It’s alive! Bright signs for MCG Test
IT'S alive. The MCG pitch that is. Well, the early signs are good anyway.
Inside the opening 30 overs of the first Sheffield Shield game at the ground this season, after winning the toss and, gulp, choosing to bowl on a green-tinged pitch, Victoria's attack had taken five Queensland wickets.
If that doesn't sound too special, consider that it was a better bowling return than the entire opening day of any of the past four Boxing Day Tests.
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Two rain delays interrupted the Vics but by stumps all 10 Queensland wickets were in the book, all out for 183, and the only man happier than Victorian bowlers was MCG curator Matt Page.
Last year just two wickets fell on December 26, the MCG's most recent red-ball game, when India batted all day.
In 2017, it was only three, the start of an Ashes bore-a-thon in which just 24 wickets fell across five days on a pitch that played dead from ball one.
That result ended with an official rating of "poor" from the umpires for the wicket and put the legendary venue on the precipice of being locked out of international cricket.
Seven of the past eight Shield games at the MCG have ended in draws too.
Alarm bells were ringing, especially in the ears of Page who took over control midway through 2018.
He didn't have time to do much for his first Boxing Day Test last year. But when the summer was over, he and his crew got to work.
They ripped up the concrete slab which the eight drop-in wickets had sat on for the previous 15 summers, a base which contributed heavily to the problems on top.
They ripped up an entire pitch too, and only seven went in when they were re-laid for this season. Room to move, which bodes well for wicket disintegration.
A multimillion-dollar rebuild is under way with four new pitches being built from scratch too.
They won't be ready for another two seasons, but Page has selected the newest available to him, built in 2012, to be used for the Boxing Day Test this year.
Firebrand Victorian bowler James Pattinson, who could be in a baggy green on Boxing Day, said he wanted "some pace and carry in there".
He got that early, with some movement too, and more than one near-miss in his opening spell.
First-gamer Will Sutherland reaped the rewards first though, with a wicket off just the third ball of his Shield career.
The 20-year-old had 2-2 before Peter Siddle removed Test batsman Marnus Labuschagne for a 28-ball duck.
Siddle finished the day with three wickets, so did spinner Jon Holland.
All were thankful they avoided the hapless toil of their bowling brothers around the country on a wicket that was one-way traffic, but, finally, their way.
SHEFFIELD SHIELD SCORES: STUMPS, DAY 1
Victoria v Queensland
Queensland 183 (C Hemphrey 64, M Steketee 33; P Siddle 3-30, J Holland 3-29); Victoria 0-5 (E Vines 4no, M Short 1no).