Boxing Day Magic – The five best Aussie performances on Cricket’s biggest stage
For over 20 years it has been an integral part of the Australian Christmas experience – settling in to watch Day 1 of the test on Boxing Day. Around the country in thousands of backyards, kids will be emulating their heroes and dreaming of one day getting the chance to perform on Cricket’s biggest stage.
Over the history of the Boxing Day test, there have been many memorable moments. Here follows my selection of the five greatest performances by an Australian on the 26th December.
5. Ricky Ponting’s captain’s tonne
26 December 2005
Ricky Ponting 117
Boxing Day 2005 saw the start of the 2nd Test of the series vs South Africa. The proteas had escaped Perth with a draw in the 1st test by surviving 126 overs from Warne, McGrath and co over the 4th and 5th days. Ponting’s bowling tactics and conservative declaration (setting the Proteas 491 for victory) had both been critisised in light of the result, and his captaincy was under pressure.
In his 2nd Boxing day test as captain, Ponting won the toss, chose to bat, and was almost immediately out in the middle himself as Phil Jaques departed in the 3rd over with the score on 2.
Ponting was given an early life on 17, and then proceeded to ruthlessly punish the South African attack, hitting 6 boundaries on his way to 50 of just 73 balls. Hayden and Ponting put on 152 runs to swing the match decisively in Australia’s favour.
Ponting’s century was his first at the ground as Captain, and his 6th for the 2005 calendar year during which he averaged 61.
South Africa fought back late on day 1, but Ponting’s captain’s knock had shown again that while doubts would linger about his captaincy credentials, his ability as a batsmen would be enough to lead his country to victory on many occasions. Australia went on to win the test by 184 runs and would wrap up a 2-0 series win in Sydney.
26 December 2002
Matthew Hayden 102
Justin Langer 146*
These two great openers, so often spoken of as a partnership rather than as individuals, cannot have their efforts on Boxing Day 2002 separated.
Australia had already retained the ashes by the time the series moved to Melbourne in 2002, and both openers took the opportunity to pile on the runs against a depleted and demoralised English attack.
The pair went on to compile a 195 run partnership, smashing the previous record for highest opening stand in an ashes test of 126 by Monty Noble and Victor Trumper.
Hayden’s century was his 6th of the calendar year and 3rd of the ashes series. He was out shortly after reaching the milestone for 102. Soon afterwards Langer brought up his century with a 4 and a 6 on consecutive balls. He finished the day on 146 not out, and went on to score a mammoth 250 as Australia would compile 551/6 on the way to a 4-0 series lead.
3. Thommo rips through the West Indies top order
26 December 1975
West Indies 224
“Ashes to ashes, dust to dust…” – on Boxing Day 1975, the West Indies discovered that if Lillee don’t get ya, Thommo must! In front of a crowd of close to 86,000, the fearsome Australian pair took 9 wickets between them on day 1 to essentially win the test for Australia.
On this occasion, Thommo (no relation of the author) was the more deadly of the pair. In a spell which Wisden described as being “as fast as one could imagine a human being propelling a cricket ball”, Thomson decimated the Windies top order, dismissing Greenidge, Rowe, Kallicharran, Fredericks and their Captain Clive Lloyd to leave the tourists 5/108. The West Indies received a lesson in hostile fast bowling, one which they would take great pleasure in handing down to opposition sides over the next 15 years.
Thomson finished with 5/62 as Lillee cleaned up the tail to have the West Indies all out for 224. Australia was 0/38 in reply at stumps, and well on their way to victory and a 2-1 series lead.
26 December 1981
Kim Hughes 100*
West Indies 4/10
In 1981 the West Indies returned to the MCG, this time bringing with them a 15 test unbeaten run, and a fearsome pace attack of their own – Holding, Garner, Roberts and Croft.
Australia was in dire straights when Kim Hughes came to the crease. Laird, Wood and Captain Greg Chappell had all fallen cheaply to Roberts and Holding – Chappell for a golden duck. Australia was 3/8 as the West Australian took guard, and then slumped to 4/26 as Allan Border was unable to provide the resistance he would become famed for later in his career, departing for 4. An embarrassingly low score beckoned on a challenging pitch against arguably the greatest 4 pronged pace attack of all time.
Hughes’s response was to go on the attack. He carried his bat through the innings, finishing on 100 not out as Australia were bowled out for 198. That total had looked unachievable earlier in the day, and was reached largely due to a 43 run last wicket partnership with noted bunny Terry Alderman.
Hughes gutsy innings had lifted the side and given Australia’s bowlers something to aim at when they had their chance on the lively pitch late on day 1. Lillee and Alderman responded to the challenge, picking up the wickets of Haynes, Bacchus, night watchman Croft and then Viv Richards off the last ball of the day to leave the West Indies at 4/10 in reply.
Hughes innings had saved the match for Australia on day 1, and would lay the platform for the Aussies to inflict the Windies first test defeat in over a year. His lone stand innings in front of nearly 40,000 was the stuff dreams are made of.
1. Warnie’s 700th
26 December 2006
Shane Warne 5/39
The number 1 selection is not a tale of heroic resistance or triumph against the odds. The ashes were retained and England was looking well beaten by the time the series came to the MCG in 2006. But in terms of great Boxing Day performances, who can go past Victoria’s favourite son’s day out in 2006?
The crowd of nearly 90,000 were anticipating being witness to Warne’s 700th test wicket from the time Andrew Flintoff had decided to bat first in the overcast conditions. Despite constant urging chants of ‘Warnie, warnie” from the crowd, Ponting was to make them wait until the 41st over before bringing Shane into the attack.
On the 2nd ball of his 4th over, the wait was over. Strauss was bowled, the crowd roared and no one could catch the blond master as he wheeled away in celebration.
The rest of the day felt like an anticlimax, but often forgotten is that Warne proceeded to take his 37th test match 5 wicket haul to have England all but beaten by the end of day 1.
No doubt the attendance at Boxing Day 2006 will grow exponentially as time passes, as every cricket loving Australian male stakes a claim to having been there on the great day.