Boxing Day Test matches are cricket matches that are typically held on December 26, a day after Christmas, in Commonwealth nations Australia, South Africa, and New Zealand. But, the most popular one takes place at Australia’s iconic Melbourne Cricket Ground (MCG).

There are many reasons as to why December 26 is called Boxing Day. While one states that the date got the name because alms boxes were traditionally opened in churches on the day, others state that servants were given presents on December 26 for working on Christmas Day.

With Boxing Day also celebrated as the feast day of St Stephen, the patron saint of horses, December 26 sees numerous sporting events held across the Commonwealth nations falling under the Southern Hemisphere.

Australia, New Zealand and South Africa reserve the day for teams who visit them during the summer months of December, January, and February.

Boxing Day Test matches: History and popularity

The history of Boxing Day matches dates to 1892 when Victoria and New South Wales clashed at the MCG in a Sheffield Shield match over the Christmas period. December 26 was, however, just one of the scheduled playing days and not the starting date of that match.

The first Boxing Day Test match was played during the 1950–51 Ashes Test series. That year, the Melbourne Test was played from December 22 to 27, through Christmas, with the fourth day falling on Boxing Day. Australia won a thriller by just 28 runs.

After South Africa’s tour of Australia in 1952, there were no Boxing Day Test matches held from 1953 until 1966. Test matches on Boxing Day resumed in 1967, against India, but it was held at the Adelaide Oval and started on December 23.

The Boxing Day Test match returned to the MCG the following year against the West Indies, and it started on its traditional date but the subsequent years, the calendar remained erratic. Either the traditional day was skipped, ended on the said day or was held at the Adelaide Oval.

However, it wasn’t until 1980 that the Melbourne Cricket Club and the Australian cricket board decided to secure the rights and begin an annual tradition of a Test match on Boxing Day at the MCG.

Prior to that, the MCG had seen only four Test matches between 1952 and 1980, held in 1968, 1974 and 1975. Adelaide held three Boxing Day Test matches as well, in 1967, 1972 and 1976.

The 1975 Boxing Day Test match, where the Australian cricket team had defeated a Clive Lloyd-led West Indies team by eight wickets, had gained iconic status with nearly 85,000 visitors at the MCG on the first day.

However, the highest footfall was recorded during the 2013 Boxing Day Test between Australia and England, where the MCG saw 91,112 visitors.

The Boxing Day Test match at the Melbourne Cricket Ground has produced several memorable moments over the years. It was in 1985 when Aussie legend Steve Waugh made his Test debut and in 1988, West Indies speedster Malcolm Marshall picked up his 300th career Test wicket. In 1994, spin wizard Shane Warne recorded a hat-trick against England and in 2006, again facing the English, picked up his 700th Test wicket.

It was even a witness to ugly incidents, like in 1995 when umpire Darrell Hair no-balled Sri Lankan off-spinner Muttiah Muralitharan seven times in three overs for allegedly chucking the ball.

Pace ace Brett Lee also made his Test debut on Boxing Day against the Indians in 1999, picking up a five-wicket haul in the first innings.

In 1989, the only ever Boxing Day ODI was played out between Australia and Sri Lanka.

Indian cricket team in Boxing Day Test matches in Australia

The Indian cricket team had first played Australia in a Boxing Day Test in 1985 and have been frequent visitors to the MCG since. India have been part of the Boxing Day Test nine times - in 1985, 1991, 1999, 2003, 2007, 2011, 2014, 2018 and 2020.

However, India have lost five times, won two and drawn twice in their eight Boxing Day Test matches.

The Indian centurions in Melbourne are Virender Sehwag (1), Virat Kohli (1), Ajinkya Rahane (2) and Sachin Tendulkar (1).

India’s record in Boxing Day Tests in Australia

Year Batting First Result
1985 Australia Draw
1991 India Australia won by 8 wickets
1999 Australia Australia won by 180 runs
2003 India Australia won by 9 wickets
2007 Australia Australia won by 337 runs
2011 Australia Australia won by 122 runs
2014 Australia Draw
2018 India India won by 137 runs
2020 Australia India won by 8 wickets

India's Boxing Day Tests in South Africa

India first played a Boxing Day Test match in South Africa in 1992 at St George's Park. Incidentally, it was the first result between the two sides on South African soil as all the previous Tests had been drawn. The hosts won the match by 9 wickets with Allan Donald picking up 12 wickets in the game.

India have played six Boxing Day Test matches in South Africa, with all of them leading to a result. South Africa won four of these while India won the last two matches so far.

In fact, the last four Boxing Day Test matches in South Africa have been played at Kingsmead. The 2021 edition of the South Africa vs India Boxing Day Test match was played at Centurion which the visitors won by 113 runs

Year Batting First Result
1992 India South Africa won by 9 wickets
1996 South Africa South Africa won by 328 runs
2006 South Africa South Africa won by 174 runs
2010 India India won by 87 runs
2013 India South Africa won by 10 wickets
2021 India India won by 113 runs

Photo credit: Alamy