Melbourne Cricket Club boss Stuart Fox insists a reduced Ashes Boxing Day crowd of 70,000 would still be a win for one of Australian sport’s marquee events.
Ashes Tests have averaged crowds of more than 88,000 on Boxing Day since the ground’s last capacity upgrade to around 100,000 in 2006.
And in spite of a surge in COVID-19 cases across the country, the MCG capacity will not be capped for next week’s Test, with no limit imposed on outdoor venues in Victoria.
But the pandemic has resulted in a downshift in crowd confidence across the country in all sports, while reduced Barmy Army touring numbers could also impact MCG attendance figures.
“We’re expecting 70,000 day one, hopefully more.” Fox said on Wednesday.
“I think that is good numbers considering there are border issues and the virus is still causing us some issues.
“People who have purchased tickets want to come to this event.
“People will make their own judgment, and if we get 70,000 that will be a good result in this environment.”
Fox is also predicting changes to mask laws for spectators using bars and restaurants, given the issue was set to be discussed at the national cabinet on Wednesday.
Players will remain on level-four restrictions for the Test which will limit their interaction with fans and keep them away from crowded indoor spaces.
But Cricket Australia remains adamant it does not need to go to level-five restrictions, which would essentially put players in a hard bubble.
“Ultimately what it comes down to is these people want to participate,” CA’s head of operations Peter Roach said.
“They are working with us, not against us.”
Meanwhile, the MCC is confident MCG pitch issues have been sorted, with curator Matt Page aiming to roll out a similar wicket to the one used for Australia and India last year.
That game lasted four days and was an improvement on the flat pitches used in 2017 and 2018.
“We’ve been on a massive journey the past three years,” Page said.
“We analyse data. We change techniques. We’ve left a lot more grass on the pitches.
“We have been gradually improving. It’s shown in the results.”
Page would not offer the same advice that Adelaide Oval counterpart Damian Hough did last week, who suggested England would be foolish not to play a spinner.
“There will be a little bit of spin, but it won’t be massive I wouldn’t think,” Page said.
But Bureau of Meteorology climatologist Dr Blair Trewin was happy to offer a tip to the captain who wins the toss.
“From a weather perspective the first day will probably have the best bowling conditions,” he said.
“It will be the coolest day of the match and probably have the most cloud.”