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 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 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 began on 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 Mark 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 December 22, a statue of Shane Warne was unveiled at the ground. Australian cricketing legends including former captain Mark Taylor and Warne himself gathered to speak on Victoria’s cricketing culture.