Melbourne needed its Boxing Day test match. Most wanted a win, but the result was still overwhelmingly positive.
The sporting capital of Australia was re-awoken with live sport again!
The ability to bask in the annual Boxing Day tradition was what Melbourne craved. Zinced up, guernseys and Akubra hats dusted off at the ready, trains filled up in a mist of excitement on Boxing Day as attention quickly turned away from Christmas and to the cricket.
It was the first event at the MCG since Australia’s World Cup triumph in March. While 86,000 couldn’t watch like that day, the average crowd of approximately 25,000 in the first three days that trickled through were greeted by a new MCG experience. Hi-5 cam replaced the ever-popular kiss-cam, while cashless payment and hand sanitizer also served as reminders of the difficult year.
But perhaps the most telling reminder of COVID-19 was the appreciation and celebration of the action.
Never was Australia on top. Yet the atmosphere generated compensated for the vacant seats and reminded the world of Melbourne’s sporty heart and soul.
Despite the bare cupboard of highlights from an Australian perspective, the vocal crowd still rode the emotions and bumps that Test cricket brings. The despair of wickets on day one and three and frustration of the dropped chances on day two were shared by both players and crowd.
The tension was palpable during Australia’s difficult batting innings’. The Bharat army gave India loud support, but the whole crowd honored Ajinkya Rahane’s fighting century with warm applause. Good cricket was acknowledged moreover Australian success.
That epitomized the excitement of locals who breathed life back into the MCG after nine months suppressed in silence. It showed that after enduring months of lockdown, the crowd understood the significance of the milestone. Nothing was going to stop the relative few that could attend from, for a brief period, forgetting about the horrors of 2020.
A large source of the exuberance was off the field. In between the Aussie lowlights, there were enthusiastic claps, chants, and intermittent Mexican waves.
Victorian diehards also cherished the opportunity to formally commemorate the life and say farewell to one of their favorite sons in Dean Jones, with a touching tribute at Tea on the first day.
From a cricketing perspective, many supporters were forced to eat their words after Adelaide. It was Australia’s batting that looked brittle and fielding unreliable. And India was blunting an attack billed as among the best in Christmas lunch discussions.
While Australian selectors were made to look like geniuses in Adelaide after a Joe Burns 50 and Matthew Wade seeming comfortable, India’s selection was inspired in Melbourne. Ravi Jadeja contributed with bat and ball and Rishabh Pant produced an important counterpunch. Melbourne also got to witness two debutants- Shubman Gill and Mohammed Siraj- who showed they have a bright future.
Melburnians, though, will be grateful to have viewed Cameron Green’s first innings of substance, a staunch 45, largely in tandem with the talismanic Patrick Cummins.
The city has witnessed a whole array of sporting contests. But 2020 took that away, fragmenting Melbourne’s identity. For some, live sport returning has been in the diary since the cancellation of the Melbourne Grand Prix. It hit harder for others when the AFL and NRL seasons were uprooted.
Regardless, in a year upended, Melbourne at least retained one sporting constant in the twilight of the year, providing a perfect launchpad into a brighter 2021.