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December 25 down the years

A Christmas gnome

The birth of the first bowler to take 200 Test wickets

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Clarrie Grimmett: a bagful of birthday wickets at Christmas
Clarrie Grimmett: a bagful of birthday wickets at Christmas © PA Photos
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1891
An unlikely cricketing giant was born. Small, bald and wizened, and known as The Gnome, Clarrie Grimmett didn't play Test cricket till he was 33, but went on to become the first bowler to take 200 Test wickets, the last 44 (which matched his age) in the 1935-36 series in South Africa. His legspin partnership with Bill O'Reilly was the greatest of all time, and he often celebrated his Christmas birthday on the field of play, often for South Australia v Queensland, taking six wickets in 1929, five in 1933, and setting up an innings win in 1939. South Australia were forever playing Queensland in Adelaide on Christmas Day at the time. They did so 24 times from 1926 to 1969.

1984
Birth of an English run-machine, Alastair Cook, who exploded into Test cricket at 20 with a hundred against India in 2006. A stylish batsman with a simple approach to batting, Cook cemented his spot with back-to-back hundreds against Pakistan in 2006. He scored seven Test hundreds by his 23rd birthday, and the following year, in New Zealand, he became the youngest England batsman to score 2000 Test runs. In the 2010-11 Ashes he scored 766 runs in seven innings to set up England's first win in Australia in 24 years. The following season Cook was given the one-day captaincy. In 2012, when Andrew Strauss retired after England lost the series and the No. 1 ranking to South Africa, Cook took over in Tests as well, and led the side to a historic series win in India, where he also became England's leading Test century-maker and the youngest player to pass 7000 runs. He then led England to a 3-0 win over Australia in the home Ashes in 2013 but surrendered the urn later that year after a forgettable 100th Test in Perth. Shortly before his 30th birthday, and two months before the World Cup of 2015, he was sacked as England's ODI captain in the wake of poor batting form and results.

1972
On his Test debut, Tony Lewis followed the nightmare start of a first-knock duck with a captain's innings of 70 not out that led his team to victory at Delhi, a series lead England couldn't hold.

1975
Birth of a batsman who made a superb start to his international career. From the moment he made his England debut in the NatWest Series in 2000, the Somerset left-hander Marcus Trescothick - who had been a prolific schoolboy batsman, then took some time to show that form in county cricket - established himself as a key player in both forms of the game. But the pressures of the international game and the endless touring took its toll and he twice left tours early. He retired from international cricket in 2008 and wrote his autobiography, which dealt extensively with his struggles with depression. It won the William Hill Sports Book of the Year.

1978
The international career of Glamorgan and England fast bowler Simon Jones, who was born today, seemed over before it began when he suffered a horrific knee injury on the opening day of his debut in Brisbane in November 2002. But he battled back to form a vital part of England's seam attack in the 2005 Ashes. He claimed 18 wickets at 21 in the series, and was named one of Wisden's Five Cricketers of the Year. Injury problems returned, and he played little since that series till the 2008 season. Impressive performances put him back in the reckoning for a place in the England side, before he incurred another knee injury.

1940
No Christmas cheer for Grimmett's famous skipper, who controversially left him out of the 1938 trip to England. Playing for South Australia v Victoria in Adelaide, Don Bradman was out first ball.

1943
A conventional slow left-armer, Hedley Howarth, who was born today, had excellent control and flight, which made him New Zealand's leading slow bowler for some time. He only took five wickets in an innings twice, both in the subcontinent in 1969-70 - and was often used in long spells to stem the flow of runs. At Lord's in 1973, when New Zealand had a real chance of beating England, he sent down 70 overs in the second innings, finishing with 4 for 144. He worked in his father's wholesale fish company during his career - according to Wisden, "even on match days, when team-mates often noticed that the match ball had a curious fishy smell" - and after retirement.

1951
In the first Christmas Day's play in Test cricket, West Indies completed a three-day win in Adelaide, their only success in a series they eventually lost 4-1.

1957
A record-breaking partner was born. Playing for Karachi Whites v Quetta in Karachi in 1976-77, Mansoor Akhtar scored 224 in an unbroken stand of 561 with Waheed Mirza (324). Their opening partnership, still the highest in first-class cricket, was a hammer cracking a nut: Quetta made only 104 and 163 and lost by the little matter of an innings and 294.

1997
The one-day international between India and Sri Lanka in Indore was the first international match to be called off because of an unsafe pitch. Sri Lanka chose to bat but appealed to the umpires as early as the third over, to the annoyance of Madhya Pradesh officials.

1884
The first Christmas Day's play in any first-class match: Hawkes Bay v Wellington in Napier.

Other birthdays
1872 Charlie Smith (South Africa)
1875 Walter Lees (England)
1900 Walter "Tich" Cornford (England)
1912 Donald McRae (New Zealand)
1970 Azhar Saeed (UAE)
1970 Mohammad Ramzan (Pakistan)

© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.

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