Almanac Cricket: Boxing Day Test at the ‘G 50 years ago.

Boxing Day Test Cricket @ the `G 50 years ago.


Boxing Day Test matches in Melbourne have obtained an almost mythical status. The hype portrays them as having been around for ever, with the opening day of the MCG Test always being Boxing Day. However saying the start of the Melbourne Cricket Ground (MCG) Test has always been on Boxing Day is like saying Australia Day has always been on January 26. (Don’t get me going on that one!) It hasn’t always been that way. When I was a callow youth, Boxing Day often coincided with the Victoria, v New South Wales Sheffield shield clash at the MCG. Test matches played around then were a rarity.


Let’s cast our mind back fifty years to Boxing Day 1968, the very first time a Test started on Boxing Day. The first day’s play of the Second test at the MCG saw the Australians hosting the West Indies. The First Test at the Gabba had been a triumph for the visitors, this being the second consecutive Test loss for Australia. We’d lost the final Test of the 1968 Ashes tour of England, this following three draws. Australian cricket needed a win.


A cold day in Melbourne saw the temperature hover around what we’d now measure as 15 degrees Celsius. Cloudy grey skies, a dampened outfield with a cool breeze, set the tone for the first ever day one of a Boxing Day Test. On the toss of the coin, Australian Captain Bill Lawry chose to bowl first. Now it’s a common trait in contemporary cricket, though was it quite rare in this earlier period.


A crowd of 18,766, a few less than you’d imagine, attended.   Debuting with the visiting team that day was Roy Fredericks; the dashing left handed opener from Guyana. He opened with Gary Camacho. Australia was on top early with Graham McKenzie dismissing Camacho on the fifth ball, without a run scored. McKenzie’s away swing had Camacho thick edging it to Ian Chappell at first slip.


Shortly after McKenzie struck again, removing Joey Carew with only 14 on the board. Carew had played an important role in the West Indies first Test victory with two half centuries but here he managed just 7. Against an in form Mckenzie he could only offer an easy catch to John Gleeson, positioned out on the leg side.


Seymour Nurse who’d had a quiet first Test found himself at the crease. He helped take the score to 42, when first change bowler, also Port Adelaide footballer, Eric ‘Fritz’ Freeman struck dismissing Nurse.  Freeman’s wicket was a result of a sharp catch by Freeman’s fellow South Australian, Barry Jarman, the Australian wicket keeper. May I add Seymour Nurse is no relation to Ashley Nurse, a spinner, who’s played a few matches for the West Indies in recent years.


Battling the cold, gloomy conditions the West Indies sought to regain some composure. Roy Fredericks supported by Basil Butcher took the tally to 135. The 93 run stand by the pair from Guyana allowed some stability before the wheels fell off. John Gleeson, the ‘mystery’ spinner from Tamworth broke the partnership. After taking a catch early on Gleeson was now in action with the spinning ball, trapping Butcher LBW for 42.


This brought out the West Indies captain Gary, now Sir Garfield, Sobers, a player who held the Test record score of 365NO against Pakistan. What heroics would the crowd see from him this Boxing Day? In the First Test at the Gabba he’d excelled with ball picking up 7 wickets including a match winning 6-73 in Australia’s second dig. However he couldn’t produce any further heroics at this point, McKenzie bowling him for 19.


The dashing Rohan Kanhai, handicapped by flu, came in to bat at 7. Kanhai had scored 94 in the West Indies victorious first Test, a similar score here would be invaluable. Kanhai arrived at the crease slightly before the tea adjournment.


Hopefully he enjoyed his tea, because his spell in the middle was brief. McKenzie induced a poor shot from Kanhai who pushed the ball straight into the hands of Paul Sheahan in the covers. Sheehan had been anointed as a future Test star by the previous Australian Prime Minister Robert, “Pig Iron Bob” Menzies. However Sheahan never reached the heights as an international cricketer. Despite making two Test tons at no time, he didn’t settle at Test level retiring from cricket at an early age. Later in life Sheahan became a leading figure in the hierarchy of wealthy Australian private schools.


With the weather deteriorating stumps were drawn around 80 minutes early, as the visitors limped in, 6-176. Roy Fredericks remained there on a gritty 73, with Charlie Davis supporting him at the crease.  On the second day Australia cleaned up the tail, with fast bowler Graham McKenzie claiming 8-71. A big stand between the captain, also our home town hero, Bill Lawry with 205 and his vice-captain Ian Chappell scoring 165 saw Australia pass the visitors score with one wicket down.  A sparkling 76 from Doug Walters saw the home side reach 510. The West Indies fared better in their second innings with 280, but still succumbed by an innings and 30 runs.


Prior to this, Boxing Day Test cricket @ the MCG was a rarity. The first time it took place was in the 1950-51 Ashes series when the third day’s play in the Second Test was on Boxing Day. Two years later the second day of the South African Test coincided with Boxing Day. Until Boxing Day 1968, no other Test cricket was played at the MCG on Boxing Day.


The idea of test cricket on Boxing Day gathered momentum in the 1970’s. The West Indies returned there in 1975-76 when a first day crowd of 85,596 saw the Australian bowlers dismiss them  for 224, as the Australian openers then batted through to stumps. This match saw Australia win by 8 wickets, turning around their fortunes after the big loss in the second test at the WACA. Boxing Day cricket at the MCG continued bringing big crowds into the ground, though it took another 5 years before another Test actually started on Boxing Day.


In 1980 the Melbourne Cricket Club and the Australian cricketers secured the rights to commence a Test match annually on Boxing Day. Even  then the match did not necessarily start on Boxing Day. In 1984-85 the clash versus the West Indies saw Boxing Day fall on the fourth day. We even had the Australians beating Sri Lanka in an ODI on Boxing Day 1989. As recently as the 1994-95 Ashes Test we saw Boxing Day coincide with day two of play. However, over the last two decades Boxing Day has become synonymous with the first day of a Test match at the MCG.


Boxing Day Test matches have grown in leaps and bounds over the years (what did Paul Kelly sing about being high on the hill, looking over the bridge to the MCG?).  The Boxing Day start of the Ashes Test of 2013 drew a crowd of 91,092 a record turnout for the day. In the most recent encounter, again in an Ashes Test, 88,173 turned up for the opening days play on Boxing Day. It’s a big event in Melbourne, but we’re not the only ones active with Test cricket on Boxing Day.


Since the 1995-96 Test against Sri Lanka, Boxing Day has become established as the opening day of the MCG Test.  Across the Tasman in Aotearoa, and thousands of kilometres to our west In South Africa, Boxing Day Tests are also part of their cricketing calendars.  It’s not unique to us Melburnians, but it’s part of what makes Melbourne the internationally regarded liveable city it is.


‘owzat !!!



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  1. I’m glad you didn’t call the 1950 Test a Boxing Day Test. That would have got right up my sneezer.

  2. Bob Morrow says

    Yeh I was there Glen & I also used to go to the Vic v NSW Sheffield Shield games to take my mind off what Father Xmas was going to bring me.
    The reason why there was not a big crowd was probably the fact that only 2 gates were open in the outer & the line to these 2 gates stretched back to the Richmond station. The pies [Noon of course ] ran out at about
    1pm & the beer shortly after.
    The reason for all this.
    They {???} didn’t think they would get a very big crowd.
    The bloke who had the keys to the gates was on holidays at Rosebud !

  3. Shield games in Adelaide were played on Christmas Day, right up until the late 60s. My Grandfather umpired lots of them and my mum has told me about working Christmas meals etc around cricket. As to ‘Australia Day’ – if we must have a public holiday to celebrate NSW colony day, why can’t CA just leave the Adelaide oval game alone?

  4. Thanks for this, Glen.

    I’m sorry to say that, in recent times, most MCG Tests have been snoozefests.

  5. Great memories Glen! That West Indies team was the fag end of the great Frank Worrell team from 60/61 well past their prime. Great batting names but only Sobers was still at his peak, and he had to do too much bowling donkey work. Clive Lloyd and Roy Fredericks were the new players who were the start of the dominant teams of the 70’s and 80’s. On the bowling side the legendary fast bowlers Wes Hall and Charlie “Chucka” Griffith who had terrorised us on dodgy tracks in the Caribbean in 1965 were now past it and dogged by injury. Lance Gibbs toiled away but offies have rarely dominated on our hard wickets. It was the first time I went to an interstate test going to a day of the SCG New Year test sitting on the wooden seats in front of the hill with my dad. SA’s Barry Jarman was a fine keeper who had served too long as Wally Grout’s understudy and the Hill mob were baying for his replacement by Brian Taber. They got their wish in the last Test. The 68/69 series fizzled out with Australia dominant and the ageing Windies phoning it in. Al Pal Connolly had a great series as a fast medium quick for Australia (a la Terry Alderman). We went to India later that year and had a great series with Walters and IM Chappell dominating. We thought we were world beaters – and them we went to South Africa and got whitewashed (literally and figuratively!). The apartheid ban couldn’t come quickly enough for the safety of Australian sportsmen and Africa’s black majority.

  6. John Butler says

    Great stuff Glen!

    As PB alludes, 1968 was a classic year for music. Not so much for cricket.


  7. G’day John. Please jog my memory.

    What was the biggest selling single in Australia back in 1968 ? Ditto, what was the highest selling local recording?

    If my memory is correct Russell Morris with the “Real Thing’ , was the biggest seller of 1969.


  8. Mark 'Swish' Schwerdt says

    Try this site Glen!

    Na Na Na Na

  9. Glen great history lesson than you,I wish Paul Sheahan had stuck at cricket still maintain he would have been a superstar in the end.Paul played for St Peters Old Collegians in Adelaide he hooked the 1st ball of the grand final not sure it’s landed yet

  10. Luke Reynolds says

    Wonderful Glen. Incredible that only 18,000 turned up in 1968. What were they thinking with an ODI in 1989?
    I love the ritual of attending a day or two of the Boxing Day Test, and am thrilled that New Zealand & South Africa have committed to play at the ‘G in the next few years under the future tours program.

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