I have just attended one of sport’s true special occasions: Melbourne Cricket Ground’s (MCG) Boxing Day Test.
As an avid cricket fan, player and coach I have always had a wishful eye on experiencing first-hand, a Boxing Day Test at the ‘G. It was worth the wait. As well as being the world’s largest cricket ground, with a history stretching back to 1838 (when it hosted the first Victoria v New South Wales match) the MCG has also consistently produced a smorgasbord of excitement, skill and sporting endeavour. The bright summer sunshine and ever-fervent crowd (always appearing even more glorious when watching from a bleak mid-winter’s night back in the UK) make this Test match stand out from perhaps any other. Whoever Australia are facing, I always want to be there on 26th December.
This year I was not only there, as part of a new world record crowd for a Test match of 91,092, but also fortunate enough to be with both family and friends to see England against Australia. An event so much looked forward to that my children and I ditched our personalised Melbourne City tour on Christmas Eve, in favour of doing a ‘oncer’ around a closed MCG, as a prelim to the big day on Boxing Day.
Statues of past heroes ring the ‘G, reminding visitors not only of cricket legends but also of Australian Rules’ greats and athletes from the Melbourne Olympics, held at the ground in 1956. For my part more recent Boxing Day Test memories came to mind, including Shane Warne’s 700th Test wicket and England’s previous perfect Boxing Day performance bowling Australia out for 98 and finishing the day on 157-0.
Similarly, whilst cricketing history at the MCG runs deep (World Cup Final, Trevor Chappell’s 1981 under-arm bowl, first full colour-scoreboard with replays, Bay 13 mosh-pit) the venue continues to play host to many other major Melbourne spectacles, from AFL Grand Finals and blockbuster musical performances to Papal visits and the National Sports Museum.
The ground off the Yarra River is a focal point in central Melbourne. Having visited a number of other world famous stadia, including Lords & Wembley, Azteca, Bernabeu, LA Rose Bowl and Yokohama, I have to say the MCG is as impressive a sporting venue as any of them. Its legendary atmosphere, sense of excitement, steep sides and a close-to-the-action ambiance definitely does a 90,000+ crowd justice and makes a paying customer very happy. The facilities are easy to access, the acoustics deafening and the atmosphere vibrant from the first ball to the last. There are also uninterrupted views from every seat in the house.
Carnival costumes, big sixes, passionate inter-fan engagement (Barmy Army v Ozzie Fanatics), handle-bar moustaches, 90mph bouncers and dare I say it, at the end of Day 1, the Ozzies firmly in the 2013 driving seat. Things can change though.
These photos offer a snapshot of Day 1 of this year’s 2013 Boxing Day Test, one which my family and I will always remember as very special day out – not least as we were part of the world’s largest Test match crowd in history. From this day on, whenever I home in on a MCG Boxing Day Test from afar, I will be able to close my eyes and feel the MCG heat, atmosphere and collective 90,000 fan roar as the opening bowler runs in at the opposition’s opening batsman.