Boxing Day Test Match: Tales and Reflections from Chappell & Walsh

Courtesy of the Sunday Mail, 26 December 2006 –with both articles carrying different titles from the combination presented here.

Scott Walsh: Magic of Test Cricket’s Big Day


      The Boxing Day Test has an amazing history – including Kim Hughes’ unbeaten 100 in 1981. Even now when he tells the yarn there is a touch of cavalier in the delivery.

A sense of the same “no fear” that had him charging Joel Garner with pull shots through mid-wicket and cutting Michael Holding and Andy Roberts with that trademark flair, front leg raised and bat twirling above his curly blond locks. “Joel certainly wasnt quick – but he was still quick enough”, Hughes says. “By that stage I was on 70-odd and I got a few charges in, hit him through covers and he dropped a bit short.

“The thing was when I went in it was 3/8 and looking at the wicket I thought theres no point hanging around, you might as well try and play a few shots. Fortune favours the brave, I suppose.”

It’s 29 years to the day that Hughes played one of the greatest innings by an Australian in Test cricket an unbeaten 100 on the opening day of the 1981 Boxing Day Test that defied the mighty West Indian pace attack. Experts across the eras voted his century in Australia’s total of 198 as second only in post-Bradman times to Dean Jones’ famous double-hundred in the 1986 tied Test in Madras.

The knock itself has perhaps been overshadowed by a single iconic image that came later that day the great Dennis Lillee, moustache bristling and gold chains thumping his chest, bowling Viv Richards with the final ball before stumps. Lillee’s textbook outswinger has become one of those moments so huge in Australian sport that armchair fans can recall exactly where they were at the time. Glued to a tiny black-and-white TV at a backyard barbecue. Listening on radio, stuck to hot vinyl bench seats on the way home from the beach. Or, with the same claim as two million others, one of the 38,755 at the MCG watching the historic event unfold.

But while Lillee’s moment charged Australian emotions in a split second, the beauty in Hughes’ ton was the journey getting there. Coming off a difficult Ashes campaign into the cauldron of the 81 Boxing Day Test, Hughes needed runs and now. The trouble was Hughes and Australia ran head-long into one of the greatest bowling attacks world cricket had seen. Roberts, Garner, Holding, Colin Croft. No spin, no part-time pie-chuckers and no reprieve from the all-out pace battery.

After winning the toss and batting the Aussies were in all sorts of pain when Bruce Laird (four), Greg Chappell (0) and Graeme Wood (three) all fell in frighteningly quick time. Vice-captain Hughes strode out to a testing MCG deck at 3/8 only to watch Allan Border depart soon after. There was blood in the water, and the Windies were circling.

“I was born in raised in Perth so I could play well off the back foot – I could hook and cut”, he says. “Thats what I tried to do, get the bowlers to bowl a bit shorter and right at me rather than keeping the ball up.”

“I had my share of luck but I think that luck comes from making the decision that if youre going to be here, make it count because you’re probably not going to be there for a long time.”

Hughes dug in, and a string of handy partnerships with Bruce Yardley, Rod Marsh and an unlikely 10th wicket stand of 43 runs with Terry Alderman took Australia from dire straits to a workable first-innings total. “I still remember at nine down and Terry coming to the wicket, I went down and wished him good luck,” Hughes laughs. “Terry really toughed it out. They tried going through him, over him, everything, and they couldnt get him out. By the time we got into the rooms instead of being all out for 160 we got to 198 and it was a bit like kicking the last three or four goals before three quarter time. Instead of being seven or eight goals behind we were only three or four, and we just got a sniff.”

Fittingly, Hughes brought up his century with a blistering cut that inspired a typical Richie Benaud understatement: “Great shot, that.”

“You’ll see a lot of hundreds in Test cricket, but you wont see too many gutsier that that”, Benaud told his Channel Nine audience. At the same time, a stream of kids jumped the pickets to celebrate the moment while grown men, all in stubby shorts and carrying cans of amber, wandered towards Hughes to offer a respectful tap on the rump.

“It was about the only time they had a ground invasion at the MCG. You might get the odd bloke, a streaker or someone, and he got caught – but not 300 or 400,” Hughes says.

“At that stage my father-in-law was critically ill in hospital and I remember walking off to the side of the pitch and having a few tears in my eyes thinking about him, because he wouldve been watching.

“It was a very special occasion for me and looking back, it is my best innings. I played very well in the Centenary Test against England but given the occasion, the bowlers we had to face and the wicket we had to bat on, it was all pretty lethal.

“I’m very proud of that one in 81 I just bloody wish Id made a few more of them. It’s funny actually, I’m more recognised over in Melbourne than here in Western Australia. Fair dinkum, there must have been 2 million people in the crowd that day because every Victorian says he was there. Every bloke you see says `I remember the day, there I was and I say, `Well youre number 1,807,000.”


Ian Chappell: Heroes will rise again at the MCG

WHAT a contrast. In the past Ashes series in Australia, the destination of the trophy was decided before the Boxing Day Test and the fans didn’t need to barrack for England’s extinction. This time, the trophy might as well be closeted in a Mumbai cabinet, its fate is so finely balanced.

The crowd will be baying for English blood. The Boxing Day Test is always a tough game; striking the happy balance between family and fixture isn’t easy for the players. However, it’s more difficult for the visiting team.

England will walk into an atmosphere so charged that it would make the Christians feel like the Coliseum was a home game. The MCG, with its gladiatorial atmosphere, is a venue that can have an uplifting effect on a player. A flick through previous Boxing Day scorecards provides many examples of heroic players; some who were victorious and others who were vanquished.

Here are five of my favourite Boxing Day Test moments:

BORDER/THOMSON: In the fourth Test of 1982-83, it was Allan Border and Jeff Thomson. They began their last-wicket partnership needing 74 for victory. By the end of the fourth day, they’d dispensed with half the arrears.

The next day, 18,000 fans flooded through the open gates and as each run was ticked off, they beat a louder victory chant on the advertising hoardings. Just when it looked like Border and Thomson were going to pull off a miracle victory, England produced its own hero. Ian Botham conjured up a rebound catch in the slips and Australia had to wait until the SCG to regain the Ashes.

Will Australia’s passion fall short this time and the resurgence prove to be nothing more than a WACA illusion?

WARNIE’S 700: Even though the trophy was decided before the 2006-07 encounter, there was no shortage of drama. Who better to act out a classic script than local hero Shane Warne. In a moment of pure theatre, Warne captured his 700th Test wicket on Boxing Day by bowling Andrew Strauss between bat and pad.

Can Stephen Smith conjure up a classic Warne leg-spinner’s delivery and ensure the England captain’s struggles continue?

SYMO’S CENTURY: Four years ago at the MCG, Andrew Symonds blasted a century in harness with his big fishing mate Matthew Hayden. They came together when Australia was in similar early trouble to England who had been bowled out for a meagre 159.

Symonds, batting for his career, threw caution to the wind and attacked the bowling to score his maiden Test hundred. He and Hayden added 279 runs and suddenly a five-nil Ashes whitewash was a possibility.

Can Michael Clarke perform in similar fashion to right his stalling career?

LILLEE V RICHARDS: While batsmen save matches, it’s bowlers who win games. Dennis Lillee, with his distinctive headband and theatrical appeal, was destined for a lead part on Boxing Day. It was purely gladiatorial when Lillee went after the West Indies’ Viv Richards in the final over on Boxing Day 1981-82. Richards, perhaps expecting another bouncer, was surprised by a cutter and back went his off stump.

The West Indies slumped to 4/10 and the next day Lillee went on to claim the world record and figures of 7/83.

Can Johnson reproduce his WACA performance at the MCG?

KIM THE BRAVE: And if it’s bravery you want, look no further than Kim Hughes in 1981-82 against the West Indies’ four fiery fast bowlers.

On an uneven pitch, Hughes took the West Indies pace quartet head-on and hammered out an unbeaten century. His score comprised more than half the Australian total and Lillee followed up with his magnificent bowling spell. Between them, this pair provided Australia with an upset win.

Heroes have always attended the MCG Test. All the way back to Australian opener Charles Bannerman in the first ever Test in 1877. Bannerman made 165 retired hurt, which remains the highest Test score debut by an Australian. He retired hurt because of a broken finger.

A Ricky Ponting omen perhaps?

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