The Boxing Day Test will feature a new pitch next summer, as ground officials work towards ensuring Australian cricket's showpiece spectacle delivers a fitting contest between bat and ball.
The seven drop-in pitches use in the centre of the MCG this summer have begun to be removed and returned to the Yarra Park nursery in preparation for the new AFL season.
The MCG pitch was lifeless in the most recent Ashes Test there and received a poor rating.Credit:AAP
The 15-year-old concrete slab the pitches were encased in will then be demolished, with this to take up to eight days.
Ground staff will use the same gravel and sand profile as found in the outfield to fill the centre-wicket area, which is expected to provide a more natural environment for the pitches.
When six pitches, one less than this summer, are returned in October ahead of the 2019-20 season, one of two rebuilt in 2012, which have been used for Sheffield Shield and other domestic cricket but not Tests, will be chosen for the Boxing Day Test between Australia and New Zealand.
Two of the wickets used this summer will be rebuilt in the nursery with Grampians soil.
MCG head curator Matt Page is working feverishly to improve the pitches.
"We are reviewing the soil which we use to build our wickets. We want to see if a different soil with a higher percentage of clay will give us more pace and bounce," he said.
"It’s important to note that first-class cricket pitches cannot be created overnight. Each new pitch requires at least two to three years to be mature enough to withstand the rigours of longer form cricket. So these new wickets won’t be used for any long-form matches until at least the 2021-2022 season.
"We are also trialling new wickets in the practice wicket area and are working towards a full refurbishment of our wicket nursery in Yarra Park.”
The standard of the MCG pitches became a major issue during the bore-fest that was the Ashes Test of 2017-18. The strip used was handed a poor rating by the International Cricket Council and the venue lost three demerit points when a combined 1081 runs were scored for the loss of only 24 wickets in a draw, although the points were wiped when a revised grading system was introduced.
The worn-out pitches also contributed to an inability to secure outright victories in the Sheffield Shield.
This summer's flat Test deck was also criticised heavily after the opening two days but the venue was given an "average" rating after India stormed to victory. There had been improvement on last year after Page had worked on moisture levels and provided a sand base under the pitch.
Melbourne Cricket Club chief Stuart Fox has made it clear the venue is working closely with Cricket Australia and Cricket Victoria on pitch improvements.
As part of a five-year plan, a new modern rail support system will be used next summer to help the pitches embed into the surface and rejuvenate.
Four pitches will be totally rebuilt, including the Test strip used this summer, but it will take several years before they can be used.
Fox has said the MCG did not want to replicate a pitch with as much pace as Perth but insisted it had to be capable of producing a result, possibly within four days.
The MCC and CA have yet to broker a new hosting rights agreement, with Perth's new stadium keen to poach the iconic Test. But that seems almost impossible, with even Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews declaring the festive-season Test would remain at the MCG.
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