- Melinda Farrell is a presenter with ESPNcricinfo
Mitchell Starc expects the MCG pitch to be “a surprise” for both teams in the Boxing Day Test a year after it earned a “poor” rating from the ICC. During the Ashes the iconic Test of the summer subsided into a dreary draw on a surface that offered little assistance to bowlers.
During the early rounds of the Sheffield Shield, head curator Matt Page has attempted to inject more life into the drop-in wicket by putting a layer of sand between the concrete base and the pitch trays and leaving more grass on the pitch, methods expected to be repeated for the Test. But while the drop-in block is due to be replaced in March, Starc admitted that, for now, conditions remain a mystery.
“I don’t know what to expect,” Starc said. “I didn’t play last year. I had to watch from the side and it didn’t do a thing for five days so hopefully they’ve sorted it out. It sounds like they’ve been trying a few things with the Shield cricket there in the first few rounds.
“I think it may be a surprise, what they actually dish out next week, but I think we’ll just sort of review this week and enjoy a moment of reflecting on the hard work we’ve had to do this week and then we’ll focus on Melbourne when we get there.”
The hard work shouldered by Australia’s bowlers included their efforts with the bat and the respective depths of the two sides batting line-ups has been a significant factor in the series, keeping them in the contest in Adelaide and then helping set up a winning total in Perth.
“It’s an interesting one,” Starc said. “It’s something that we all work really hard at and we have done for a long time. Pat’s obviously fantastic at eight. He plays a bit more like a batter than the other three of us he can bat for long periods of time.
“I think it just showed in Adelaide how many balls he can face and really he looks comfortable at the crease. He may not at times feel that way but he looks very comfortable and, when he’s batting with someone like Painey or other batsmen, it’s just fantastic. Those partnerships make India bowl a lot more overs and then the other three of us we just try and hang around a bit and score a few runs and face a few balls.
“It’s something that I think our tail takes a lot of pride in. And then with the ball we’re trying to do the exact opposite for them and try to get them out really quickly.”
To illustrate the importance of the tale of the tails, Australia’s Nos. 8-11 have made 227 runs off 520 balls in the opening two Tests, while India’s equivalents have made 51 off 228 deliveries. India’s decision to replace the injured R Ashwin with fast bowler Umesh Yadav lengthened their tail and put more onus on the top order to fire.
“They had a longer tail this week,” Starc said. “Obviously bringing in an extra fast bowler, I guess someone like a Bhuvneshwar or a Jadeja who probably bat a bit better than perhaps maybe Umesh did this week, could have made things interesting – or another spinner.
“But I think we probably over attacked a little bit in Adelaide and so I think we learned from that in the second innings in Adelaide and then this week. It was obviously a different wicket, we bowled a little bit differently to the tail this week.
“We probably repaid a few favours which they did to us in the third innings so it’ll be a different story again next week I guess in Melbourne depending on what the wicket is.”