Testing times: MCG to have four new pitches but patience urged

Melbourne Cricket Club boss Stuart Fox has revealed four new pitches will be grown under a multi-million dollar rebuild but confirmed it will take up to three years before they are good enough for international cricket.

The MCG has been under growing pressure to produce pitches with more life, an issue that exploded last summer when the drop-in Ashes deck was branded poor by the International Cricket Council. There was more criticism after the opening two days of the pitch used against India, for only seven wickets had fallen on what was another lifeless deck.

THe Boxing Day pitch saw the Test get off to a slow start.Credit:AAP

"I was a little bit surprised with the poor performance of the pitch on day one," Fox told The Age.

"After that it settled a bit and got better. Certainly day one there was a lack of seam movement, a lack of bounce. We were really surprised with that because (curator) Matt Page had benchmarked it against the Sheffield Shield pitches that had been pretty good and almost identical.

"We, obviously, had India dig in. From a Test point of view, as the game progressed, we had a batsman make a hundred, you have got Cummins' 6-27, batting as well. We have had both batting teams collapse in their second innings. There certainly has been some life in the pitch.

"We do see it as a significant improvement from last year."

While India were on the verge of taking a 2-1 series lead heading into day five, Fox acknowledged the wickets used in the Test and through the Sheffield Shield were tired and need replacing.

Page had worked on moisture levels and providing a sand base under the pitch for this Test but Fox said major changes were required.

"Once this Test is over, we will look to build probably three to four new pitches, starting from scratch with a higher clay content, which should produce more bounce and seam movement. But that process takes three years for those pitches, once they have started to be built, to completion, to be actually sitting out in that the middle ready for play. Three years is a long time," he said.

"Each pitch sits in a tray and they are filled with … soil and clay and they have got to be rolled and flattened and then you have got to put spriggs of grass in … that takes at least two years to consolidate and grow.

"We have put two new drop in wickets in the practice area and they have a higher clay content. They are our innovation pitches. Matt will be able to practise and see what they are doing. That will progress. There is no doubt, 15 years of service of these pitches, they are coming out to end of use by date. I think you are going to see some really significant change. I don't think we are going to get a poor rating again. We are pretty positive."

Fox said the MCG did not want to replicate a pitch with as much pace as Perth but insisted it had to be capable of producing a result, possibly within four days.

"I think the interesting thing is, the Test cricket landscape across the world is changing, isn't it? There seems to be a need to finish games sooner, possibly across four days, rather than five," he said.

"I think we are looking for just better performance from our pitches, a really even contest between bat and ball. We still want people to make a hundred, we want our batsmen to go well, we want our bowlers to go well.

"Our pitches over 15 years have served us reasonably well although they haven't been what I would class as aggressive wickets. I am not sure we want to produce something like Perth but something in between. Adelaide has got its own characteristics. We certainly want to produce pitches that can get a result across four to five days."

While match referee Andy Pycroft may not judge the pitch as poor, which comes with three demerit points from the International Cricket Council, he could yet hand out a "below average" rating, meaning the venue would receive one demerit point. Under ICC rules, five demerit points over a rolling five-year period would see a venue stripped of its international status for 12 months.

Fox said there was no guarantee next year's Boxing Day pitch against New Zealand would be better than what was offered this year but revealed a new deck grown in recent years would be trialled during the Big Bash League.

"Of the 12 pitches we have got at the moment, there are two new ones that were built three and four years ago … we have got that option. We don't know what they going to do because they have never been used. They are new pitches so it will be great to see what they do," he said.

Fox also said the 15-year-old concrete slab that sits under the pitches will be removed in March, with the ground moving to a "post and rail" system used in Adelaide "that will provide a much more natural setting for the pitches to embed into the surface".

"That will be fantastic for us," Fox said.

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