Not for the first time, three Tests will start this Boxing Day. Going by time zones, New Zealand will host Sri Lanka in the first, at Hagley Oval, Christchurch; a couple of hours later, Australia will take on India at Melbourne Cricket Ground; and sometime after the Christchurch Test gets over, South Africa will play Pakistan at SuperSport Park, Centurion – a first Boxing Day Test for the venue.
Boxing Day Tests have been played for more than a century now. Here are some interesting facts:
1. The fifty-year mark
The first Test to start on a Boxing Day at MCG was back in 1968. Australia beat West Indies by an innings. The Australia-India Test will mark fifty years of that Test.
2. The G
While the phrase “Boxing Day Test” ideally means any Test starting December 26, MCG is the only ones with exclusive rights to host a Boxing Day Test in Australia. They secured these rights in 1980 (their fourth Test at the ground). Till then no other Australian ground had hosted one.
Since then the only years MCG has not witnessed a Boxing Day start are 1984, 1988, 1989, and 1994. In 1989 they hosted a Boxing Day ODI, where Australia beat Sri Lanka.
In all MCG has hosted 37 of the 68 Boxing Day Tests played across the world.
3. The usual suspects
Eight teams, Australia included, have played Boxing Day Tests at MCG. Of them, New Zealand – who always seem to save their best for Australia – are the only ones to have stayed unbeaten. They could even have won both their Tests.
In the first, in 1980, New Zealand finished on 128/6 in pursuit of 193. In the second they came even closer, setting Australia 247 and having them at 230/9 when time ran out. Craig McDermott and Mike Whitney, Australia’s Nos. 10 and 11, held the fort for 23 minutes.
In their other Test at MCG, starting December 29, 1973, New Zealand lost by an innings!
4. The first ever
The first Boxing Day Test, at Old Wanderers, Johannesburg in 1913, was part of the last Test series before The Great War. Till then there had been matches starting December 23, 24, 29, 30, and 31.
The Test was dominated by Syd Barnes, who took 8/56 and 9/103 to rout South Africa for 160 and 231. Other than Jim Laker, Barnes remains the only one to take 17 wickets in a Test. England won by an innings.
Barnes took 49 wickets from 4 Tests that series and 7 five-wicket hauls (in 8 innings!). Both remain world records. He did not play the fifth Test after the authorities refused to sponsor his wife’s accommodation. In fact, he never played another Test.
The second Boxing Day Test was also held at Old Wanderers, in 1961, where South Africa drew with New Zealand.
5. Other nations: Southern Hemisphere
South Africa has had three Boxing Day venues – Old Wanderers, Johannesburg (the first two); Kingsmead, Durban (14 Tests); and St George’s Park, Port Elizabeth (6) – a total of 22. This year they shall have a new venue, as mentioned above.
Of New Zealand’s 6 Boxing Day Tests, 5 have been at Basin Reserve, Wellington, and the other at Hagley Oval, Christchurch.
Only thrice have Tests been played in December in Zimbabwe. Of them, a 1996 Test against England was played at Harare Sports Club – the only ground to host a Boxing Day Test in the country.
6. Other nations: Northern Hemisphere
Only two Northern Hemisphere venues have hosted Boxing Day Tests. In 1987, Eden Gardens, Calcutta became the third ground in history to do this. India and West Indies played out a draw.
In 2008, at Shere Bangla National Stadium, Mirpur, Dhaka, a spirited Bangladesh scored 413 after Sri Lanka set them 521. The Test had a rest day after the third day due to national elections. This was the last instance of a rest day in a Test till 2014-15, when Phil Hughes passed away.
Coincidentally, both grounds were in the province of Bengal in undivided India.
7. The delayed marketing opportunity
As mentioned above, MCG acquired the rights to Boxing Day Tests in Australia in 1980. Kerry Packer’s Channel Nine had acquired rights to Australian cricket a season ago. That was perhaps not a coincidence.
The marketing potential of a Test being played in the last week of the year is immense. Never was this put to better use than the 2013-14 Boxing Day Ashes Test, which was watched by a whopping 271,865 people.
On Boxing Day alone there was a crowd of 91,112 (the total sitting capacity is about 95,000). This, despite Australia already having clinched the series 3-0. This is the highest official attendance for any day in Test cricket. However, it is believed that Eden Gardens, which then had a higher capacity of 100,000, had full houses on multiple days of the 1998-99 India-Pakistan Tests.
While still on Boxing Day, it may be pertinent to mention here that only one Test has ever started on Christmas: India drew with Pakistan at Kanpur, in 1979.