The Cricketer
Huw Turbervill Huw Turbervill

THE GOOGLY: PLAYING ON CHRISTMAS DAY? IT'S JUST NOT CRICKET!

Huw Turbervill looks at the game's relationship with December 25

This time last year I wrote about those eccentric fellows who go out for a 10-over hit on Boxing Day, with bellyfuls of sparkling, claret, turkey, puddings and After Eights swirling around like cement mixers.

This year I will examine cricket’s relationship with Christmas Day itself – and the obvious first thought is there is not much of one (except it is the birthday of Alastair Cook, Simon Jones, Marcus Trescothick, Clarrie Grimmett and Hedley Howarth. Just think how many pairs of batting gloves and knitted sweaters from aunts they have received over the years).

Usually Christmas means either England legging it home at the end of a tour, or midway through (to the annoyance of non-christian countries, one would expect – Indian captain Virat Kohli was distinctly unimpressed last winter, the Grinch). Or it means England staying in situ, and anachronistic-looking cracker-pulling celebrations in hot climes, with WAGs and offspring roped in for afternoons of contrived bonhomie.

In Australia in 2013/14 we had the nonsense of whether Kevin Pietersen had gone to the Christmas lunch at Melbourne’s Langham Hotel or not. He did.

The kinship between players and journos went down the pan during the Duncan Fletcher era – a shame, as by all accounts the bashes between the Fourth Estate and England’s finest before that used to be merry affairs.

And I have those great fancy-dress pictures etched on my mind. Who could forget Mike Atherton as Robin Hood (and his band of merry men? In 1994/95 in Australia, they were anything but).

Also at the party was Graham Gooch as Captain Hook (gloriously appropriate – he never shied away from taking on the quicks); Mike Gatting as King Henry VIII (no explanation needed) and Ray Illingworth as Ming the Merciless (should Atherton have dressed as Flash Gordon in that case?). They could not steal a march on Phil DeFreitas as Diana Ross eight years earlier, though. According to Alec Stewart, he even shaved his legs.

There have actually been four cases of Test cricket being played on Christmas Day.

In 1951 Australia hosted West Indies at Adelaide. Maybe all the players would rather have been wearing paper hats and pulling crackers – the first-innings totals were 82 and 105. Just after lunch on December 25, the tourists completed a six-wicket win, in time for the players to tuck into the warmed-up leftovers buffet and the opening of the novelty mint-flavoured bottle of Baileys (if indeed there was such a thing then).

Again at Adelaide (do they not do Christmas there?) in the first Test of the 1967/68 series, Farokh Engineer made 89 on day two of the Test (Christmas Eve was a rest day) but the hosts went on to win by 146 runs.

Then two winters later it was India v Australia at Madras (now Chennai). The tourists had a great Christmas Day, bowling the hosts out for 163 to claim a 95-run lead on first innings, Ashley Mallett taking five wickets. Boxing Day was a rest day, and Australia won the match by 77 runs.

And in 1972 England completed a six-wicket win over the hosts at Delhi just after lunch, captain Tony Lewis making 70 not out; it allowed them time to exchange gifts and tuck in, reportedly, to a plate of mutton curry.

Will we ever see cricket again on Christmas Day? As recently as 12 months ago The Australian newspaper ran a series of articles asking if it was time to play again on Christmas Day. Apparently it’s on the radar of the Big Bash, looking at how successful it has been in American sports. Now that really would upset the traditionalists!  Although maybe they would be glad that the Boxing Day Test was left on its own again, just as it should be.  

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