Rain perhaps played a bigger role in the Boxing Day Test between Australia and Pakistan than the players from either side. Azhar Ali’s double ton, and Australia’s two centurions were overshadowed by the curmudgeonly Melbourne evenings.
By the end of day four, both teams were yet to complete their first innings, and only 239 out of a possible 360 overs had been bowled on the iconic Melbourne Cricket Ground (MCG). Nevertheless Australia were able to turn a match pegged to be a draw into a victory following a bold declaration, winning what looked like an unwinnable game thanks to a number of rain delays.
But as the rain repeatedly drove the players into the dressing rooms at the MCG, another game was on in full swing just a 20-minute drive away. The Melbourne Renegades hosted the Perth Scorchers for a Women’s Big Bash League (WBBL) game, which would be followed by the same two franchises facing off in a BBL game. The reason they could play any cricket at all in such conditions was because of the Etihad Stadium’s retractable roof.
The stadium, located just off Melbourne’s pier on the edge of the Central Business District, gives you no clue of the mechanical wonder it possesses from the outside. But when the weather demands, its roof closes, the lights come on, and life goes on as usual on the pitch. With a forecast of rain looming over the double header on Thursday, the roof was on duty, and the Renegades showed off their home ground’s USP: Waterproof cricket.
The stadium was built in the year 2000 at a cost of close to 460 million Australian dollars, and is about more than just the cricket that is played there. A multi-purpose arena, it hosts more than 80 events a year, out of which fifty are Aussie rules football games.
The arena is the home ground for five AFL clubs, besides the Melbourne Victory (football) and the Renegades. Along with sports events, it also hosts concerts, with the likes of Mariah Carey, Bon Jovi, and Robbie Williams having performed there. Most recently, Coldplay performed there on 9 and 10 December.
“We had more than 1,00,000 people over those two days (during Coldplay concert)”, said Bill Lane, communications manager at Etihad Stadium. “Our capacity is about 53,000, but we can seat more for concerts, as we can also use the field,”
“The AFL is our bread and butter. Big Bash is relatively new for us. Still, last year’s Melbourne derby drew 45,000 people,” Lane said.
Etihad Stadium was recently bought by the AFL, who are keen to maintain its multipurpose nature. The Renegades too have recently put pen to paper and made the arena their home ground for the next five years. They will even install two jumbo screens, attached to the roof, for the Melbourne Derby on 7 January.
It was not an everyday experience for the Renegades women, who don’t usually play under a closed roof. Sophie Molineux, the 18-year-old who top scored in the Renegades failed chase with a run a ball 37, was happy to get a game, considering it was pouring outside. “For us to have access to Etihad Stadium, that’s a huge bonus. The renegades got a really good deal,” she said.
“It was steaming hot though, but it was a good atmosphere once the crowd started coming in,”
“It was great to be able to play here, under the lights at two in the afternoon; that was pretty special,” Molineux said.
The closed nature of the stadium means that it is not illuminated by traditional light towers. Instead, the lights are spread out in a rectangle along the framework that holds the roof. There are fewer lights at both ends in line with the wicket, so as to not be in the batters line of sight.
Mike Hussey became the first player to hit a ball into the roof, a full 120 feet above the ground, back in 2005. It was in an Australia versus World XI exhibition game, and the ball was called a dead ball, much to Hussey’s displeasure. The rule was modified in the 2012 BBL, to allow the batter six runs if the ball hit the framework of the roof outside the boundary.
“For all remaining matches, when the roof is open, a ball that hits any part of the Etihad Stadium roof will be ruled a six. When the roof is closed, any ball that hits part of the retractable section of the roof will be ruled a dead ball. All other areas of the stadium roof or structure will be ruled a six,” said the statement from the Renegades.
Lane said that the roof is predominantly closed for most events. For AFL games, broadcasters actually prefer the roof to be closed even if it is sunny, as towards the evenings the ground is partially shaded and partially sunny. “It’s better for cameras, apparently,” Lane said.
He added that the roof is an asset that few other arenas can match. “Ajax stadium in Amsterdam has a retractable roof. Some others in Europe too. But we claim to have the largest retractable roof over a sports stadium in the southern hemisphere. If the weather is inclement, it’s a big benefit for us.”
Lane couldn’t resist taking a dig at the Etihad Stadium’s older, bigger neighbour – the MCG.
“The MCG has the traditional, all important, Boxing Day Test; but it’s being ruined by rain. It wouldn’t happen here. But that’s cricket, isn’t it,” Lane said.
The author, Snehal Pradhan, is a former women's international cricketer and tweets at @SnehalPradhan
Updated Date: Dec 31, 2016 12:18:28 IST