x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 21 January 2018

Supporters expected to beat record at MCG

England dismiss concerns about Australia influencing ground staff to fix the pitch.

Ground staff at Melbourne Cricket Ground pull the covers off the pitch yesterday as they prepare for the fourth Ashes Test which begins on Sunday.
Ground staff at Melbourne Cricket Ground pull the covers off the pitch yesterday as they prepare for the fourth Ashes Test which begins on Sunday.

MELBOURNE // Cricket Australia believes the Melbourne Cricket Ground (MCG) will host a world record crowd of 91,000 on Sunday's opening day of the fourth Ashes Test between Australia and England.

The record crowd for a cricket Test of 90,800 was set at the ground in 1961 during a match between Australia and the West Indies.

The opening day of the 2006 Ashes Test on the ground four years ago drew 89,155 fans despite cold conditions.

James Sutherland, Cricket Australia's chief executive, said yesterday that with the current series tied at 1-1 "the cricket gods are smiling on us all" and circumstances were ideal for a record crowd. He expected 300,000 people to attend the match over five days.

Meanwhile, Andy Flower, the England coach, and Alastair Cook, the vice-captain, say they are unconcerned Australia may influence the MCG staff into preparing a pitch that suits the home team.

English media reported that two pitches had been prepared for the Test and it was likely the faster and bouncier of the two would be chosen for the game, as it would benefit the pace bowlers who led Australia to a series-levelling win in the third Test at Perth.

Cricket Australia rejected the reports, saying pitch preparation was left to local groundsmen.

England can seal a successful Ashes defence by winning at the MCG, but a loss would leave the tourists having to win the final Test in Sydney to hold on to the urn.

Despite the high stakes, Cook was fatalistic about any pitch switch.

"That's the beauty of home conditions isn't it? You can prepare a pitch to hopefully suit the home side," Cook said.

"That's what we try and do in England in certain cases and there's no reason why I would expect Australia not to do it.

"If you went to India, they played three spinners and produced a green seamer, you'd be wondering what's going on, so that is what home advantage is and you'd expect everyone to do it."

Cook acknowledged he would prefer the MCG pitch to be less pacy than the one in Perth.

"As a batter you'd much rather it flatter," he said. "We obviously got outplayed a little bit in Perth, but our record on bouncy wickets is good back at home and at Old Trafford. Conditions change from week to week and it's how you adapt to those that determines how successful you are." England played state team Victoria at the MCG immediately before the Perth Test and found the pitch relatively slow and flat.

"When we were there for the three-day game they were preparing two pitches," Flower said. "One looked barer than the other, and they were debating then which they wanted to use.

"They weren't that happy with the look of the slightly barer one, so more than likely they'll go with the one with more grass cover."