The legacy of Boxing Day Tests - Cricket’s grandest year-end spectacle
December 26-30 is the most anticipated period for cricket fans in the Southern Hemisphere. For fans in Australia, South Africa and New Zealand, it is time for the Boxing Day match. It is this event in the cricketing calendar that helps end the year in a grand fashion. (ASHES LIVE SCORES)
Australia and South Africa have hosted Tests on a regular basis while New Zealand have hosted ODIs, Twenty20 Internationals and sometimes Tests. In 2013, the Boxing Day Test returned to New Zealand with West Indies playing at Wellington’s Basin Reserve.
The Melbourne Cricket Ground has been the standard venue for Boxing Day Tests while in South Africa, it is Kingsmead, Durban. The Boxing Day Test between South Africa and Zimbabwe will be played in Port Elizabeth this time, with a pink ball and over four days.
What is Boxing Day?
The earliest definition of Boxing Day, given in the Oxford Dictionary, describes it as the first weekday following Christmas, observed as a holiday on which postmen, errand boys and servants expect to receive a Christmas box of goodies. Boxing Day, in the modern era, is the day after Christmas, and is observed as a holiday. December 26 is also St. Stephen’s Day, a religious holiday. In Australia, Boxing Day is a federal public holiday.
History of Boxing Day Test
In 1892, the MCG hosted a Sheffield Shield match, which started a tradition of Christmas period clashes between Victoria and New South Wales. But the first Boxing Day Test at the MCG was only held in 1950, and the Test against England started on December 22.
As a matter of fact, from 1950 till 1980, there were only four Boxing Day contests. In 1975, Australia played West Indies in front of a massive crowd of 85,596 and it gave the world a glimpse of the potential of this Test. Since the 1990s, the Boxing Day Test became a regular fixture in the Australian cricket summer.
Memorable Boxing Day moments
2010: Australia were shot out for 98 on the opening day of the Boxing Day Test against an inspired England. Jonathan Trott then smashed 168 and Australia suffered an innings and 157-run defeat. England went on to win their first series in Australia after 24 years.
2006: Shane Warne highlighted the Boxing Day Test against England in grand style as he became the first bowler to complete 700 wickets. The leg-spinner took his 37th and final five-wicket haul as Australia defeated England by an innings and 99 runs to surge towards a 5-0 whitewash.
1998: England were fighting to stay alive in the Ashes contest. Chasing 175 in the fourth innings, Australia were cruising at 130/3 but an inspired spell of 6/60 from Dean Headley gave England a 12-run win.
1982: A gripping Test saw Australia fall three runs short. England scored 284 and Australia took a three-run lead. After England were bowled out for 294 in the second innings, Australia were almost out of the contest at 218/9. Allan Border with 62 and last man Jeff Thomson with 21 almost got Australia over the line before Ian Botham took the last wicket to seal a three-run win for England.
India have played seven Boxing Day Tests at the Melbourne Cricket Ground, since 1985. While they drew two matches, they lost the other five. The most dramatic was in 2003-4 when Virender Sehwag’s sensational 195 gave India the upper hand only for Australia to bounce back and win.
However, India have a memorable victory at the MCG, which was not a Boxing Day Test. In this game in February 1981, Kapil Dev’s heroics with the ball saw Australia skittled out for 83 in the fourth innings, handing India a 59-run victory.
During the 2013/14 Ashes, a record crowd of 91,112 people attended the match. The total attendance of 271,865 remains the highest-ever for this contest. In contrast, several other matches have witnessed poor turnouts. The Boxing Day crowd for the 2015 Test against the West Indies was 53,389. Against Pakistan, the crowd was sparse. When Australia drew with South Africa in 1992 in a rain-affected match, the total attendance was 48,565, the least.
Team performance in MCG Boxing Day
Australia have a success rate of almost 70% in Boxing Day Tests while England are the best overseas team at this venue, having won four out of nine Tests. India, Sri Lanka and Pakistan have not won a Boxing Day Test at the MCG. South Africa registered their first-ever series win in Australia by winning the Boxing Day Test in 2008. New Zealand have not featured in a Boxing Day Test at the MCG for 30 years.