A great day to be a Victorian
Of themselves, sports stadiums are utilitarian in structure: a mass of plastic seats, concrete and steel. And yet they are so much more. Take the MCG. It is loved by Melburnians not just for its imposing physicality, but for what it embodies – it's an enormous place of gathering to share and celebrate our love of sport played at the highest level.
Never before in its 167-year history would it have sat idle for so long. But after all the events cancelled on the sporting calender this year, the last fixture of the year, the Boxing Day Test, will not be one of them. A lucky matter of timing.
Last year, more than 80,000 cricket fans watched the first day of the Test against New Zealand, which Australia eventually won by 247 runs. A pandemic was quietly brewing in Wuhan but, in Australia, nobody gave it a second thought.
Crowds packed out last year’s Boxing Day Test. Credit:Chris Hopkins
Twelve months later, a maximum of 30,000 cricket fans will go through the stadium's turnstiles, but that will be enough to bring it back to life. The last time it was close to full was the ICC Women’s World Cup final, held in early March, when 86,000 people filled the stands, a record for women's cricket. Australia also won that match. The ground has sat largely silent ever since, with even the AFL grand final having to venture north.
But the first day of this Test is a substantial reward for all the enormous sacrifices Victorians have made during those terrible days of lockdown. Even the weather gods, which in Melbourne can be fickle at best, have fashioned a glorious sunny day to ensure that hats and zinc cream are a must.
While the crowd will be a long way from full capacity, it is a substantially better scenario than might have been considered possible only months ago. It will also offer Melbourne's Indian community the chance to gather in force to celebrate their passionate love of the game. And with India still in the eye of the pandemic storm, it should provide everyone a chance to offer their goodwill.
Boxing Day is, however, about more than just cricket. With Christmas Day festivities done, for most it is time to get in some serious rest and recreation – and this has never been more deserved. It can come in many forms, from long days on the beach to frantic sales shopping. For those who prefer a more sedentary experience, maybe with a book or just your own relaxed thoughts, don't feel any guilt at the inactivity. Whether on the beach, by a river, or just sitting in the backyard, it is important that people take time to refresh and recharge the batteries in preparation for what will no doubt be another uncertain year.
While vaccines have been approved, it will be many months before people can let down their guard. Europe is learning the hard lesson that a relaxed summer spent ignoring the rules designed to keep the virus at bay can come at a terrible cost when autumn and winter arrive. There are few better places in the world to be now than Australia, and in particular Victoria.
That will be on show nowhere more so than at the MCG today. As the players walk out onto that sacred piece of turf, the site of so many moments of sporting history, and the first cheers go up, let us all be thankful for our collective effort to quash the virus. It's a great day to be a Melburnian, and a Victorian. Enjoy the moment.
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