Cricket and Christmas
A special Christmas version of our regular Monday column in which Steven Lynch answers your questions about (almost) any aspect of cricket:
Who is the most famous cricketer to have been born on Christmas
Day? asked Jenny Sturridge from Liverpool
The most famous Christmas Day baby in cricket terms is Clarrie Grimmett, the great Australian legspinner, who was actually born in New Zealand on December 25 in 1891. Although Grimmett was 33 before he made his Test debut, against England in 1924-25, he nonetheless became the first bowler ever to take 200 Test wickets, and by the time he retired he had 216 at 24.21, in only 37 matches. Someone who might one day knock Grimmett off this perch is Marcus Trescothick, the current England opener, who was born on Christmas Day 1975. Coincidentally Trescothick's England team-mate Simon Jones was also born on Christmas Day, in 1978, while Alastair Cook, the exciting Essex batsman who was part of the recent England tour of Pakistan, was born on Christmas Day in 1984. Other prominent Test players born on the big day include Hedley Howarth of New Zealand and Pakistan's Mansoor Akhtar. (For a full list see the All Today's Yesterdays of Dec 25.)
Has Test cricket ever been played on Christmas Day? asked John Canning from London
The first time it happened was in 1951, when the third Test between Australia and West Indies at Adelaide finished on Christmas Day (the third day of the match). Actually West Indies completed their six-wicket win midway through the day, so the players might have been able to scoff some turkey after all. Sixteen years later, in 1967-68, it happened at Adelaide again - the second day of the first Australia-India Test. Farokh Engineer narrowly failed to score a festive century: he was out for 89. Two years later India met Australia on Christmas Day again, this time at Madras (Chennai). At Delhi in 1972 England completed a six-wicket win over India shortly after lunch on Dec 25. And in 1979, the fourth Test between India and Pakistan started on Christmas Day at Kanpur. Actually it was supposed to happen this year (2004) too - the original itinerary for India's tour of Bangladesh included a Test match from Dec 23-27, but the dates were changed.
Did Colin Cowdrey really make his highest Test score on his birthday? asked Dave Jackson
It wasn't his highest Test score, but it was his highest score in first-class cricket, and it came during England's 1962-63 tour of Australia. Colin Cowdrey scored 307 against South Australia at Adelaide, the last 63 of them on Christmas Eve (Dec 24, 1962), which was his 30th birthday. For many years after that Cowdrey drove round in a car sporting the number-plate MCC 307, representing his initials (his little-used first name was Michael) and that highest score.
My favourite batsman when I was growing up was Rohan Kanhai, who I think was born on Boxing Day. Did he ever score a Test century on his birthday? asked Evander Sargent from Jamaica
Yes, Rohan Kanhai was a lovely batsman to watch, and he was indeed born on Boxing Day (in 1935). He never quite managed a Test hundred on his birthday, though - he did play in the Boxing Day Test against Australia at Melbourne in 1968-69, but only managed scores of 5 and 4. The nearest he came was actually in the course of his first Test century, against India at Calcutta (now Kolkata) in 1958-59. That match started on December 31, 1958 - and by the end of the first day Kanhai had made 203 of his eventual 256, which remained his highest Test score.
How long has there been a Boxing Day Test at Melbourne? asked Andy Simpson from Australia
As far as I can see the first one to start on Boxing Day at the MCG was in 1968-69, when Australia beat West Indies by an innings in the match referred to above. Bill Lawry, a local man, enjoyed the idea so much he scored 205. The next one was in 1974-75, when England drew a close match, but it wasn't until 1981-82 that the tradition really took off, after a thrilling Test between Australia and West Indies - one in which a rampaging Dennis Lillee reduced the Windies to 10 for 4 by the close on Boxing Day after Australia had been bowled out for 198. Since then, with a few exceptions, there has usually been a Test starting on Boxing Day at Melbourne. In 1995-96 the traditional huge crowd saw Sri Lanka's Muttiah Muralitharan no-balled for throwing by the Australian umpire Darrell Hair.
Why is it called Boxing Day anyway? asked Vishal from Mumbai
This one's a bit out of my specialist area, but I'll have a go anyway! Apparently it is so named after the custom of putting money in church boxes during the Christmas period, to be distributed on December 26 to the poor and needy. The "Did You Know" website adds: "It is thought that Boxing Day was first observed in the Middle Ages. It found renewed popularity in the 19th Century, when the lords and ladies of England presented gifts in boxes to their servants on December 26 in appreciation of the work they had done over the Christmas celebrations."
Steven Lynch is the deputy editor of The Wisden Group. For some of these answers he was helped by Travis Basevi, the man who built Stats Guru and the Wisden Wizard. If you want to Ask Steven a question, contact him through our feedback form. The most interesting questions will be answered each week in this column. Unfortunately, we can't usually enter into correspondence about individual queries.