curator) Matt Page and the MCG ground staff have more than two weeks to ensure the Test surface, which is a different pitch strip to the one being used in this match, is of international standard,” Roach said.
“We will seek to better understand the issues that resulted in variable bounce at the MCG on Saturday.
We will also work closely with MCG ground staff in the lead-up to the Test match.”
It is thought the pitch had too much moisture, leading to hardened divots and then uneven bounce when those divots were struck by the ball.
WA were 3-89 when play came to an end in the Shield contest, just 45 minutes into the second session on day one.
Siddle (3-21) had done most of the damage, however, it was an Andrew Fekete delivery that crashed into Stoinis’ ribs which was the final straw for the umpires.
Marsh, who made only 14 before nicking Siddle to second slip, estimated he had been hit on the hands and body up to five times in his 57-ball innings.
“It was obviously an interesting few hours out there,” Marsh told ABC Grandstand. “At the end of the day, my player safety is the most-important thing and, unfortunately, the wicket was unfit to play on.
“The wicket was very wet underneath and it was creating divots out there, which made the ball rise off a good length.
“As the game got in, it got worse and worse out there – disappointing.”
Marsh and rival captain Peter Handscomb were involved in discussions with umpires, coaches and groundsmen before the decision was made to call stumps with only 39.4 overs bowled.
“We saw guys getting hit on the head and it was disappointing,” Marsh said. “Player safety is paramount and, at that stage, I can’t see us getting back on.”
Match referee Bob Parry with the latest on the MCG pitch pic.twitter.com/RBxMv8qnh8
— Alister Nicholson (@AlisterNicho) December 7, 2019
WA coach Adam Voges said the right decision had been made to suspend play.
“We’ve got a couple of guys who have had to do concussion tests today and a couple of sore fingers and some sore ribs as well,” he said.
NZ opener Tom Latham wasn’t concerned when he heard the news about the pitch after touching down on Saturday in Perth.
“I’m sure by the time the Boxing Day Test comes around, they’ll have everything sorted,” Latham said.
“From our point of view, there’s no concern.”