Does English cricket need its own Boxing Day Test?

70,000 cricket fans went to the first day of last week’s Melbourne Test. Another 120,000 attended the next three days. 2.6 million viewers caught the first day’s play on television, accounting for two-thirds of the television viewing audience in Australia’s metropolitan areas on Boxing Day. The post-Christmas match-up, held in the country’s largest cricket venue, is established as the pillar of the Australian cricket season.

The English domestic season has the shape of a cushion that has been sat on by many different backsides.

There is no equivalent to the Boxing Day Test. The Lord’s test sounds so definitive, and has the sense of a homecoming. But for the last 20 years the ground has hosted two test matches and they have shuttled across May, June, July and August. The county one-day knock-out final comes late in the season, but doesn’t have a place in the neutrals’ heart and calendar. Twenty20 finals day has tried out a few locations and dates and perhaps will settle to become a focus of of the domestic season.

The nostalgia paragraph. Growing up, the overall season had a shape, as well as a weekly pattern. One-day international series at the start of the summer, alongside B&H zonal county competition… Tests underway midsummer, with England traditionally losing the series by July, around the time of the B&H final… Gillette/Natwest final following the Oval test, with the touring team announced on its back… Tests began on Thursday, finishing on Tuesday… County knockout matches on Wednesday. County championship matches beginning on Saturdays and Wednesdays… The Sunday league being faithful to its name.

For the cricket follower, the price of knowing where you were in the week and the season, appears to have been mediocrity at Test and first-class level, studded with the odd outstanding performer: Botham, Gower, Gooch in the former; Richards (x2), Zaheer, Proctor, etc in the latter.

Maybe having our own Boxing Day test would give some definition to the season: a fixed point around which to rally public interest. Test match ticket sales remain robust so it wouldn’t have to be a Test match. The late May and August Bank Holidays could be anchor points. In May, three ODIs held across the Thursday, Saturday and Monday of the long weekend. In August, the Oval Test running from the Friday or Saturday of the Bank Holiday; or the twenty20 finals day and the one day final played on the Saturday and Monday. Events like the big screen in the park parties run alongside the last Ashes series could share the experience wider than the match-day ticket-holders.

The English domestic cricket season, unsure how much to trust and invest in twenty20, feels like a work in progress. I usually run a mile from manufactured traditions. However, the Boxing Day Test, highly popular and part of the infrastructure of Australian cricket, only became an annual fixture in the 1990s. So maybe a conscious effort to big-up a weekend of cricket and stick with it, could help the process of a rational timetable cohering around it, as well as giving the sport a weekend of  prominence.

Perhaps the most critical step would be for the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport to place this fixture in the list of Group A sporting events that have to be made availabe to channels that broadcast for free and have coverage of 95% of the population. Then we may be getting somewhere. To return to my earlier, soft-furnishing metaphor for the season, we could find ourselves with a jewel fit to sit atop a velvet cushion.

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About chrisps

TouchlineDad to three sporty kids; cricket blogger and coach; and the alpha male in our pride.

8 responses to “Does English cricket need its own Boxing Day Test?”

  1. Brian Carpenter says :

    I like all that, Chris. Do be sure that someone at the ECB reads it, won’t you?

    The second Lord’s Test has been sort of fixed in mid-July for a while (I know because I always go to it and usually end up in the pavilion on Sunday afternoon watching the climax of the Open Golf Championship, which is always played over the same weekend). Obviously, this year, things will be different.

    The idea of playing a few ODIs over one of the long weekends particularly appeals. One at Lord’s, one at The Oval, one at the Rose Bowl perhaps, or, for those in the north, Old Trafford, Headingley and the Riverside.

    One pedantic point, I’m afraid. I can’t remember CC games regularly starting on Sundays. Three day games used to start on Saturdays between the mid eighties and the full four-day programme taking over in around 1993. It was always good to be able to go to the first day of a CC game on a Saturday, although I’m not sure the players thought so as they usually had to play a 40 over game on the Sunday.

    • chrisps says :

      Brian, I’m glad it seems to make some sense. I’m a bit light on ECB contacts – how about you? I think the TV point would be the crux, in the sense 1) I think it would be needed to make the event really popular; 2) that nothing could be done under the existing contract and then 3) how much Sky would punish the ECB for denying it exclusive rights to a well-promoted sports event.

      I’m going to put a synopsis on the MCC on-line pavilion. Do you ever use it? And before I do, I will correct the error about the weekend starting dates for CC games. Thanks for pointing that out. Happy New Year.

      • Brian Carpenter says :

        Sadly I don’t have any contacts at the ECB. Why not try sending it to whatever their general enquiries e-mail address is, perhaps marked ‘FAO Giles Clarke’?!

        You’re right about the primacy of TV. Obviously nothing could happen under the current deal, but it’s the sort of arrangement Sky would like.

        I do occasionally look at the ‘online pavilion’. It’s pretty well-used and there are some good threads providing you can get past the people arguing about standards of dress in the pavilion.

    • @njhag says :

      Apart from 2012 when it was the 16th of August, or 2010 when it was the 26th of August,

  2. Bandon Decker says :

    That’s a neat idea and I’d love to see something like that implemented. I think if the County Championship curtain raiser were to be moved back to Lord’s it would make a good candidate; it’s an event that needs more publicity and I don’t think there is currently a TV deal that would have to be renegotiated. If it always started on the same weekend it would bring some stability to the Championship schedule as well.

    • chrisps says :

      Bandon, thanks for the support. I suspect the County Championship curtain raiser may be too much of a niche interest. I also seem to remember it snowing one year, which would be a bit too literal an interpretation of my question about Boxing Day. Best wishes. Chris

  3. jsfain says :

    Maybe you should just advocate moving Boxing Day to the summer? That would fix all the ills of a schedule of too many kinds of the game. Bah.

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