For Australian cricket fans, and indeed cricketers, the only stage bigger than the Boxing Day Test itself is the Boxing Day Test in an Ashes Series.
The Melbourne Cricket Ground, the spiritual home of cricket in Australia, has seen many a moment in Test Matches starting on December 26, but those that involve the Old Enemy, and that little Urn, become so much more ingrained in the collective memory.
Recalling those wonderful moments is one thing, and an easy one at that; attempting to rank them is an altogether more difficult task. But here’s a crack at doing just that:
5. 1998/1999 – Dean Headley delivers England an unlikely win
The classic case of clutching defeat from the jaws of victory. Set 175 to win the Fourth Test, Australia’s chase started very well, with Michael Slater and Mark Taylor smashing boundaries to all corners, but were both gone by the eleventh over.
Justin Langer and Mark Waugh steadied the ship, but the rot really started when Waugh fell at 4/130. Dean Headley, the grandson of West Indian great, George, had the Australians in a spell. Darren Lehmann was out to a shot he wouldn’t want any of his current charges to play, Ian Healy gave the England slip cordon catching practice, and by the end, Headley had taken 6/60. Australia lost 8/59 to be all out 162. The whole time, Steve Waugh looked on in horror from non-strikers end.
Sadly, a chronic back injury meant Headley played only three more Tests after this match.
4. 2006/2007 — Shane Warne’s 700th Test wicket
The scene was all set, and script had been written. Warne, playing his final Boxing Day Test, came into the match with wicket No.699 under his belt, courtesy of Monty Panesar in Perth the week before.
In front of one of the bigger Boxing Day crowds in recent memory, the great man struck with England 3/101 and with Andrew Strauss having just raised his eighth Test fifty
Warne tossed up a garden-variety leg-break, which drifted out slightly and then spun back sharply out of the footmarks. Strauss had come forward to counter the drift, but not quite far enough, and played across the ball only to see it crash through the gate and into the top of middle stump.
3. 2010/2011 — England’s domination confirmed
On a bitterly cold Boxing Day 2010, England confirmed they were genuinely one of best cricket teams in the world. Blasting out Australia for just 98 before Tea, all ten wickets fell to dangling bats, or ludicrously extravagant shots.
To make matters even more painful, England finished 0/157 at Stumps. Jimmy Anderson and Tim Bresnan laid the platform for England, on which their batsmen returned with a commanding 5/444 before declaring and wrapping up the innings victory – and The Ashes – before Lunch on Day 4. They were already a very good team at home, but now they were dominating on the biggest overseas stages.
2. 1982/1983 – Allan Border and Jeff Thomson nearly pull off the miracle
By Stumps on Day 4, England fast bowler Norman Cowans had taken six wickets, and with Australia 9/255 after Allan Border and Jeff Thomson had already added 37 for the last wicket. The gates were thrown open on the final morning with Australia chasing 292 to win.
Needing another 37, Border and Thomson scrapped and scraped for every run, with Border particularly running quicker between the wickets than I can ever remember. Thomson had survived 61 balls to make 21, but hung his bat outside off to his 62nd delivery, taking an edge off the bowling of Ian Botham, only to see Chris Tavaré spill a simple-ish chance at second slip. Geoff Miller swooped on the rebound, to secure the win by just three runs.
Officially, 18,000 people were in the MCG on the final day, but like all good folk tales, that number has grown significantly over the years with every telling.
1. 1994/1995 — Shane Warne’s hat-trick
I always felt, putting this together, that a Warne moment would be No.1, and as good as his 700th Test wicket was, I don’t think too many will argue with the famous hat-trick coming out on top.
A long-forgotten fact about this match is that it actually started on Christmas Eve, with Boxing Day the second day of the match. Australia set England 388 to win the Test, and by stumps on Day 4, the tourists had crashed to 4/79. The final day lasted less than 13 overs, with Craig McDermott and Warne taking three wickets each.
Snaring Phillip DeFraitas LBW, with “one of those ones that hits something on the wicket and goes straight,” as Warne explains in the clip, he had Darren Gough nicking a leg-break to Ian Healy next ball.
To complete the hat-trick, Devon Malcolm speared a sharp inside edge to the right of David Boon at short-leg, with the legendary Tasmanian diving full-length to take a superb catch one-handed.
The moment is all the more memorable for the great piece of commentary by the late Tony Greig, too.