boxing day test match
Written by Roger Thiedeman, illustration by Marion Vitus
It’s Christmas in Melbourne. Summer sizzles. And for cricket-crazy Melburnians, the Boxing Day Test Match is an unmissable festive tradition.
After the gifts have been opened, and food and drink consumed to excess, up to 98,000 cricket fans revive their flagging Christmas spirit on December 26 at the start of the annual Boxing Day Test Match. Unlike any other game of international cricket, the Boxing Day Test generates an aura and cachet all its own, not unrelated to the holiday atmosphere that fuels spectators’ exuberance and enjoyment.
This five-day fixture on Australia’s summer calendar is played between the home team and a visiting Test side at the iconic Melbourne Cricket Ground (MCG), undeniably the ‘people’s ground’, and popularly known as the ‘G’.
In the spirit of festive fun, fans don watermelon helmets and multi-coloured clown wigs that compete for attention with Santa Claus hats, gowns, and beards, which leave their wearers perspiring profusely beneath all that fake fur.
Melbourne’s Boxing Day Test has been the setting for many of cricket’s most memorable milestones. On the last day of the 1994 Test, Australia’s ‘Sultan of Spin’ Shane Warne dismissed England’s Phil DeFreitas, Darren Gough, and Devon Malcolm in successive balls to claim the 21st hat-trick in Test history. But more was in store for ‘Warney’. On Boxing Day 2006, he again covered himself in glory by taking his 700th Test wicket. It was the first time anyone had attained this landmark, and fittingly for Warne, it was his farewell Test match on his home ground, and the penultimate Test of his stellar career.
Who can forget December 26, 1995 at the MCG when Sri Lanka’s own spin king, the mesmerising Muttiah ‘Murali’ Muralitharan, was called for ‘throwing’ (bowling with an allegedly illegal bent-arm action)? Umpire Darrell Hair’s resounding “No ball!” calls – seven times in three overs – sent a Boxing Day tsunami of ripples around the cricketing world. Murali’s suspect action was later cleared, but in the minds of some cricket purists the controversy is still not settled.
This year Pakistan does battle with Australia at the MCG starting on Boxing Day. So if you fly with Qatar Airways to Melbourne – Australia’s undisputed sporting capital – don’t pass up an opportunity to witness a unique blend of Aussie cricketing and Christmas cultures: the Boxing Day Test Match.
The MCG, site of the 1956 Olympic Games and 2006 Commonwealth Games, is the jewel in the crown that Melbourne proudly wears as Australia’s foremost sporting metropolis. While other venues in Victoria’s capital city host the prestigious and world-famous Melbourne Cup horse race, Australian Open Tennis, and Formula 1 Grand Prix, the ‘G’ takes pride of place for cricket’s Boxing Day Test Match, and that other Aussie institution, the AFL (Australian Football League) Grand Final.
The first Test at the MCG to encompass Boxing Day was held in 1950-51 (the match against England started on December 22).
Extensively rebuilt over recent decades, the ‘G’ is the eighth largest stadium in the world – the largest in the southern hemisphere – and for cricket is bettered only by Eden Gardens in Kolkata (Calcutta), India. The MCG’s greatest official attendance of 121,696 was recorded at an Aussie Rules (Victorian Football League) Grand Final in 1970.