Wednesday, 1 January 2014

Off-Season Digressions - Boxing Day Test Match

After the pleasant surprise that was our baseball adventure, and still needing things to do during off-season, I decided to take up the opportunity and recommendation to finally make my debut at a test cricket match. You may recall that my live in the flesh cricket experiences are quite limited - the most notable example being the descent into Dante's cricketing hell that was this entry from February 2013.

I had been told that test cricket was different, and that I should go at least once to make a fair comparison. Then again, I keep getting told to go to A-League matches in order to make valid sociological statements based on 'actual experience' rather than whatever it is people think I'm relying on, but as I've said many times before, I've been there and done that, so I don't really see what the point is.

The first problem seems to be this. It's an event with a possible length of five days, so which day do you choose to go to? The first day, with all the sheeple who are there as much due to social convention as for the contest itself? Day two or three where the contest may or may not be still in the balance? Day four where one team has gained the ascendancy and is striving for the kill? Day five where, depending on the previous four days, the result may be decided in the first hour or peter out in a draw?

So therefore, do you go to one day, or every day? If you only go to one day, you miss out on most of the contest, which just seems like a bizarre thing to do. If you go to several days, the cost - unless you're an MCC member who brings their own lunch - ramps up considerably. At $24 for a concession ticket and $40 for an adult for the cheapest seats, and who knows how much food and drink you'll buy over the course of the seven hour day, a full suite of test match cricket attendance is a very expensive endeavour to undertake

Day 1
Stayed home. Watched some bits on TV, listened to a bit on the radio. Doesn't seem like I missed much.

Day 2
Day 2, looking from the Great Southern Stand across to the
Ponsford and Members stands. Photo: Paul Mavroudis
The plan had been for me and Gains (a first time cricket attendee) to meet Steve from Broady and his cousin Johnny in the Southern Stand. Turned out it was all allocated seating however, and besides that Steve was in the Ponsford anyway.

The first thing I noticed was that Bay 13 people were over at the bottom deck of the Punt Road End, thus we had an OK view of their antics, and the ability to see patrons gradually being tossed, some more forcibly than others. Unlike my trip in February, it was a lot harder to see what was going on exactly.

What it means also is that the crowd around us was also a lot more civilised, which is an entirely different thing from being sanitised. They watched the game, were generally appreciative of what was another very boring and slow day of test cricket. As slow as Chris Rogers was, at least he scored some runs. I'm not quite sure what George Bailey was seeking to accomplish with his approach.

That post really should have got a few more re-tweets.

After tea we went over to meet Steve in the Ponsford, who'd informed me that he hadn't has his bag checked as he came in, among catching me up with all sorts of other gossip, include the Victory-Wanderers brawl in the city. At least now having a smart phone and a plan to go with it (thank you scholarship) meant I could keep up with events on Twitter. Eventually the day petered out into an Australian batting collapse and the decision being made to come back again the next day. I'm not sure how much Gains was enamoured by the experience. I think I liked the baseball more.

Day 3
A nightmare public transport run into town due to massive signal failures on the Werribee line was alleviated by my old man giving me a lift into the city. At Flinders Street Station while waiting for Steve to get out of Boost Juice, I met Julian, one of my PhD coursework unit classmates, and so we discussed our respective works.

Eventually we got to the ground late, and missed Brad Haddin notch up his fifty, thought at least we were able to watch it via some kid in the line, who had it streaming on his phone.

Day 3, looking from the Ponsford stand across to the
Olympic and Southern stands. Photo: Paul Mavroudis
Inside the ground we ended up at the top of the Ponsford again. This time it was England's turn to put in a tedious batting effort. That tedium also included a spineless burst were they lost four wickets for not very much. Early in the day, there was a 'justice for the 96' banner in the sparsely populated top deck of Southern Stand which was next to the new scoreboards, unfortunately too far away to take a proper photo of. The police and security quickly stepped in to get it taken down, though from our admittedly distant vantage point, it didn't look like it was a willing acquiescence from the English patrons.

By the way, those new, larger scoreboards are indeed fantastic and wonderful. However, there is a caveat. Their size now means that the protective framing around them, as well as the railings from the Southern Stand, mean that from certain viewing spots, they are obscured by very large pieces of metal. Not a problem sitting where we were on days 3 and 4, but on day 2 while sitting in the top deck of the Southern Stand (in what would normally be a good viewing position) it was obvious that someone hadn't really thought it through.

Day 4 - A lot of waiting, and an early finish.
Unlike the previous day, we managed to get to MCG early, and into the line outside the Ponsford stand ticket booth by 10:05. Finally got our tickets at 10:45. Forty minutes. The lines were absurd, but were made much worse by the dithering of so many patrons who would rather spend an eternity selecting where they would like to sit, rather than just being happy enough to take the first option and actually getting inside and watching the damn game.

When me and Steve finally got to the front of our line, I was prepared with exact money, proof of concession, my order and was ready to get out of there as quickly as possible. But no, the ticket seller had to keep asking me what I wanted - did I want to be in the sun, did I want to be in an aisle seat. Like I gave a stuff about an aisle seat! Tedious transaction dealt with, and already 25 minutes of play missed, at least we had the small time saving grace of Steve once again managing to get in without a bag check.

Once in the ground, we all had to deal with the fact that England's captain Alistair Cook seemed to have no understanding of the concept of the third man fielding position. And thus Chris Rogers - who earlier in the test had made a torturous innings of 60 odd - was able to cut deliveries repeatedly to that boundary. Since I don't have as much invested from an emotional standpoint in the fortunes of Australia's cricket team, and had a more old fashioned desire to see a good contest, I was disappointed by this elementary lack of competency. But that's sport for you.

Lunch time saw more lines. More lines! My goodness. For some reason whoever runs the MCG felt that they didn't need to open almost any food outlets on the top deck despite the very healthy crowd. After seeing that the only food outlet on the top of the Ponsford stand had a line a mile long, it was decided that we would walk around to the more sparsely populated Southern Stand to see if anything was open there. It was not. It was appalling organisation and all to save a couple of bucks on wages.

After standing in line at the only open canteen booth on the wrong side of the MCC gate tracks, it was obvious that of the two main options - chicken schnitzel roll or pork bun (not the steamed Asian dish, but rather a pork patty in a roll) it was obvious that everyone was waiting to get a schnitzel roll. Being far too hungry to give a damn about waiting for the chicken option, I decided to take the a pork bun off the shelf (the boxes being identical except for a handy little sticker saying 'pork bun' on them) and be done with it.

Of course, back at my seat upon opening the package, it was of course a chicken schnitzel roll, which is what I wanted in the first place, though of course not what I had expected. I had had the reverse happen to me at the footy once, so I suppose this was a kind of karma. Bad luck though for all the people who forked out $10(!) for either option and ended up with something they didn't like.

The match, which I had expected to possibly go into a fifth day due to the very slow run rate of almost the entirety of the previous three days didn't even manage to get to tea, with the main thrill being Shane Watson again not managing to reach his hundred, albeit this time because there weren't enough runs left for him to be able to do so. Quite why we stayed for the speeches and man of the match awards I'm not sure.

Day 5
Stayed home and watched the NFL on TV. Too bad the first two games were largely inconsequential and lousy (should at least have had the Bears-Packers game), but at there was no avoiding the Cowboys-Eagles game.

The Barmy Army
Sure their team has sucked these past couple of months, which has possibly thinned out their numbers and consequently their enthusiasm over the course of the tour, but I still don't see what the fuss is all about. Throughout most of the three days I spent at the game, they were pretty much a non-entity, providing not much more atmosphere than other parts of the ground. The end of day 2 I think it was they managed a very long period of chanting, as the cool breeze came through and their side was in the ascendancy. But one gets the feeling that a lot of the hype about them is due to the novelty to mainstream Australian audiences of a group like that even bothering to sing. Seems like pretty standard European football behaviour for me. Still, they did better than the Mexican waves and 'you are a wanker' fare of the relocated Bay 13. It is what it is.

Do you like cricket? If you only want to to turn up to one day, it doesn't really matter. If you want to go to more than one day, surely there's better things you can be doing.

Test match cricket - despite the six hours of 'value' you get - is a very expensive hobby if you want to go to more than one day, unless you have an MCC membership, in which case cost doesn't really come into it. And if you have an MCC membership and you don't go, you're probably one of those people who I despise who have an MCC membership primarily or only for AFL matches - why not just get an AFL or club membership then?

You're probably better off just inviting your mates over to your place with a slab or two, maybe have a barbecue, set up the TV somewhere suitable. How much of the game will you actually watch? I suppose it depends on how many drinks you have, how many toilet breaks, how many any number of variables, including if you're there more for the social aspect than the game. If you don't have a slightly elevated seat over the bowlers arm or behind the keeper and first slip, how much can you perceive the ball swinging or spinning?

Admittedly this problem is magnified for me due to my atrocious eyesight, being  barely able to make out the ball at all from the pace bowlers, and therefore depending more on the reactions of the batsmen - that auditory quality I mentioned.

After having my cynicism undermined by the baseball experience, I had it rekindled by this one, not so much that I would never go again, but now with a whole arsenal of reasons at hand as to why one wouldn't.


  1. Even with good eyesight going to the Test Cricket is not much chop. I have played the sport on and off (more on than off) since I was a junior in the late 1970's. However, I have not played since 2009 so I assume I have retired. Anyway, if its a good contest, I can watch session after session on the television.

    Tennis has the opposite effect. It's better in the flesh Well it use to be when you could choose one of the various matches. Now with all these night sessions,only day 1 and 2 give you that opportunity.

    The one great aspect of Test cricket, which took me years to realise, is that the ambition of each team is as far apart as any sport in the world. The bowling team only need ten wicket taking balls. The batting team wants at least 100-130 scorring shots.

    I can't beleive you went to 3 days in a row!!

    Savvas Tzionis

    1. I was exhausted by the experience - it's very tiring, sitting there doing not much for several hours at a time - is that what prison is like (in that sense are we all in the Barmy Army's convict colony)? I prefer my cricket on the radio - apart from the descriptive qualities that are inherent to a cricket broadcast on radio, it of course means that I don't have to focus my entire attention on it.

      Fair point about the differing objectives - there's not really much that can rival the kind of finish in Test cricket where all four results - win/draw/tie/loss are still possible on the 5th day. Too bad that it seldom gets to that position.

      I always have to factor in my eyesight, especially when Steve said that he could clearly see the ball, and was surprised that I was struggling to pick it up.

      I did the tennis thing a couple of years back

      While it was not my cup of tea, I can certainly see how the increase of night sessions screws up the ability to see a variety of matches with half decent players after the first couple of days. Ideally it would have the school carnival vibe, where you should be able to go around and take in a bit of a few matches if that's your style.


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