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While the quality of cricket was enthralling at Christchurch and Centurion, MCG frustrated everyone…..

Even though cricketing actions are evident on the Boxing Day in other countries, but each and every cricket fan focus on the Melbourne Cricket Ground (MCG), which has become quite synonymous with Boxing Day since the 1980s.

The sky high popularity of Boxing Day Tests during the 80s prompted the then Victorian Cricket Association to trademark the event. Except for the summer of 1989-90, MCG has been a regular venue for the Boxing Day Test. The fans, who don’t live in Australia, either wake up early in the morning or remain awake deep at night to watch live action from MCG.  MCG hardly disappointed the fans since the start of a Test. The first day of a Boxing Day Test in MCG means high quality excitement and to a greater extent, the tracks have played a vital role in providing such.

MCG decks have never been as flat as the pancakes. Neither can anyone claim, MCG decks are like roads. The equality between the bat and ball has always been noticeable. But when you see a spinner to bowl in the eighth over of the day on an MCG track, I am sorry to say, all the interest about the Boxing Day Test in MCG, takes a setback. One could see such events take place on Day 1 of the third Test between India and Australia.

The hype about the track at MCG was huge before the Test match started and the people involved in preparing and reporting the deck, stated, it would have something for both the batters and bowlers. Sadly, on a sun-kissed day, the excited crowd all around the globe was presented with a subcontinental track, which was slow and low and would get slower as the day progresses.  All of a sudden the interest regarding the Test was dented for those, who wish to witness a bit of a challenge for the batters on Test match pitches.

As a matter of fact, the notion – good tracks mean a flatter track – has done a lot of damage to Test cricket over the past few decades. In Test cricket, a contest is not a contest, until and unless, it has something for the bowlers. On a docile deck, Test cricket can never burst into life.

Even though, at the fag end of day, the clash between Mitchell Starc and Virat Kohli triggered a bit of thrill, but when you notice the action at Christchurch and Centurion, Day 1 at MCG is easily overshadowed by the thrills and chills of the decks provided by New Zealand and South Africa.

Also read: Will Dale Steyn rediscover his mojo?

The track at Hagley Oval was a lively one. It was painted with a green brush and as soon as Suranga Lakmal started to swing the red cherry like hell, New Zealand discovered themselves in an absolute disarray. Six wickets went down in a hurry, but BJ Watling’s solidity and Tim Southee’s jaw-dropping counterattack dragged New Zealand out of the mess.

It was a top quality fight.

The Lankan bowlers forgot to bowl a tight line and length, but adopted a more attacking option to bury New Zealand early. It was a desperate situation and demanded a desperate measure – Southee unleashed his best with the bat. Bingo! Let’s go for the kill rather than getting killed. A flurry of boundaries cropped up and Sri Lanka’s attacking line-and-length was disturbed for a brief period.  New Zealand ended with a respectable total considering the track and situation they were in and struck hard with the ball when Sri Lanka came out to bat. Sri Lanka displayed resolve and arrested further collapse. The Day 1 at Christchurch witnessed 266 runs for 14 wickets.

A few hours later, cricket burst into life in Centurion, when a certain Babar Azam decided to answer his critics. Babar is mostly considered as a limited-overs batsman and not worthy enough to play Test cricket. But when Pakistan were tottering at 111 for 8, Babar decided to change his colour in went the Southee way – Dale Steyn and Kagiso Rabada were taken to the cleaners in a manner, as it seemed, they were mere club bowlers. It was a freakish display of counterattack. Babar was the man possessed.

When Pakistan came out to bowl, like the Kiwis, they struck hard. Mohammad Amir, Hasan Ali and Shaheen Afridi went berserk. The wickets started to tumble, but the home team’s scoring rate did not take a step back. Their scoring rate was around 3.9 runs per over, despite the threat posed by Pakistan pacers.

New Zealand, Sri Lanka, South Africa and Pakistan attacked, counterattacked and attacked and the spicy deck attributed to such a top-notch Test cricket. It forced the players to unleash their attacking instinct – the contest between bat and ball was not dull like MCG. Obviously, the Day 1 at MCG frustrated all, but Christchurch and Centurion saved the day.

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