MCG celebrates birthday with a facelift | india | Hindustan Times
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MCG celebrates birthday with a facelift

The Melbourne Cricket Ground, home of the first Test match, turned 150 in September and its owners had promised it a facelift as a birthday present.

india Updated: Nov 25, 2003 03:14 IST
Reuters
Reuters
PTI

The Melbourne Cricket Ground, home of the first Test match, turns 150in Septemberand its owners have promised it a facelift as a birthday present.

The ground has also been the venue for historic moments in the Olympic Games, Australian Rules (AFL) football, both rugby codes and soccer as well as a Rolling Stones concert and a religious crusade by American evangelist Billy Graham.

"This stadium...has no equal anywhere in the world," said John Wylie, chairman of the Melbourne Cricket Ground (MCG) Trust.

"The MCG is truly the people's ground. For 150 years this sporting and cultural mecca has stood the Test of time as one of the world's finest stadiums," he added.

Now the MCG, which hosted the 1956 Olympics and Australia's unsuccessful 1997 and 2001 World Cup soccer qualifying campaigns against Iran and Uruguay, is to undergo a A$425 million ($280 million) renovation for the 2006 Commonwealth Games.

The ground's capacity has dropped from 96,000 to 73,000 as workers demolish the Ponsford Stand to build a new Northern Stand over the next three years. Capacity will eventually be more than 100,000.

Wylie has announced plans for celebrations to mark September 23, the anniversary of the ground 150 years after the government granted the site to Melbourne Cricket Club.

Celebrations will start in AFL grand final week in September and continue until late next year with exhibitions, commemorative matches, school projects and the unveiling of a tapestry depicting key figures and events in the ground's history.

RECORD CROWD

"The 150th birthday of the MCG is a celebration for Melburnians and Victorians, indeed for all Australians," Melbourne Cricket Club president David Jones said.

"This is an opportunity to come together to celebrate and relive the history and memories of some of the greatest sporting and entertainment events of our time."

Sports-mad Melbourne fans generally associate the MCG, at least in the southern winter, with Australian Rules football, which culminates each September when capacity crowds pack in for the grand final.

The grand final record crowd is 121,696 in 1970, when Carlton, coached by former leading player Ron Barassi, recovered from a 44-point halftime deficit to beat Collingwood by 10 points.

The stadium held cricket's first Test, when Australia beat England by 45 runs in 1877, and every December it hosts the Boxing Day Test between Australia and a touring side.

Shane Warne's 1994-95 Test hat-trick against England, West Indian Gary Sobers's sweetly amassed 254 for the Rest of the World XI against Australia in 1971-72 and Trevor Chappell's infamous underarm delivery in a one-day international against New Zealand in 1981, which sparked a diplomatic row between the two countries, are some of the most best-remembered moments at the MCG.

Australia beat England by 45 runs in 1977 in the Centenary Test. It was the same result as 100 years earlier in a game full of heroics from players on both sides.

Australia's late Don Bradman, the most celebrated batsman in world cricket, played 11 Tests at the MCG, hitting 1,671 runs including nine centuries and averaging 128.54.

SPRINT GOLDS

In 1956, in the wake of the Suez crisis and Soviet intervention in Hungary, the Olympic Games were hit by a wave of withdrawals.

But spectators at the MCG still witnessed some outstanding feats including a 10,000-metres and 5,000-metres double by Vladimir Kuts of the Soviet Union and the sprinting of American Bobby Joe Morrow who won two individual titles and a relay gold.

An estimated 130,000 spectators were at the ground for the 1959 religious crusade of Billy Graham. Paul McCartney, U2 and Madonna held concerts at the ground in 1993 while the Rolling Stones played there two years later.

Rugby league attracted a crowd of 87,161 for a State of Origin match between New South Wales and Queensland in 1994.

Three years later a rugby union Bledisloe Cup test between Australia and New Zealand drew a crowd of 90,119. In the same year, 85,513 looked on in stunned silence as Iran came back from 2-0 down to draw with Australia in a World Cup soccer qualifier and advance to the finals.

Barassi, a six-time AFL premiership player and four-time premiership coach, is one of the most revered figures ever to set foot on the MCG and holds many fond memories of the ground.

"Bearing in mind we're down at the bottom of the earth and all that, I still think we're a big wheel in the world of sport," Barassi, now 67, told Reuters.

"The MCG is known as one of the famous stadiums...in the world," said Barassi, who recalled sneaking in for free to watch the athletics at the 1956 Olympics.