17/04/2024

The MCG crowd lapping up the atmosphere in an electric final hour on Day 2. Image: @cricketcomau. Twitter

It was an afternoon to savour for Melburnians as the MCG roared to life in the final hour of Day 2 at the Boxing Day Test. a feeling that had been so desperately missed.

There isn’t a city in the world that embraces its sporting culture quite like Melbourne. So often is the year defined by major events and sporting landmarks that fill up calendars and diaries from year to year with big sporting events.

You know not to plan an event on those days. Sacrilegious as ever to schedule a wedding on say Grand Final day or Boxing Day or if you’re a motorhead, race day at Albert Park and Phillip Island.

A town that has endured the brunt and the worst of what the COVID pandemic has had to offer here in Australia. A town and city that has had not one, not two but six re-awakenings after the different lockdowns and six different times we had to shut down and reset and go without the things that make our city what it is.

Boxing Day last year was symbolic. It was the start of things slowly coming back to normal. A strict crowd cap was in place but no cricket-loving Melburnian was going to miss out on getting back to the pinnacle event of the sporting calendar.

A sporting calendar that builds as the year goes on. The Australian Open went ahead. With a crowd cap, with a lockdown in the middle but it had all the international stars and it started to feel like Melbourne was doing its thing again.

The men’s footy season rolled around and the crowds were increased and right then and there, it felt like Melbourne was awake again. Anzac Day was special in the sense that on the country’s most sacred day, after a year and a bit that had felt anything but normal, it felt normal in the sense that the commemorations took place in the morning, largely restriction-free, before 78,113 packed into the MCG to watch Essendon beat Collingwood in the traditional clash.

A landmark day on the Australian calendar, and a day that Melburnians circle as one of the days and events in their sporting crown.

While there was more pain to come for Melbourne as lockdowns four, five, and six meant that there was another year with the Grand Final taken away from us, robbing the true believers of the grandest old flag at home, once the state and town opened up, you could sense the return to the things we love, and our sporting cathedral the MCG would be special and significant.

When the Victorian Government announced that the Boxing Day Test, in the Ashes no less would be crowd limit free and with the stadium to be allowed to be at full capacity, you could sense how special the day would be when December 26th rolled around in the calendar.

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To add to the occasion, the news of Scott Boland making his debut, a Victorian stalwart who had done his best work at the MCG for close to a decade with little to no fuss or fanfare, would step out on Australian cricket’s biggest stage, only added to the spectacle of the day. Australia’s day 1 dominance rubber-stamping a special day in Melbourne town.

Day 1 was special. But Day 2, more specifically the last 58 minutes of play will live long in the memory bank of the 42,626 that were there on that second evening as Australia, after a pretty average day with the bat, failing to really ram home their advantage, created an atmosphere not seen or heard at the MCG for a cricket game since Mitchell Starc castled Brendon McCullum in the first over of the 2015 World Cup Final or Tom Curran overstepped on Boxing Day four years ago.

Starc was there again bowling heat and setting the crowd alight again with wickets. As he steamed into Joe Root to deliver the hat-trick ball, The Great Southern Stand was bouncing. As the ball narrowly flew past Root’s outside edge the noise that emanated, you would have been mistaken to think the place was full to the brim.

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They were clapping and cheering in their seats again when Pat Cummins, who bowled quickly and magnificently himself threw the ball to local hero Boland who was a good a chance as any of jagging a late wicket or two. They were out of their seats again when Boland caught the edge of Haseeb Hameed. They were bouncing around when he rattled Jack Leach’s off stump.

The noise. The atmosphere. The electricity that was generated from being anywhere inside the stadium in that last hour of play will be a symbol of everything that is great about a city.

A city so defined and so entwined with its sporting cultures that afternoons and hours such as the one we just spent at the MCG on the 27th of December in 2021 will go down in folklore.

For Starc, for Boland, for England getting their hearts ripped out after their best day, for Australia’s utter dominance with the ball in hand. For Melbourne.

Melbourne still has a way to go and is a city still healing from the depths. A city that has been through so much angst, anxiety, and loss over the past 18 months, where the things we used to just go and do and took for granted, we couldn’t.

Who knows, the crowning moment may still be yet to come when Australia returns tomorrow looking to complete the job and hold the little urn aloft and tuck it away nice and early. But to have that hour inside their cathedral and mecca of sport where pandemonium reigned supreme and was all happening out in the middle, was a day and time we won’t soon forget.

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