Christmas is often associated with gifts, lightings, and an environment preset with enthusiasm and joy. One tradition, widely associated with Christmas, especially in Commonwealth countries is that of Boxing Day, a day (26th December) where churches distribute gifts amongst the poor in packed boxes. The sport of cricket also celebrates the festival in its own ways. A Test match starting on Boxing Day is played around the whole globe as per the unsaid ritual. Be it the Melbourne Cricket Ground (MCG) in Australia, in the picturesque stadiums of New Zealand, or on the lively pitches of South Africa, the Boxing Day Test is a huge deal to be missed. This year, the world was fortunate enough to witness a full-fledged schedule in all three countries despite the recent COVID19 pandemic. While the Indians took on Australia at Melbourne, their rivals faced New Zealand at Mt. Maunganui. Whereas the Sri Lankans took on mighty South Africans at Centurion.
1India vs Australia, Melbourne 2020:
The Indians thumped the Aussies with a sensational 8-wicket win. In arguably India’s best win overseas, the stand-in skipper Ajinkya Rahane played one of his best knocks of all times to help India sustain a crucial lead, especially after Bumrah and Ashwin’s deadly combination saw the better of Australia in the first innings. Useful contributions from Jadeja, Siraj, and Gill as well powered India to a clinical win making them only the second team after England of the 1970s to win consecutive Boxing Day Test matches against Australia.
The hosts on the other hand fell prey to Rahane’s thoughtful and effective captaincy as they bundled up for less than 200 in either innings, for a first in a very long time. India’s win at Melbourne also poised the series to a very interesting point, with both teams winning 1 each in a 4match series. Meanwhile, it also strengthened the case for both sides to qualify for the ICC World Test Championship finals in England next year.
2New Zealand vs Pakistan, Mt. Maunganui 2020:
How often do we see Test matches go down to the wire these days? Pakistan’s fierce resistance against the New Zealand bowlers on the last day grabbed eyeballs. In no contention of a win, the Pakistan tail wagged to their very best, only to give it away a few overs before the end of day’s play. Young, Nasir Shah chipped one back to Santner off his own bowling to hand in New Zealand a well-compiled Test win.
Earlier, a century from Kane Williamson and useful contributions from Ross Taylor and BJ Watling powered the hosts to a massive total of 431. A disciplined bowling performance then helped them restrict Pakistan to 239, taking a lead of 192 due processes. A knock of 91 from Pakistam’sFaheem Ashraf propelled them to avoid the follow-on in the latter half of the innings. However, the Kiwis responded strongly on ht penultimate day to declare the innings at a 180/5, setting up a mammoth 373 run-target.
The real drama though was to unfold much later into the 5th day when after Fawad Alam’s much resistive hundred, Pakistan’s last batting pair managed to stay on the crease for almost an hour. With only 5 overs remaining, New Zealand had a conference every other delivery, thereby keeping fans on the edge of their seats. One other attraction at both these previous Tests is the return of fans in the stadium. With COVID19 under control in both Australia and New Zealand, the presence of spectators, albeit limited, was pleasing to see.
3South Africa vs Sri Lanka, Centurion 2020:
The third and perhaps one of the most eventful Test matches involving South Africa in recent times was played at Centurion. On a bouncy wicket, the transforming African side faced another team undergoing a revolution, Sri Lanka.
Batting first, the Lankans posted a total of 396, courtesy of Chandimal, de Silva, and Shanaka’s half-centuries, enough for considerable first innings lead most days. However, the resurgent South African batting lineup and especially former captain, Faf du Plessis had other ideas. The gutsy right-hander rallied through to score a massive hundred, eventually falling only a run short of his first double-ton. He was ably supported by Elgar (95), Bavuma (71), and Maharaj (73) with the team total rising as high as 621/10. While it gave hosts a lead of 225, it was also South Africa’s highest ever Test score in the history of the game.
A disciplined, consistent, and all-round bowling effort then finished off the proceedings without South Africa needed to bat again. The home team won by an innings and 45 runs ensuring themselves their first points on the ICC World Test Championship scorecard.
Overall, the year 2020 had a blistering end with its oldest format brought to the fore in three different countries. Ironically, how-much-ever bad or uncertain the middle part of the year be the start as well as the end remained one of the most fulfilling ones. And as they say, all’s well that ends well. Hoping for a safer and a more cricketing 2021!!