The MCG does not have the notorious Bay 13 anymore. It was dismantled and replaced by a glitzy state-of-the-art hospitality arena last year. Besides, the stadium will be only up to 30 per cent full when India take on Australia in the second Test on Saturday. However, the imposing 1,00,000-seater is a colossal amphitheatre and playing here comes with its inherent challenges. The intimidating size and overwhelming presence can expose even the minutest shortcomings in a player.
The MCG has rarely been a happy visit for tourists. Just to put things in perspective, South Africa in 2008, England in 2010 and India in 2018 are the only three visiting teams to have defeated Australia at this venue this century.
After the Adelaide hammering, India under Ajinkya Rahane can either get intimidated and crumble at this imposing venue like several teams have in the past. Or they can orchestrate a stunning turnaround. They can seek inspiration from their spirited all-round performance two years ago that vaulted them to a resounding series win.
In his pre-departure presser, when Kohli was asked about the challenges of playing in Australia, he quipped: “Playing in huge stadiums and in front of such huge crowds is always challenging. But if you do well here, you earn their respect, and that is something that’s really satisfying for any cricketer.”
From Michael Atherton to KL Rahul, they have all been subjected to relentless taunts and a volley of vitriolic abuse from the MCG crowd. Rahul, who made his Test debut six years ago, has spoken in detail about his harrowing experience to bcci.tv.
“The crowd is really against us when we play here. They love their cricket, but make our lives on the ground really hard. This is why cricket in Australia is so exciting. When I played my first Test in Melbourne, I was standing at deep square-leg boundary, and one of the guys in the crowd asked: ‘Mate, what’s your name?’ They said hello and all, but in 10 seconds, the whole section started chanting, ‘Rahul is a wa&$#r’,” he recollects.
Atherton, in an interview to The Times, London, said: “You never forget the crowd. In the 1990s, I played three Tests in front of 80,000 people and the atmosphere was incredible. As a player, it was inspiring. It racks up tension, puts you on the edge and makes you sharper and, ideally, better.”
The pandemic-forced isolation is expected to add pressure on the players. Steve Smith has not met wife Dani Willis since August 31, before leaving for England on a white-ball tour. From there to the IPL and back in Australia, Smith has travelled from one bubble to another. Christmas Day, on the eve of the Melbourne Test, is traditionally an occasion when families of Australian players and coaching and support staff get together for lunch after a brief training session in the morning. Not this year, thanks to the pandemic.
Happy Boxing Day Eve! The ‘G is looking an absolute treat 😍 #AUSvIND
PS. Merry Christmas, everyone! pic.twitter.com/yG7SOc6WT0
— Cricket Australia (@CricketAus) December 24, 2020
“It’s the first time in 50 years I’ve been without my family (for Christmas),” head coach Justin Langer said. “There’s a number of players and the staff who are without families this year. It’s one of the sacrifices we have to make in 2020. It’s not ideal but it is what it is.”
Team India also has a lot to ponder. It arrives at the hallowed turf on the back of a calamitous batting implosion at the Adelaide Oval. Trailing 0-1, they will be without their talismanic captain Virat Kohli and senior pacer Mohammed Shami. The dodgy form of their batsmen and visions of 36/9 will add to their plight. But Langer and his troops won’t like to let their guard down.
“India had the better of us really for the first two days of the (Adelaide) game,” Langer said. “We were in for a real arm wrestle of a Test match. So, it was amazing how things turned around. We know how good a team India is, we know we’ve got to keep improving,” the former opener said. “We’ll have to start well Boxing Day morning and then be consistent, because we know India will fight back.”
MCG standby venue for Sydney Test
Melbourne: Cricket Australia on Thursday said Melbourne has been placed on standby to host the third Test between India and Australia if Sydney’s COVID-19 situation renders it “untenable” despite efforts being made to continue with the original schedule. The fate of the third Test has been shrouded in uncertainty since earlier this month after a outbreak in the northern beaches in Sydney, which is scheduled to host the third Test from January 7.
“CA has reaffirmed its commitment to giving it the best chance to play the third Vodafone Test at the Sydney Cricket Ground and the fourth Vodafone Test at the Gabba as per the original schedule,” CA said. “Should the public health situation in NSW render playing in Sydney untenable, CA’s preferred contingency plan is to work with the Victorian Government to play the third Vodafone Test at the Melbourne Cricket Ground followed by the fourth Vodafone Test at the Gabba.”
A final decision would be made during the Boxing Day Test. PTI
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