In the past, Boxing Day has belonged to the greats of Australian cricket: Warne, Ponting, Hayden, Chappell brothers, Lillee, Hughes, Jones, Border, McGrath, Gilchrist and the recently departed Max Walker. But in 2016, we’re longing for the new generation of Australian cricketers to step up and become the champions of tomorrow.
Led by a fresh-faced Steve Smith, this is a young Australian side eager to taste the glory of the past heroes and ultimately make their own name.
And where better than to start this journey than the home of cricket. The MCG on Boxing Day.
We arrive early, patiently make our way through the crowd and land seven rows from the front of the long on/third man fence (for a right hander).I look around at the Field of Dreams. Some of the greatest sporting moments in Australia’s history have happened right here. From centuries and hat-tricks, to premierships and Olympics…last-gasp wins and last-gasp losses. Heroes and villains have been created on this sacred turf. The ground belongs to the people but the turf belongs to the warriors.Remarkably, last year, we witnessed Peter Siddle almost pull off a Test hat-trick on the way to Australia comfortably beating the West Indies by 177 runs.
This year, our focus is on two new Victorians, Peter Handscomb and Matthew Wade (he was born in Hobart, but as the captain of the Bushrangers, he’s a Victorian to us) as they proudly wear the baggy green for Australia.
Wade is making his return to Test cricket, while Handscomb is just starting his Test career. Handscomb, a Victorian boy has taken the cricket world by storm with a 50 and a century in his first two Tests. I remember last summer how he dominated for the Melbourne Stars and Bushrangers and to see him here on the big stage makes a Victorian like me proud.
Pakistan win the toss and elect to bat. I’m not sure if this is good or bad as Australia’s recent history of fourth innings chases has been shaky. But on the other hand, Pakistan broke records to almost chase down victory in the fourth innings in Brisbane.
The crowd has built up as Starc bowls the first delivery to Sami.
Throughout the first session, my eyes are on Steve Smith. Talking, pointing, encouraging and directing. He’s an old fashioned captain, a leader from the front….’do as I do’.
Pakistan is scoring slowly. A combination of tight bowling, decent field placement and Pakistan batsmen unwilling to take risks. Australia needs to make the most of any chance, and again, Steve Smith steps up to take two catches leaving Pakistan at 2/60 lunch.
It’s lunchtime and we know where we’re heading – the Percy Beames Bar for the traditional roast beef and gravy roll. It’s a chance to reflect on the last time we were here, the 2016 AFL Finals Series. Two matches with contrasting results. The first was my beloved Cats after-the-siren two-point victory over the Hawks in the qualifying final. (Dad couldn’t watch that last kick).
Two weeks later, we experienced the other end of the spectrum, where we were dismantled by Sydney in the preliminary final. I watched in tears as an emotional Corey Enright trudged dejectedly off the hallowed turf for the last time. It was Jimmy Bartel’s last game too.
As we are talking Geelong, we conveniently run into former Geelong great, Gareth Andrews, who played 136 games for the Cats. It was a privilege to listen to him talk so fondly about his time at the Cattery.
After lunch we settle again, watching Pakistan try to build a total. As the score ticks over 100, I start to think about 108, my favourite number of this year. 108. The number of years it took for the Chicago Cubs to break their World Series drought. My Dad used to live in Chicago, and this year, I listened to Game 7 sneakily in class, where the Cubs beat the Cleveland Indians in the 10th innings.
It’s Jackson Bird’s turn to step up. He bowls Younis Khan with a ripper. It’s a key wicket.
We head off for our own little drinks break and quickly return. As our backs hit the seats, we hear a cheer, look up and see Nic Maddinson scooping up a catch at short leg. Misbah ul-Haq is out for 11. The ‘Birdman’ has struck again.
Shortly after that, the rain sets in, so we head inside to keep dry. It’s 4/142 as the covers are rolled out. This rain seems to be settling in.
Sitting in the seats outside the Long Room, we run into a few old friends and familiar faces.
We are longing for more cricket but typically, the unpredictable Melbourne weather has deprived us. 38 degrees yesterday, rain today. Who knows what tomorrow might bring!
Percy Beames Bar is rocking, and it’s extremely noisy. Conversations range from cricket, to Christmas break and some are even talking about the tennis.
But me, I’m just wondering how my Victorian boys Handscomb and Wade will fare over this Test. They’ve got four days left to write their own little piece of Boxing Day history.