If you grew up a cricket tragic like me, then Boxing Day for you should be synonymous with Test cricket. I remember getting up in the cold North Indian winters in the 1990s to watch a day full of soothing sunshine and Test cricket from Australia.
The first time I heard the term “Boxing Day Test” on television, I wasn’t even sure of what Boxing Day meant. And when my elder brother explained the meaning, I was disappointed to learn that cricket on Boxing Day is not followed by a boxing match.
A Test match at the Melbourne Cricket Ground (MCG) has been a regular fixture of the Australian summer for over a century and there were several occasions since 1950s when a test match started on Boxing Day. But the annual tradition of the Boxing Day Test became a thing only in the 1980s. The one exception was the year 1989, when Australia played Sri Lanka in a One Day International on Boxing Day.
As Mitchell Starc expressed recently, every young Australian cricketer wants to make a mark at the MCG on Boxing Day. Visiting teams have often been less eager to play at the venue in front of the notoriously hostile crowds at MCG.
Fielding at fine leg or third man in front of Bay 13 is a test of nerves and patience for a visiting team’s fielder. The rowdy crowd is known to spare no one. Travelling spectators often have to cope with abuse hurled at visiting team’s fielder, with chants like “You are a w**ker” having become quite common. Many a times a beach ball or two finds its way onto the ground, only to be deflated by a security guard.
While the carnival is an essential part of Boxing Day, players have risen up to the occasion over the years to give us some memorable cricketing moments. Here are the Top 5 moments from Boxing Day Tests:
The last man standing, 1982
An Ashes finish more dramatic than Edgbaston 2005. Australia, chasing 292 in the fourth innings, still needed 74 to win when Jeff Thomson joined Allan Border on Day 4. The pair kept England at bay until the final day and were one hit away when Thomson went for an expansive shot against Ian Botham. The whole stadium skipped a collective beat when Chris Tavare parried the ball behind him. Geoff Miller gleefully accepted the chance, saving Tavare from lifelong embarrassment.
West Indian domination, 1988
Australia regularly hosted West Indies through the late 1970s and 1980s and was at the receiving end on most occasions. This was another dominant show from West Indies lead by Vivian Richards. Richie Richardson scored a classy hundred in the West Indies’ second innings and West Indian pace quartet of Marshall, Patterson, Ambrose and Walsh bundled Australia for an embarrassing 114 in a comprehensive 285 run victory for the visitors.
Warne hat-trick courtesy Boon, 1994
“You won’t see a better catch at the short leg than that one,” gushed Tony Greig on commentary as David Boon plucked one diving to his right. It was his birthday and he gave the best possible return gift to a young Shane Warne. Many years later, as if Warne wanted to pay it forward to give another young spinner the highlight of his career, he flicked one to Sadagoppan Ramesh’s right hand at short leg giving Harbhajan Singh his hat-trick and sending the Eden Garden crowd into a frenzy.
England come back, 1998
Two-nil down in the series and with the Ashes urn out of grasp already, England played for pride in the fourth Test of the series. After conceding a first-innings lead, England set Australia a target of 175 in the fourth innings. At 103 for 2, Australia was cruising to victory when Mark Ramprakash lifted England, taking a screamer at mid-wicket sending back Justin Langer.
Dean Headley, in his most memorable performance, sent back the Australian middle order giving England hope. Seven down, Steve Waugh took the extra half hour in a bid to finish the Test on Day 4. With the shadows getting longer, a tired Darren Gough managed to send two of his trademark yorkers to seal a memorable victory for Alec Stewart’s team.
Sachin Masterclass, 1999
Tendulkar seemed a lonely man in the field during the 1999 Australian tour. As captain, he got little support from his bowlers and could hardly hide his frustration as he kept trying every trick in the book against Australian batsmen to no avail.
While batting, he was in prime form but his partners kept deserting him at the other end. Having recently received accolades from Don Bradman himself, Australian crowds were gushing about Tendulkar everywhere he went. They all wanted to watch an Australian victory after a Tendulkar hundred.
At MCG, they had their money worth when the little master put his full array of strokes on display. The pulls, the lofted drives, the straight drives were all there, making everyone aware that they were probably witnessing 'the greatest since Don.'
Honorary mention, the butcher of Najafgarh, 2003
India found themselves in an unfamiliar territory of leading the series on Australian soil, when Sehwag walked in to face Brett Lee and Co on Boxing Day. Hit twice on the helmet early on, Sehwag weathered the early storm to entertain the capacity crowd on a sunny day.
Punishing everything within his reach, Sehwag unleashed hell’s fury on the Australian attack with one audacious blow after another. Close to reaching a double century on Day 1, Sehwag received a full toss from part-timer Simon Katich and true to his vow of not letting go any loose deliveries held one out to the deep fielder while going for glory.
Many accused him of irresponsible play, but Sehwag clarified at the end of the day that he had no regrets and will do the same if he gets another chance. The prophecy turned true a few years later when he again took on a deep fielder to raise his triple hundred with a six.
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Updated Date: Dec 25, 2016 18:49:00 IST