The International Cricket Council today (Tuesday) announced that the pitch for the fourth Ashes Test between Australia and England at the Melbourne Cricket Ground (MCG) has been rated as “poor”.

The rating is in line with the ICC Pitch and Outfield Monitoring Process. ICC match referee Ranjan Madugalle submitted his report to the ICC and the report has been forwarded on to Cricket Australia, which now has 14 days to provide its response.

The fourth Test saw Australia score 327 and 263 for four declared, with England scoring 491 in their only innings.

Madugalle said: “The bounce of the MCG pitch was medium, but slow in pace and got slower as the match progressed. The nature of the pitch did not change over the five days and there was no natural deterioration. As such, the pitch did not allow an even contest between the bat and the ball as it neither favoured the batsmen too much nor it gave the bowlers sufficient opportunity to take wickets.”

The Test was the last match to be rated under the ICC’s current Pitch and Outfield Monitoring Process. A revised process is coming into effect in men’s and women’s international cricket from January 4.

Under the new format, a pitch or outfield which is rated as being substandard will be allocated a number of demerit points. One point will be awarded to venues whose pitches are rated by the match referees as below average, with three and five points to be awarded to venues whose pitches are marked as poor and unfit, respectively.

If or when a venue accumulates five demerit points, it will be suspended from hosting international cricket for 12 months. Should a venue be awarded 10 demerit points, it will be suspended from staging international cricket for 24 months. Demerit points will remain active for a rolling five-year period.

Today’s announcement comes after the state of the MCG pitch came under question throughout the fourth Ashes Test.

As The Guardian notes, the stadium is also a major venue for AFL Aussie rules matches, and as a result was fitted with a drop-in pitch for the Ashes. The surface did not prove profitable for the home team and the Test ended in a draw. Australia had already won the first three Tests to secure a series win. The fifth and final Test gets underway in Sydney on Thursday.

The state of the MCG pitch and the subsequent criticism poses an interesting dilemma for the MCG and other venues. Should venues prioritise revenue and flexibility by opting for drop-in pitches in order to preserve the field for other purposes? Or do venues owe it to the paying supporters to provide the best possible playing conditions, which would result in a more entertaining spectacle?

Venues have reputations to uphold and England cricketer James Anderson was open in his criticism of the MCG pitch. 

“People want to see entertaining cricket especially in an iconic Boxing Day Test at the MCG,” Anderson said after the first day’s play. “It wasn’t exciting to watch and it wasn’t exciting to play in, to be honest, when it’s attritional like that. But that’s the pitch that we’ve got and we’ve got to put up with it”.

Will comments such as Anderson’s prompt the MCG into reviewing its strategy for future high-profile events? Or are drop-in pitches here to stay?

Image: Richard Munckton