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Tuesday, January 3, 2012

(Published in The New Indian Express, School Edition, dated 3 January, 2011, retrieved from http://expressbuzz.com/school/the-boxing-day-sporting-tradition/349411.html)




Image Courtesy: Wikimedia Commons



For decades now, generations of bleary-eyed Indians have woken up before the sun on December 26, and fumbled with the remote control till they hear a cheerfully boisterous Australian-accented voice, along with a less-excited counterpart in the commentators’ box, speaking about the ‘Boax-ing Die match’. How many of those mornings you’ve seen would depend on whether you’re a huge fan of the game, or a huge fan of the boys in blue. Traditionally, though, the Boxing Day Test is one of the most important, thrilling games on the cricket calendar.
So, how did the day after Christmas come to be associated with sport of any kind, and that too, cricket? Well, it has even less to do with boxing than cricket! In the good old days, when servants of wealthy houses spent their Christmas days and nights seeing to guests at their masters’ parties, they would be given the next day off; they would also bring along boxes, which their employers would fill with money and food as bonus. Now, the contributions are made in Christmas Boxes, kept at church to be distributed among the poor.
However, from being a holiday for the servants, it’s also become a public holiday. And maybe to keep themselves occupied, people in Commonwealth countries across the world have organised popular sporting events on the day. It’s also known as a shopping holiday, with retailers often recording their highest sales of the year on the day.
What Sporting Events are Held on Boxing Day?
In England, Scotland and Northern Ireland, the Premier Leagues as well as the lower divisions hold rugby and football matches on Boxing day, pitting local rivals against each other. In the US and England, it’s also the day on which mounted fox hunts are held. Since fox hunting was banned, people have got around it by using scent drag trails instead of live prey. In Europe and Canada, ice hockey matches are held, while in former British colonies in Africa, prize fighting contests are held.
But for cricket-playing countries, Boxing Day is one of the most awaited days of the year for the on-field action. While New Zealand and South Africa do host Boxing Day matches, the Boxing Day Test is the one played at the Melbourne Cricket Ground in Victoria, Australia. To Australians, the only other event of importance on this day is the Sydney to Hobart yacht race.
The Tradition of the Boxing Day Test
For a long time, Boxing Day usually came bang in the middle of a domestic, first-class cricket match between Victoria and New South Wales, which meant the players from New South Wales would spend their Christmases on the pitch, instead of with their families at home.
It so happened that the 1950-51 Ashes series had the Melbourne test scheduled between 22 and 27 December. Many believe the tradition of the Boxing Day Test dates back to this. However, it wasn’t until the Ashes series of 1974-75 that a test match actually beganon Boxing Day at the MCG. Since then, it became understood that every four years, when the England team toured Australia, one of the matches of the series would begin on Boxing Day at the MCG.
In 1980, the MCG decided to make it an annual event. If the Ashes series was not on, any team that happened to be touring at the time would play against Australia in this match. Until 1980, the on-field action on Boxing Day was something of a coincidence.
The club has also organised a series of cultural events and talks on cricket in the days leading up to the Boxing Day Test. Along with interactive cricket displays in Yarra Park, visitors can also take a look at a lovely collection of sporting heritage at the National Sports Museum, housed in the MCG.
How Did the MCG Celebrate the Australia-India Match this Year?          
The Melbourne Cricket Club dedicated the December issue of its in-house magazine Yorker to Sachin Tendulkar, documenting milestones from all his visits to the country.
The library at the MCC put up a display with an India theme – books and memorabilia commemorating India’s tours Down Under were exhibited.
On 22 December, a statue of Shane Warne was unveiled at the ground, and Australian cricketing legends including former captain Mark Taylor and Warne himself gathered to speak about Victoria’s cricketing culture.

BOXING DAY SNIPPETS

More than a century before the Boxing Day Test became an annual event, an Indigenous Australian cricket team played against an MCC team on Boxing Day, 1866. At the time, the game was watched by 11,000 spectators!
The match of 1974 is still known as “The Mystery Test” because it ended on a cliff-hanger: Australia needed 8 runs to win, with only 2 wickets in hand.
In the 1980s, the rowdy crowd at Bay 13 became notorious for imitating the warm-up stretching routine Merv Hughes was in the habit of performing.
The Boxing Day Tests of the 1980s marked the debut of 2 young men who would go on to become cricketing greats. In 1984, an 18-year-old Craig McDermott began with a bang, taking 6 wickets on debut. The next year, Steve Waugh had a more modest outing, with 13 and 5 runs in his 2 innings, and 2 wickets.
Before he started accosting strangers and throwing challenges at them on Who Dares Wins, No. 11 batsman Mike Whitney saved Australia from defeat in 1987, playing out 20 minutes for a draw with Craig McDermott against New Zealand; that gave Australia its first series win for four years. It was also Whitney’s claim to fame in the 12 tests he would play over as many years.
1989 was the only year the Boxing Day Test was shelved for a one-dayer. In that match, Australia beat Sri Lanka by 30 runs.
Australian pacer Bruce Reid claimed 25 wickets in 2 consecutive Boxing Day Tests, in 1990 and 1991. In 1990, he had figures of 6/97 and 7/51 against England; next year, he took 6/66 and 6/60 against India.
Shane Warne made history with a hat-trick in 1994, scalping Phil DeFreitas, Darren Gough and Devon Malcolm, as England collapsed from 81/5 to 92 all out.
The 1995 Boxing Day Test was notorious, for umpire Darrell Hair’s repeated calls against Sri Lanka’s Muttiah Muralitharan for chucking; Murali was no-balled 7 times, setting off one of cricket’s biggest controversies in recent times.
The 1999 match marked the test debut of Brett Lee, who didn’t disappoint; he claimed 5 wickets in the first innings, and 2 more in the second.
The 2000 Boxing Day Test marked the first time an international cricket match was played on a one-piece portable pitch.
In 2006, Matthew Hayden became the first batsman to score five centuries in Boxing Day Tests. He’d scored 100s in the Boxing Day Tests of 2001, 2002, 2003, 2005 and 2006, and would do it again in 2007 against India. Incidentally, it was also the MCG’s test century – the 100th test match played at the ground!
In the same match, which would be Shane Warne’s last game at the MCG, the leg-spinner claimed his 700th test wicket.
The Boxing Day Test holds the record for the highest attendance in world cricket. The record for a single day is 89,155 and that across an entire match is 244,351 – both were set at the 2006 game against England
The poet John O' Brien (1878-1952) captured the importance of sport on Boxing Day for Australia in his poem ‘Tangmalangmaloo’. In this poem, a bishop asks a boy what Christmas is, and the boy replies, “It's the day before the races out at Tangmalangmaloo”!



SNAPSHOT OF BOXING DAY TESTS

YEAR
OPPONENT
RESULT
1950
England
Aus won by 28 runs
1952
South Africa
SA won by 82 runs
1968
West Indies
Aus won by an innings and 30 runs
1974
England
Draw
1975
West Indies
Aus won by 8 wickets
1980
New Zealand
Draw
1981
West Indies
Aus won by 58 runs
1982
England
Eng won by 3 runs
1983
Pakistan
Draw
1984
West Indies
Draw
1985
India
Draw
1986
England
Eng won by an innings and 14 runs
1987
New Zealand
Draw
1988
West Indies
WI won by 258 runs
1990
England
Aus won by 9 wickets
1991
India
Aus won by 8 wickets
1992
West Indies
Aus won by 139 runs
1993
South Africa
Draw
1994
England
Aus won by 295 runs
1995
Sri Lanka
Aus won by 10 wickets
1996
West Indies
WI won by 6 wickets
1997
South Africa
Draw
1998
England
Eng won by 12 runs
1999
India
Aus won by 180 runs
2000
West Indies
Aus won by 352 runs
2001
South Africa
Aus won by 9 wickets
2002
England
Aus won by 5 wickets
2003
India
Aus won by 9 wickets
2004
Pakistan
Aus won by 9 wickets
2005
South Africa
Aus won by 184 runs
2006
England
Aus won by an innings and 99 runs
2007
India
Aus won by 337 runs
2008
South Africa
SA won by 9 wickets
2009
Pakistan
Aus won by 170 runs
2010
England
Eng won by an innings and 157 runs
2011
India
Aus won by 122 runs



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