December 28, 2002

Boxing Day in Melbourne (part 2)

Boxing Day Test cricket in Melbourne has become part of Australia's sporting calendar, almost like Melbourne Cup day on the first Tuesday in November. David Wiseman continues his look at how this developed.

The Boxing Day fixture returned to Melbourne in 1980 when Australia met New Zealand but it was the game the following year which saw the concept become enshrined in the Australian sporting landscape.

Australia had returned battered and bruised from the 1981 Ashes and hosted Pakistan for a three-Test series which they won 2-1. Immediately after, they hosted the West Indies for a three-Test series. At this time, the West Indians were at the height of their Calypso superpower status, as close to rock `n' roll as cricket has ever come. Star-studded from one to 11 - Haynes, Richards, Bacchus, Lloyd, Gomes, Dujon, Murray, Clarke, Greenidge, Roberts, Holding and Garner - this was an ominous side and no-one could make burgundy and purple as funky as they did.

Boxing Day 1981 was one of the greatest days ever witnessed in Test Cricket.

Australia won the toss and batted on a difficult wicket. Soon they found themselves deep in trouble as 2/4 became 3/8, then 4/26 and 5/59.

Greg Chappell was in the middle of his infamous "duck period" where he made seven ducks (five in succession) in 15 Test and limited-overs innings.

While mayhem and carnage was happening at one end, Kim Hughes was playing the innings of his life at the other. When No 11 Terry Alderman joined Hughes at the crease, Australia were 9/155 and Hughes 71. Their 43-run stand was the second-highest of the innings and Hughes scored one of the contenders for the best centuries of all time. When Alderman was dismissed, Hughes was left unbeaten on 100 out of Australia's 198.

With 35 minutes left to bat, Dennis Lillee bowled the spell of his life. After Alderman had Faoud Bacchus caught at fourth slip for one, Lillee began to take control. He had Desmond Haynes caught at second slip to have the tourists at 2/5. Bay 13 was furiously cheering on Lillee and he reciprocated by trapping nightwatchman Colin Croft in front for a duck to have the West Indians stranded on 3/6.

In came the majestic Viv Richards, who at the time was averaging 62 in Test cricket. With Bay 13 now in an absolute frenzy, Lillee bowled the unplayable ball to skittle Richards on the last ball of the day for two. At stumps, the West Indies were 4/10, and 14 wickets had fallen for 208.

The West Indies would rally to make 201, Lillee taking seven wickets to see him surpass Lance Gibbs' world record of 309 Test wickets. Lillee's seven for 83 were also his best bowling figures in a Test.

Australia started their second innings early on the third day with a deficit of three. On an improving pitch, half-centuries from Bruce Laird and Border saw Australia to 222. Their stand of 82 was the highest of the match. Bruce Yardley with 13 was the only other Australian batsman to manage double figures.

Michael Holding was superb, taking six for 62 to give him 11 for 107 for the match, the best bowling figures by a West Indian against Australia. Wicket-keeper Murray took nine catches for the match, which set another West Indian record.

The West Indies then needed a testing 220 for the victory.

When Alderman removed Bacchus and Richards in the same over, the pendulum swung massively in Australia's favour. Test debutant Jeffrey Dujon, playing as a batsman, made a stylish 43 but lacked support. All the Australian bowlers chipped in with Yardley cutting a swathe through the middle order with four wickets, and Lillee mopping up the tail taking the final three, all leg before wicket.

Australia went on to win the match by 58 runs on the fifth morning. For the first time in 16 Tests, the West Indies had tasted defeat.

Lillee's 10 for 127 for the game was the seventh time he had reached the 10 wickets in a match milestone. He joined Syd Barnes and Clarrie Grimmett as the players to have done it most often.

In what was a Test for records, Lillee's 10 wickets gave him 85 for the calender year in 1981 which broke Kapil Dev's 74 set in 1979.

After such an incredible game, the institution of the MCG Boxing Day Test Match was surely here to stay.

England's tour of 1982/83 was keenly awaited after Ian Botham stole the Ashes back in 1981. Melbourne was to be a focal point for the series...