The Ghosts of Boxing Day past according to M. Jeffrey

“The tension, the drama, the buzz, the atmosphere, IT’S ALL BEEN HAPPENING! (Aw Cawlm down Bull)”

……OK, so I’m no Bill Lawry or Tony Greig impersonator, and Tony of course is still battling cancer and will be a noted absentee from the commentary box. That said, those words immortalised by the 12th Man himself is almost the best description that I can relate Boxing Day at the MCG to. Whilst the tradition only began in earnest in 1981, three years before my existence on this earth, for cricket lovers and recovering men after Christmas, watching the Boxing Day test on the TV or at the MCG is as embedded into our culture as the other Boxing Day traditions, the Sydney to Hobart yacht race and the annual race to the discount rack at the Bourke Street Myer.

This will be the tenth time that I’ve had the privilege of attending at least one day of the match which despite getting me veterans list and unrestricted free agency status, sadly does not get me a discount on tickets which many sporting organisations need to consider these days to attract the average punter (not Ricky Thomas Ponting of course). Each time I’ve had a memory that sticks in my mind from the day that I have attended, and with the second Sri Lankan appearance about to take place (nobody remembers the result of the other Boxing Day test they played, just the seven deliveries that were deemed illegal), now is a good time to share them with you.

SEASON 1992/93, v WEST INDIES, Day 2

It can be a trying experience spending a whole day at a cricket ground when you are a youngster, but I managed to get through the whole of the second day’s play right up until a rain interruption. The one lesson that I learned the hard way was that something ALWAYS happens when you leave to go to the toilet or purchase an over-priced dry hot dog with sauce costing extra. My 8 year old bladder couldn’t stand the tension any longer, when suddenly the roar of Bay 13 could be heard through the cubicle. It would be the last time Mervyn Gregory Hughes would grace the hallowed turf in a Boxing Day test, but after dismissing Desmond Haynes cheaply he took the wicket of Phil Simmons caught behind moments before the rain came. There were other events too that stand out, Allan Border and Mark Waugh bringing up tons after hearing their 50’s the previous day on the radio….and my first experience of a hot jam donut! It would not be the last, although the most recent was at the footy close to 2 years ago.

SEASON 1994/95, vs ENGLAND, Day 3, 2 Days before Shane Keith Warne’s hat-trick

The day started with a short drive from Jacana to the McDonald’s in Oak Park, then after a couple of plain Sausage McMuffins and an orange juice, my old man, my uncle and myself were stuck in the queue to get into the car park as Craig McDermott limbered up to open the day’s action with Graham Gooch on strike. If anyone, much less the driver and 2 passengers in our little ute, predicted that Gooch would bunt the ball back for a simple return catch to the bowler, then I would have gladly offered you odds equivalent to the odds of the world ending on 21/12/2012. I also remember a decision involving Michael Slater being referred to the 3rd umpire, which was a first for me at the ground, and heading to the very top of the Great Southern Stand which at the time seemed daunting. As I got older I learned to appreciate what could be seen from such a height.

 

SEASON 1997/98 vs SOUTH AFRICA, DAY 2

Spent the entire day seated alongside the old man in the old Ponsford stand, which didn’t seem as bad of a place to sit as anticipated. Ricky Ponting arrived at the crease batting at number 6 and made a classy ton, after Steve Waugh missed out. The old man was rapt that Paul Reiffel made some handy runs, as he had for that entire summer (and I would have offered those end of the world odds that he’d become an international umpire years later). But later that afternoon came the moment most of Bay 13 were waiting for, the arrival of Daryll Cullinan to face his mortal enemy and hero of all of Melbourne if not Australia, Mr Warne. It sadly didn’t last very long, Cullinan running himself out after facing but a few deliveries from the champ. This was also the first time that I saw out the entire day through until stumps were drawn, not arriving back at Broadmeadows station until well after 7PM. For the record Day 3 was spent at Luna Park, pleasing my sister who now is on her honeymoon by at least accompanying her on the ghost train.

2000/2001 vs WEST INDIES, DAY 1 (my first Boxing Day attendance)

By this time the West Indies were as much of a rabble on the field as Bangladesh and Zimbabwe are now in the 5 day arena. Still at least most people knew that Jimmy Adams was the skipper of the side……..except for ground announcer Tony Schibechi who emphatically announced that Brian Lara was leading the team out as captain. There were many firsts for this year apart from the first time that I went on Boxing Day itself. It was the first time I went without the old man by my side, instead tagging along with an uncle and sitting with most of his cricket team from Banyule. It would be the first time all summer that the Windies showed some fight, the first time that I would sit in a section that smuggled drinks through security (cans of soft drink, not alcohol of course). Plus this was the first time that after leaving during the final session of play that I got into a post-Christmas party at Melton, missing the bulk of a Steve Waugh/Jason Gillespie partnership that proved their collision in Sri Lanka didn’t mess up their relationship as a batting pairing.
2002/2003 vs ENGLAND, DAY 2

Having taken in the opening day on my late Grandmother’s living room floor watching Hayden and Langer belting an ordinary attack to all parts of the construction zone, I saw the second Day’s play having been granted entry via an MCC  member’s pass (the uncle from the 2001 story is best mates with a member whose parents hosted the Melton shindig), despite using my tracksuit top to disguise the fact I wore a turtle neck shirt when a collar was required. Anyway the on-field memories consisted of Langer getting to 250 before holing out, the stylish Martin Love on test debut reaching 50 (another whom in any other era may well have played over 50 tests instead of 6), and the ball seemingly whistling past a lumbering Steve Harmison at fine leg every 10 minutes. The Barmy Army of course were in usual fine voice, taking up 4 bays in the Great Southern surrounding Bay 13. One of their chants I recall incorporated the score from a recent international where England had beaten Australia by 32-31, but nobody expected that to parlay into a World Cup win the next year. I also recall listening on the way back home to the Sri Lankan squad for the 2003 World Cup being named, hearing Hashan Tillakaratne had been included. The uncle asked me if the likes of Duleep Mendis would also be picked. Personally I would not be at all shocked if Sanath Jayasuriya is summoned yet again this tour, he’s had more comebacks than Ben Hudson and John Farnham put together, but back to the past…..

2003/2004 vs INDIA, DAY 3

Two days after what I believe to be the most sensational innings on Boxing Day at the MCG ever (Virender Sehwag’s 195 in a day before holing out off the bowling of Simon Katich), it was an honour to at least have seen both parts of Steve Waugh’s last test innings at the hallowed turf. For those that don’t remember, Waugh’s innings was temporarily halted after Ajit “Duckman” Agarkar managed to pin him on the elbow. Yet Waugh returned to see Australia past 500, after Ricky Ponting’s golden summer continued with another 250. There was however one lasting memory that told me how parochial Bay 13 was. Stuart MacGill was playing as Warney was suspended for taking the diuretic, and made a very polished duck. As he departed, Bay 13 immediately began the haunting WARNEY, WARNEY chant.

2008/2009 vs SOUTH AFRICA, DAY 2

Arguably this was the best day’s cricket I have ever attended, although certainly it was pure co-incidence that it was the first trip without any supervision or accompaniment. Fair to say that this day saw the non conclusion to one of Michael Clarke’s less memorable innings, struggling to hit it off the square and still making 93. The main excitement came when the Traralgon Terror himself announced his arrival on the world stage. In hitting the top of off stump to get through the defences of Neil McKenzie, Peter Siddle’s love affair with the MCG and the love affair of the MCG with Pete began. With South Africa reeling when I departed, I never expected the visitors to dominate the remainder of the match which has somehow become the norm rather than the exception regardless of the venue after I spend a day watching test cricket.

2010/2011 vs ENGLAND, DAYS 1+2

With the series locked at 1-1 with 2 to play, anticipation was higher than most Ashes Boxing Day affairs. The highpoint for me on Day 1 was reaching the seat just as Advance Australia Fair was being belted out by a poor lass with a microphone and the majority of the sell out public reserve crowd (the MCC Members didn’t quite fill their full quota). What followed was terrible batting from the home side, the odd rain delay, and Barmy Army chants proclaiming that “He’s got more runs than you, He’s got more runs than you” (in reference to Jonathan Trott’s score compared to the Australian total), and a tune serenading Mitchell Johnson’s erratic bowling which cannot be repeated. If the previous visit to the G for cricket resulted in the case of “Best Play Ever”, this was the most glum I had ever felt leaving a day’s play, only compounded by the fact I couldn’t link my Aunt’s TV system to get access to Foxtel to watch South Africa vs India that night until they arrived home.

2011/2012 vs INDIA, DAYS 1+2

Intriguing Day 1 spent in the Olympic Stand where basically half the day was spent conversing with locals over anything and everything except the on-field action. Day 2 was when all the excitement, laughter and frustration for me happened. Excitement for what surely will be the final appearance of Sachin Ramesh Tendulkar on the hallowed turf, complete with top edged maximum to Bay 13 on the first ball after lunch. Laughter of course for Joe the Cameraman and his crash, enhanced by probably the greatest on-board angle being replayed on the big screen for all to see. Frustration for sitting in the so-called family zone was akin to watching 20 over garbage complete with the constant banging of thundersticks, plus the fact that I left the ground before the series changing breakthrough just to make it to a connecting flight to Sydney. Lesson to be gleamed from the day was to be prepared to pay extra so that at least you can sit with real cricket fans as opposed to bored children.

 

This time will be the first time that I will have seen Sri Lanka play anywhere in Australia, and I am looking forward to it despite the media insisting that this is a weak opposition. Boxing Day brings out the best performances from the premier players in the match where more watch than most, and let’s hope that this year there will be more highlights than the 7 deliveries that are remembered from the last time Sri Lanka were the Boxing Day opponents.

About Mick Jeffrey

32 Year Old, Bulldogs Member and tragic. Reserve Grade coach after over 225 combined senior/reserves appearances for Brothers AFC in AFL Capricornia. 11 time Marathon finisher, one time Ultra Marathon finisher and Comrades Marathon competitor 2017.

Comments

  1. Enjoyed the memories Mick. The clarity of your recollections is astonishing. You clearly haven’t spent 50 years destroying neurones like some of us.
    When I couldn’t sleep in the early hours of a breathless Perth night recently, I was recollecting early cricket experiences of the 60’s. There were vivid fragments but not the coherence of your great yarns.
    Thanks.

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