Traditionally, though the Melbourne Cricket Ground (MCG) has bragging rights over ‘Boxing Day’ matches, however, there are a few other grounds like Kingsmead at Durban and Basine Reserve at Wellington that have hosted their visitors at part of the post-Christmas tradition.
Since the early 20th century, Melbourne has the custom of hosting international games every summer around Christmas and New Year. In fact, at times, it used to host throughout-the-festival matches where the games were played on either side of the annual carnival. Although the practice of Test matches kicking off on the Boxing Day itself (i.e. 26th December) started post the Second World War, it settled for a habitual routine from 1981. Many famous matches have had been played as part of MCG Boxing Tests.
The model too was imitated by the neighbouring New Zealand – who too had their shares of Boxing Day Tests organised at the Basin Reserve in capital Wellington. Further in the 2000s, the smaller Tasman brother started staging limited overs internationals instead of the five-dayers on the day after Christmas – mostly hosted by the Eden Park at Auckland and later Hagley Oval at Christchurch for the last two years.
From the early part of the last century till the apartheid ban in 1960s, South Africa’s famous Wanderers Stadium (both Old and New) at Johannesburg too kept hosting matches around this festive season (though not exactly on the Boxing Day). However after they returned to regular cricket in the early 1990s, the ritual passed hands to the Kingsmead at Durban, although St. George’s Park at Port Elizabeth too had arranged a few Test matches on this auspicious occasion.
Here let’s have a look at some of the worthwhile “non-MCG” Boxing Day matches at these less popular venues as far as the custom is concerned.
South Africa v England at Old Wanderers, Johannesburg, 1913: Winning the toss, the hosts chose to bat but could hardly stand up against the bowling of the legendary Sydney Barnes (8/56) in what would be the final series of his England career. The visitors then capitalised on the twin centuries from Wilfred Rhodes and Phil Mead to take a commanding lead before Barnes again burned the Protean revival with his career-best of 9/103 to an innings victory. Till this day, the versatile swing bowler’s 17-wicket match haul was only bettered by Jim Laker.
Brief scores: South Africa – 160 and 231; England – 403
South Africa v India at St. George’s Park, Port Elizabeth, 1992: It was India’s first tour of South Africa and after the initial two stalemates, it was a fiery Alan Donald who boxed the tourists out just like Sydney Barnes did it the other day. Apart from captain Azharuddin (60), none of the Indian batting line up could stand up as Hansie Cronje’s century handed the hosts a crucial 63 run-lead. In the second, Donald turned from storm to cyclone as Kapil Dev (129) bailed the Indians out off a possible innings defeat – tottering once at 31/6. In the final chase, skipper Kepler Wessels (95*) took his team home. Donald returned with career-best match figures of 12/139.
Brief scores: India – 212 and 215; South Africa – 275 and 155/1
South Africa v India at Kingsmead, Durban, 1996: Four years later, this time at Durban Boxing Day, Donald had Shaun Pollock and Lance Klusener for company as India could manage just 166 runs in the whole game as the hosts won by a massive 328 runs.
Brief scores: South Africa – 235 and 259; India – 100 and 66
New Zealand v India at Basin Reserve, Wellington, 1998: Skipper Azharuddin’s unbeaten century in the midst of a career-best 7-fer Simon Doull was doused off by a late crucial partnership from Dion Nash (89*) and Daniel Vettori (57). Another century from Sachin Tendulkar went in vain with the hosts resurrecting themselves from 74/5 to victory.
Brief scores: India – 208 and 356; New Zealand – 352 and 215/6
New Zealand v Pakistan at Basin Reserve, Wellington, 2003: Poor batting display forced Pakistan to give away a massive 170-run lead at halfway mark. However, paceman Shoaib Akhter had other plans as he strangulated the hosts for a mere 103 in the second. Following a gritty knock from young Yasir Hameed, the experienced duo of Yousuf Youhana (now Mohammad Yousuf) and captain Inzamam-ul-Haq took Pakistan to a series winning victory. The Rawalpindi Express recorded best match figures of 11/78 in one of the greatest comeback victories.
Brief scores: New Zealand – 366 and 103; West Indies – 196 and 277/3
South Africa v England at Kingsmead, Durban, 2004: Jacques Kallis’ 162 ensured the hosts of an almost 200-run lead at the central point. However, a re-energized English side was buoyed by centuries from both their openers – Marcus Trescothick and Andrew Strauss – before Graham Thorpe too reached the three-figures to pile over enough runs to set South Africa more than a day to survive. Losing captain Graeme Smith at the dusk of the penultimate day, the hosts batted deep on the final day with a young AB de Villiers’ unbeaten fifty at no. 8 ensuring South Africa a draw.
Brief scores: England – 139 and 570/7 dec; South Africa – 332 and 290/8
South Africa v India at Kingsmead, Durban, 2010: India had a sweet revenge 14 years later after that ignominious capitulation as the team contributed collectively to ensure a rare series-leveling win. All the four bowlers were among the wickets in both the innings and all the batsmen contributing with their precious little with VVS Laxman (96) scoring the only fifty of the match.
Brief scores: India – 205 and 228; South Africa – 131 and 215
Now it’s time for some action from the limited overs features on traditional Boxing Day cricket.
New Zealand v India, Eden Park, Auckland, 2002: It was a season of despair for the tourists months before the World Cup in South Africa. India lost both the Tests on treacherous New Zealand pitches before the monsters in the middle greeted them in the 7-match ODI series. In what turned to be the bowler’s paradise in the first-ever Boxing Day game at the venue, the visitors almost sniffed their first victory of the tour before lower-order batsmen Jacob Oram and Kyle Mills sealed the game for the hosts.
Brief scores: India – 108 (32.5); New Zealand – 109/7 (37.4)
New Zealand v West Indies, Eden Park, Auckland, 2008 : In a perfect T20 affair with the first-ever super over needed to break the tie, Chris Gayle hit three sixes off the Daniel Vettori over followed by Sulieman Benn, who earlier rescued his side from the dying situation, removed Jacob Oram and Ross Taylor for a sensational victory. Earlier both Taylor and Gayle scored fifties in the tied match. This was also the maiden T20I on the Boxing Day.
Brief scores: New Zealand – 155/7 (20); West Indies – 155/8 (20). West Indies won the one-over eliminator (WI – 25, NZ – 15)
New Zealand v West Indies, Eden Park, Auckland, 2013: Same day, same venue, five years later, one former and the other then-future West Indies captains Darren Sammy and Jason Holder gelled well to craft a breathtaking Windies win in the low-scoring game to take an early lead in the series.
Brief scores: New Zealand – 156 (42.1); West Indies – 157/8 (27.3)
New Zealand v Sri Lanka, Hagley Oval, Christchurch, 2015: In what was the second-ever Boxing Day fixture at the relatively new venue in the country, openers Martin Guptill and Brendon McCullum rampaged the Lankan bowling to finish off a 190-chase in almost an hour and a half.
Brief scores: Sri Lanka – 188 (47); New Zealand – 191/3 (21)
Extras: In what is the only limited overs fixture at the MCG on the Boxing Day, Australia and Sri Lanka squared off for the first match of the Benson & Hedges World Series. With Pakistan as the other participant in the tournament, Dean Jones starred with the bat and Simon O’Donnell later followed suit with the cherry as the hosts scripted a 30-run victory in a curtailed match of a ball less than 49 overs per side.
Brief scores: Australia – 228/5 (48.5); Sri Lanka – 198 (47.2)
N.B.: Although it cannot be termed as a profound custom, Eden Gardens at erstwhile Calcutta (now Kolkata) used to regularly host international matches around the Christmas-New Year period in its pinnacle of glory in the 1960s and 1970s.