Alas the ACT shut up the shop, apparently residents of the northern beaches didn’t travel to Canberra during the mid-year lockdowns but were now verboten. The SCG, once touted as the alternate for Boxing Day, is now on the nose and throat after hosting partial crowds (and one full crowd) for the India white-ball series.
The fact the MCG is holding this second Test is, in so many ways, a tribute to the Victorian public who endured the lockdowns and showed tremendous discipline. The show goes on with most of the major actors.
The Melbourne Test starting on the 26th is a tradition of the modern kind. The original Boxing Day Test was in 1950 and followed up in 1952 but only held once in the 1960s, twice in the 1970s and then without a break since the New Zealand Test in 1980. Christmas cricket in Melbourne post-World War II was reserved mostly for the Victoria v NSW Sheffield Shield game, which ran either side of yule. Christmas Day was a rest day and, when possible, in the age of airlines some NSW players took a flight home at their own expense to spend the day with family.
My first personal experience of the enormous cricket day was as a spectator for the West Indies game in 1975. A bunch of teenagers from Wagga Wagga celebrated the end of our school days by taking the midnight Southern Aurora down to Spencer Street station (none of this chaotic ‘‘schoolies’’ stuff for the country lads), then the tram up Wellington Parade and a walk into the sporting cathedral at Jolimont (recalling the memory 45 years later still gives me goosebumps). We were crammed in above the famous Bay 13 in the Southern Stand – well before it became the Great Southern Stand – with a tad under 86,000, still a record crowd.
The punters roared ‘‘Lillee, Lillee, Lillee’’ as he and Jeff Thomson bowled at the speed of sound to helmetless batsmen who hooked fearlessly. Cover drives were at a premium. You could not hear the person next to you speak. This was the modern day Colosseum.
My most abiding memory was of first drop Lawrence Rowe, who had made a double hundred and a century on Test debut in 1972. He threw the bat at a widish rocket from Lillee, and Ian Chappell snared it above shoulder height, still going up! This was cricket from the heavens, played by the the gods. It was temporary relief for both the batsmen and the crowd when Gary Cosier and Ashley Mallett bowled nine overs before the second new ball was due.
The West Indies team that day had four players who would eventually be knighted – Gordon Greenidge, Viv Richards, Andy Roberts and their captain Clive Lloyd. It’s not quite a record for the West Indies – that belongs to their incredible team in 1960 that had six – but it was a pointer to the motivation that Australian dominance of the series gave to the Windies for the next 20 years or so. Australia won on the fifth day and the bumpkins caught the train back north, mesmerised, adoring, smitten by the game and its heroes.
Five years later I was out in the middle facing the West Indies up close and personal, Michel Holding was bowling at approximately the same speed as DK Lillee had in ’75. I say approximately because I only heard the first three balls I faced, Ididn’t actually see them.
I love the SCG, it was my home ground for 14 seasons. It has a 19th century heritage, the Members and Ladies stands standing stately but without pretension, comfortable in their own achievement alongside contemporary steel and glass structures that represent the 21st century. I could sit on the bench that couched the famous backsides of Bradman, Kippax, Miller and Davidson, it is my favourite, but there is something unique about being at the MCG on Boxing Day, either in the crowd, or the media area where I served 20 years for the ABC or out in the middle having a home crowd chant your name.
Well done the Vics, they do love their sport south of the border. Boxing Day just ain’t the same without cricket at the MCG.
I trust you all had a joyous Christmas – even with all its limitations – and that 2021 comes with a clearer vision than 2020.
Geoff Lawson is a cricket columnist for The Sydney Morning Herald.