Dead rubber? Boxing Day Test forever has a pulse

Cricket Boxing Day Test at MCG . The Ashes series. V England and MCG. Shane Warne bowling at the MCG for the last time . Fairfax Picture by VINCE CALIGIURI , The Age. 28th December 2006 n cricketer Mitch Marsh relaxes with young Austin during the morning training session at the MCG nets in the lead up to the Boxing Day test between and England at the MCG in Melbourne, Monday, December 25, 2017.(AAP Image/Joe Castro) NO ARCHIVING, EDITORIAL USE ONLY, IMAGES TO BE USED FOR NEWS REPORTING PURPOSES ONLY, NO COMMERCIAL USE WHATSOEVER, NO USE IN BOOKS WITHOUT PRIOR WRITTEN CONSENT FROM AAP
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A dead rubber? The Boxing Day Test? C’mon!

Let’s take its pulse. It’s alive on the walk to the ground on Boxing Day morning, the great convergence of all types from all points in all dress codes. It’s alive when you spot a familiar face and exchange season’s greetings and trace back over the year and are delighted that this all takes place on the way to a cricket match.

It’s alive when you’re through the gate and the stadium heaves into view in all its soaring majesty, a thrill that never dulls. I once knew a Canadian living in Melbourne who, though he understood little about Test cricket, was spellbound by the spectacle of it at the MCG.

It’s alive when you spot a Richmond jumper, which you will. Their glow is still upon the ground. This is the city of many seasons at any time.

The Test match is alive when you watch the warm-ups, and marvel at how well Darren Lehmann still hits the ball, and look for clues. In Perth, Mitch Marsh cupping catches at slip was one.

As England divide for their usual game of soccer, you marvel, too, at the athleticism of Alastair Cook, considering you only ever see him scratching around at the crease or stationary at slip. You look out for the new England seamer, just a name now, but soon to be a flesh-and-blood identity in the gallery of your cricket consciousness.

It’s alive as you hear the unmuffled thump of ball into glove, or the whump of ball into hoarding, as you don’t hear it when the ground is full, and are reminded again that everything in this game is hard.

Dead rubber? Dead format? This one’s wriggling and jiggling, and even if this vivid impression is merely a trick of the Ashes light, that’s to celebrate, not mourn.

Besides, every Test match has a discrete life of its own, quite apart from the vitality of the series.

For the English, Boxing Day at the MCG is what day one at Lord’s is to ns: you know you’re alive, but you pinch yourself just in case. It’s also a clean slate.

For ns, this is the next step in the now familiar five stages of whitewash. One win confirmed that all was well. Two said it was on. Three secured the Ashes, the major objective. A fourth win at the ‘G would make a fifth in Sydney just about inevitable, but right now for whoever bats, it’s 0-0.

The Test match is alive when you look at the pitch, give its colour a name and make your first guesses about how it will play. It’s alive as the Lilliputian ground staff go industriously about their business, unwrapping the ground like a present.

It’s alive to the old stars scattered about the arena, most trussed up in suits and some bursting out of them, memories in their hearts, cameras in their faces. It’s alive with ghosts.

The Boxing Day Test is alive as the ground clears, and the toss is made between Steve Smith and Joe Root, with all its implications, and the playing XIs are formalised, and you align the toss-winning captain’s decision with your thoughts about the pitch and the teams; these are the parts of a Test match falling into place the way they always do.

It might be dead for meaning, but not in feeling. It’s very much alive as the rest of the crowd streams in, filling every seat. It’s quivering with life for the 15 minutes or so you now have to gather your post-Christmas wits and collect your Boxing Day thoughts.

The dead rubber Boxing Day Test is certifiably and palpably and joyously alive as the anthems are sung and the accessories melt away, and murmur falls to a hush, and the bowler stands at the top of his mark, and you take a deep breath…

And that’s just for starters.