There is something special about the 26th of December in the cricketing calendar. The Melbourne Cricket Ground (MCG) hosts an annual Test match every year on Boxing Day (26th December) and the tradition has been going on for close to four decades now (a total of 42 Boxing Day Tests have been played at the MCG).
It’s the day post-Christmas Day which is commonly known as the Boxing Day. This term Boxing Day (considered as the British or English equivalent of American Thanksgiving) revolves around the festival of Christmas. With Christmas being celebrated on the 25thof December, ‘Boxing Day’ is traditionally celebrated as a holiday because the servants and the poor would receive gifts and money in the form of ‘Christmas boxes’ from their respective employers (or rather bosses).
The MCG which, also commonly known as ‘The G’, has traditionally been a very historic ground. It hosted the first ever Test match (in 1877) and the first ever One-Day International (in 1971).
Traditionally, Victoria and New South Wales battled against each other in a Sheffield Shield match over Christmas with Boxing Day being one of the scheduled playing days. The Test match at Melbourne (the MCG) was usually held starting with the New Year (1stJanuary). However, during the 1950-51 Ashes series, Boxing Day Tests made its debut. Though, the Test match was played over Christmas (December 22-27) with rest days on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. That Test match in 1950 pulled a crowd of around 60,000 on Boxing Day. However, 1950-51 season didn’t set the tone for Boxing Day Tests.
There were bursts from 1968-1980 when the MCG hosted the Boxing Day Test. While the turnout wasn’t great initially, as 20th century grew older, the crowds started to flock the MCG on Boxing Day. In 1974, over 77,000 people turned up to watch the game on Boxing Day and next year, the number swelled up to over 85,000 and finally, in 1980, a new tradition was set. Looking at the growing crowds, Australia acquired the rights to host an annual Test match at the MCG on Boxing Day.
Every year since 1980 (barring 1989 when Australia played Sri Lanka in an ODI), ‘the G’ has hosted a Test match every Boxing Day and the turnout has been massive every year. In fact, only on six occasions (or rather years), the crowd turnout on the Boxing Day proved to be less than 40,000. In fact, the last time the Melbourne Cricket Ground (MCG) saw a crowd of less than 50,000 on the Boxing Day was back in 1999 during India’s tour for a three-match Test series. One of the primary reasons for the reduced turnout was the rain as only a little over 49,000 could make it to the ground.
The MCG is the oldest Test match ground at the moment and is one of the biggest stadiums in the world. In fact, at the moment, no stadium in this world can accommodate as many spectators at the MCG. It can hold about 100,000 people at once (used to hold 125,000 in the 20th century) with the Eden Gardens coming a distant second with a capacity of about 66,000. Interestingly, the MCG has also played host to the maximum number of international matches – 270 out of which 110 of them have been Tests.
Australia have a terrific Test record while playing Boxing Day Tests as they’ve lost only eight and have 24 Test matches. However, despite Australia’s dominance, there have been quite a few special and exciting Boxing Day Test matches.
Thus, with the fans once again ready to flock ‘the G’ on Boxing Day, as Virat Kohli’s India face Tim Paine’s Australia, the rich tradition continues to grow and become stronger. But the question here is what does it have in store for us this year? Will India be able to correct their shoddy Boxing Day record and take a lead in the series for the second time? Or will the Aussie fightback continue?