Despite having lived in Melbourne for a year, yesterday was my first visit to the iconic MCG for a cricket match. I go past the stadium on the train every day and its presence dominates the city skyline. I’ve been to a couple of AFL games this year on general admission and they stick you up in the gods, usually in the last 10 rows. The sheer scale of the stadium comes into view from up there. I get a little blast of vertigo as I take my seat, followed by a smile. It’s a part of sporting heritage and folklore, after all. Just to be a small part of that is something else.
As it turned out the first day was something of a war of attrition. Throughout the series Australia have gone about their business quickly in their first innings, scoring at a run rate of over four an over. This time they scored 259/5 in 90 overs, a run rate of 2.88.
Part of the reason for this was the dismissal of David Warner in the second over, caught smartly at slip. His scoring prowess can get the innings off to a rocketing start but the early catch put the brakes on a bit.
Rogers and Watson did what they tend to do – make a start and not capitalise on it. Both reached fifty and were then out on the same total. I have to confess I missed both of their wickets live as I was queuing to buy beer, although I’m sure I wasn’t the only one!
The game slowed considerably after that, with Ashwin bowling off-breaks from one end with plenty of guile and skill. It was important for India to tie up one end as their seamers – Yadav, Shami and Sharma, were disappointing. They beat the bat on a few occasions but tended to give away too many easy singles which helped to rotate the strike and ease the pressure that Ashwin was creating at the other end.
Watching Steve Smith play Ashwin was a pleasure. He started off very cautiously, playing himself in. But he never looked in any danger, mostly due to his exemplary footwork. He gets a big stride forward in defence, which helps to negate the spin and keeps the chances of an LBW to a minimum. In attack, he danced down the pitch a couple of times to hit over the top for four or six. The trick is getting right to the pitch of the ball before it starts to turn, and Smith is exceptional at it. He keeps his head very still when playing the ball and hits with an inside-out arc when driving or hitting over the top. He remained not out at the close of play and has just been dismissed for 192 on the second day. Probably the worlds in-form batsman at the moment and deserving of every plaudit that comes his way.
The other batsman on show, Marsh, and debutant Joe Burns made starts but were dismissed for low scores, leaving Brad Haddin to stay with Smith until stumps.
The atmosphere during the day was much like the cricket, it ebbed and flowed. I never quite understand why people pay for a ticket and then spend their day trying to start Mexican waves or building beer snakes but there you go. I was sitting in the second tier just above the infamous ‘Bay 13’ as it was known, which generally held the rowdiest element of the crowd. Still, it keeps things lively during the slower moments of the day.
So, an enjoyable day in a world-famous stadium which is rightly considered one of the world’s best. Here’s to many more days in the sun…