History Of Boxing Day

December 26, 2013 by  

History Of Boxing Day, Australia is supposed to be short on history. But its long on tradition, especially when it comes to sport.

In the early 1980s, the Seven Network spun the line, ‘and the tradition continues’, in promoting the Australian Masters golf tournament. It was marketing nonsense par excellence. The tournament had only been going a year and had no tradition at all. But nobody seemed to mind. Australians like a bit of instant tradition.

The Boxing Day Test at the ‘G is another bit of instant tradition. It has more historical substance than the AFL’s ‘rivalry round’, which seems little more than clashes of non-traditional rivals, or the Anzac Day blockbuster at the ‘G.

For most of its history, Boxing Day at the ‘G was the clash of traditional rivals: Victoria and New South Wales. With international teams touring every two to three years, and the English visiting every four years or so, Sheffield Shield matches had a far more prominent place in the Australian cricketing calendar than today.

The annual MCG fixture between Australia’s oldest cricketing rivals featured many Test players and was a solid drawcard.

The internationalisation of the Australian cricketing summer in the early 1970s saw the match and interstate cricket in general lose support. Test matches took over the ‘G, as Boxing Day became ‘the day’ on the Australian cricketing calendar.

Two Tests were played over the Xmas-Boxing Day period in the early 1950s, but the first to commence on the day itself was in 1968. On a bitterly cold day, only 18,766 turned up to see the Australian pace bowler, Graham McKenzie, rout the West Indies with a career best 8/71.

In the mid-1970s, Mike Denness’s English team and Clive Lloyd’s Windies played before large Boxing Day crowds. The 1974 Test against England attracted a total attendance of over 250,000, while the Windies drew 85,671 on the opening day in 1975.

But the Australian Board was slow to exploit Boxing Day’s potential. It wasn’t until 1980 that Boxing Day became a fixture on the Test match calendar.

The 1980 match itself was a financial and marketing flop. New Zealand had a good side but they were not crowd pullers like the Poms, and certainly not a team on which to launch a Boxing Day tradition. Only 28,671 turned up on the opening day, while the total attendance was a mere 82,745, the smallest of the six Boxing Day Tests to date.

Nonetheless, it started a tradition. With the exception of 1989, when Sri Lanka played an ODI at the ‘G, the Melbourne Test has either started or straddled Boxing Day.

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