Ever wondered why a Test match starting on the very next day of Christmas, i.e on December 26 is called a Boxing Day Test? Or why does only that match holds such a hype and excitement over the cricketing globe? Well, we have an answer to it.
Referring to an article from the Indian statistician Mohandas Menon’s ‘A Boxing Day tradition that dates back to 1913’, the history of Boxing Day has been revealed. There have been many theories involved in the description of this historic day. The arguments would differ from origin to origin which includes countries who host this match, that are Australia, New Zealand and South Africa, majorly.
Many would argue that the day next to Christmas is for the poor and orphans. Going by the oral history, on Christmas, every year people used visit the church and would leave some token for the poor and orphans, including money, food, clothing or any other gifts in a small box placed by the priests, which would formally known as the ‘Christmas Box’. The boxes would then be opened the next day, i.e on December 26 and the gifts contained in it would be distributed to the needy ones.
Another take on this is during the bygone days, the domestic help would work at its owners place at the night of Christmas and were given an off on the very next day. As a matter of gratitude, the owners would pack a small box that would include some money and food as a token of appreciation. So, the opening of boxes on December 26 over the years became a tradition and was known as the “Boxing Day”. Surprisingly, the origin of this tradition would date back somewhere in mid nineteenth century.
Therefore, Test matches starting on December 26 are termed as Boxing Day Tests. Curiously, the first ever Boxing Day Test was played well before the World War 1 in 1913. South Africa and England were the teams to square-off for the historic clash at the old Wanderers Stadium in Johannesburg. It took another 48 years for any two teams to play a Boxing Day Test, as the next happened in 1961.
Over the years, the Melbourne Cricket Ground (MCG) has hosted the Boxing Day Tests for Australia and much to everyone’s surprise, that is the only ground to have hosted the iconic match in Down Under. Starring into numbers, the MCG has entertained the crowd on December 26 for 34 times in Tests history, which is by far the most among all grounds.
Apart from the MCG, Kingsmead in Durban, South Africa stands second in the list for hosting 13 Boxing Day matches while Basin Reserve in Wellington, New Zealand is on third for hosting five. Leaving aside the West Indies, England, Sri Lanka and Pakistan, who don’t host Boxing Day Tests, India and Bangladesh have done it only once, in 1987 and in 2008 respectively.
South Africa, who was among the two teams to have played the inaugural Boxing Day Tests, has the highest score registered by a team in the match. Playing at Kingsmead, Durban against the West Indies in 2003, the hosts scored 658 for nine. Jacques Kallis’ 177 and one wicket in the match guided the Proteas to an innings win.
India, on the other hand, have a record of scoring the lowest number of runs in a Boxing Day Test. The forgettable day came in 1996 at the very same Kingsmead ground where the visitors were first dismissed for 100 and then lost all their ten wickets for 66 in the second innings. White lightening Alan Donald’s nine wicket-haul in the match ripped through the batting line-up and imprint his aggressive spell on their minds.
Talking about more runs, India’s Virender Sehwag holds the record of scoring most number of runs on the Boxing Day (December 26) itself. During the third Test against Australia in Melbourne in 2003, the swash-buckler hammered 195 of 233 balls. His innings though went in vain as 257 from Ricky Ponting in the first innings guided Australia to a nine-wicket victory. 11 years later, New Zealand’s Brendon McCullum equaled his record by smashing 195 against Sri Lanka at Christchurch.
Australian captain Ricky Ponting has some fond memories with the Boxing Day Tests. The Tasmanian, over his cricketing span, played 15 Boxing Day Tests and has a record of scoring most number of runs by a batsman too. The right-handed batsman scored 1338 runs at an average of 58.17 with four hundreds and seven fifties. Following him is South Africa’s Jacques Kallis, who hit 1209 runs in 15 games. His average though was 48.36.
Most number of centuries scored by any player in the Boxing Day Tests is by Australian opener Mathew Hayden, who notched up six hundreds during his career.
In the coming years, a number of matches will be played under the name of Boxing Day Test and would march their way into history books too.
*The statistics involved in this article are up to December 26, 2014.