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The Ashes

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For the rugby league series between Great Britain and Australia see Rugby League Ashes.
Some of the cricketing phrases on this page might be better understood after reading the articles on cricket and the list of cricket terms.
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The Ashes urn

The Ashes is a biennial Test cricket contest played between England and Australia. The series is named after the trophy, which is a small wooden urn said to contain the burnt bails from an 1882 game at The Oval. Each Ashes series typically consists of five Test matches, and the series alternate between the two countries. The next Ashes series is due to start on 2005-07-21 and will be played in England.

In the cricketing world, The Ashes is regarded as one of the sport's most famous and fierce rivalries. Notable Ashes series took place in 1932/33 (the Bodyline tour), 1948 (Sir Donald Bradman's "Invincibles" Australian side) and 1981 (in which an England team spearheaded by Ian Botham won a thrilling series).

Contents

The obituary

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The mock obituary notice that appeared in The Sporting Times
The first Test match between England and Australia had been played in 1877, but the Ashes legend dates back to their ninth Test match, played in 1882.

On the 1882 tour, the Australians played only one Test, at The Oval in London. The game was a low-scoring affair on a difficult pitch. Australia made only 63 runs in their first innings, and England, led by Monkey Hornby, took a 38-run lead with a total of 101. In the second innings, Australia posted 122, leaving England to score only 85 runs to win. Australian bowler Fred Spofforth refused to give in, declaring, "This thing can be done". He devastated the English batting, taking the final four wickets (four batsman dismissed) while conceding only two runs, to leave England a mere seven runs short of victory in one of the closest and most nail-biting finishes in cricket history.

The defeat was widely recorded in the English press. The most notable report was a mock obituary, written by Reginald Shirley Brooks, printed in the The Sporting Times on the following Saturday, September 2. The obituary read as follows:

"In Affectionate Remembrance of ENGLISH CRICKET, which died at the Oval on 29th AUGUST, 1882, Deeply lamented by a large circle of sorrowing friends and acquaintances R.I.P.
N.B. - The body will be cremated and the ashes taken to Australia."

The English media played up the subsequent tour to Australia in 1882/83 (which had been arranged before this defeat) as a quest to "regain the Ashes".

The trophy

After the third game of the 1883/4 tour, when the English team were guests of Sir William Clarke over Christmas, a group of Victorian ladies headed by Lady Clarke burned what has variously been called a ball, bail or veil, and presented them to Bligh in an urn together with a velvet bag, which was made by Mrs Ann Fletcher, the daughter of Joseph Hines Clarke and Marion Wright, both of Dublin. She said, "What better way than to actually present the English captain with the very 'object' – albeit mythical – he had come to Australia to retrieve?" Bligh later married another of these Melburnian ladies, Florence Morphy. When he died in 1927 he bequeathed the urn to the Marylebone Cricket Club. The urn itself is made of terracotta and is about four inches (10 centimetres) tall.

A poem was presented to Bligh with the urn and appears on it Template:Mn:

When Ivo goes back with the urn, the urn;
Studds, Steel, Read and Tylecote return, return;
The welkin will ring loud,
The great crowd will feel proud,
Seeing Barlow and Bates with the urn, the urn;
And the rest coming home with the urn.

Despite the teams playing for the Ashes, the Ashes urn itself is never physically awarded to Australia, but is kept permanently in the MCC Cricket Museum at Lord's Cricket Ground. It has been back to Australia only once, in 1988 for a museum tour as part of Australia's Bicentennial celebrations. In the 1990s, given Australia's long dominance of the series the idea was mooted of the victorious team being awarded the trophy. Instead the MCC commissioned a Waterford crystal replica, which is now awarded to the winning team.

In 2002, Bligh's great-great-grandson (the heir-apparent Earl of Darnley) argued that the Ashes should not be returned to Australia as they were essentially the property of his family and only given to the MCC for safe-keeping.

The matches

See also: List of Ashes series for a full listing of all the Ashes series since 1882.

First Ashes quest

See also: History of Test cricket - the Ashes legend

The Honourable Ivo Bligh led the expedition to Australia to "recover the Ashes" against the side that had beaten England earlier in 1882. Publicity surrounding the series was intense, and it was at some time during this series that the Ashes urn was crafted. Australia won the first Test by nine wickets, but in the next two England were victorious. At the end of the third Test, the small wooden urn was presented to Bligh by some Melburnian ladies, England having been generally considered to have "won back the Ashes" 2-1. A fourth match was in fact played, against a "United Australian XI", which was stronger than the Australian side that had competed in the previous matches; this game, however, is not considered part of the Ashes series.

English dominance ends

After this series followed an extended period of English dominance. The tours were shorter in the 1880s and 1890s than people have grown accustomed to in more recent years, possibly owing to the extended travelling time (the sea journey between the two countries took at least a month). Thus, England only lost four Ashes Tests in the 1880s, out of 23 played, and they won all the seven series contested. There was also more chopping and changing in the teams, there was no official board of selectors for each country (at times, two competing sides toured a nation), and popularity with the fans varied. The 1890s games were more closely fought, Australia taking their first series win since the match that sparked the legend in 1891/92 with a 2-1 victory. England still dominated, winning the next three series despite continued player disputes. Towards the end of the decade, though, the Australians got more of a foothold, winning four successive series from 1897/8 to 1902.

Repopularising of the Ashes

After what the MCC saw as the problems of the earlier professional and amateur series, they decided to take control of organising tours themselves, and this led to the first MCC tour of Australia in 1903/04. England won it against the odds, and Plum Warner, the England captain, wrote up his version of the tour in his book How We Recovered The Ashes. This book repopularised the Ashes myth in England, which continues to this day.

England and Australia shared the spoils for the next few years. The entrance of South Africa onto the world cricketing scene meant less time for Ashes series, but even so there were four played after Plum Warner's series, each of the sides taking two victories. England won the last series in 1911/12 by four matches to one, Sir Jack Hobbs establishing himself as a regular with three centuries. England then retained the Ashes when they won the Triangular tournament, which also featured South Africa, in 1912. England looked as if they had established themselves as the dominating force by the time World War I intervened and brought a halt to all international cricket.

After the war, however, Australia took firm control of both the Ashes and world cricket. They recorded thumping victories both in England and on home soil, and England only won one Test out of fifteen from the end of the war until 1925. In a rain-hit series in 1926, however, England managed to eke out a 1-0 victory with a win in the final Test at the Oval, and despite the appearance of Donald Bradman, Australia could not win the next series either, losing 4-1. Bradman won the next series almost by himself, however, as one of the best batting line-ups of all time began to form in the early 1930s, including Bradman himself, Stan McCabe and Bill Ponsford. It was the prospect of bowling at this line-up that caused England's captain Douglas Jardine to think up the Bodyline tactic.

Bodyline

Main article: Bodyline

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Jack Fingleton evades a ball from Harold Larwood with Bodyline field settings.

In 1932, after Bradman's routing of the English team in the previous series, Douglas Jardine developed a tactic of instructing his fast bowlers to bowl at the bodies of the Australian batsmen, with the goal of forcing them to defend their bodies with their bats, and provide easy catches to a stacked leg side field. The tactic was descriptively dubbed Bodyline. Although this won England the Ashes, it caused such a furore in Australia that diplomats had to intervene to prevent serious harm to Anglo-Australian relations, and the MCC eventually changed the laws of cricket to prevent anyone from using the tactic again.

On the batting-friendly wickets that prevailed in the late 1930s, most Tests up to the war still gave results, although many batting records were set in this era. Len Hutton scored 364 at The Oval to save a draw in the 1938 series, a world record innings, while Jack Fingleton and Bradman set a sixth-wicket partnership record in the Third Test at Melbourne that stands to this day. The series were surprisingly competitive, though, considering England's desperation in the early 30s.

The Invincibles

Australia's first tour of England after World War II, in 1948, was led by the 39-year-old Bradman in his last appearance representing Australia. His team has gone down in cricketing legend as The Invincibles, as they played 36 matches including five Tests, and remained unbeaten on the tour. They won 27 matches, drawing only 9, including of course the 4-0 Ashes series victory.

This series is also known for one of the most poignant moments in cricket history, as Bradman batted for Australia in the fifth Test at The Oval – his last – needing to score only 4 runs to maintain a career batting average of 100. Eric Hollies bowled him for a duck, denying those 4 runs and sending Bradman into retirement with a career average of 99.94.

Australia gradually weakened after 1948, allowing England back into the fray in the early 1950s when they won three successive Ashes series, from 1953 to 1956 to be arguably the best Test side in the world at the time. A see-sawing series in 1956 also saw a record that will probably never be beaten: the spinner Jim Laker's monumental effort at Old Trafford when he bowled 68 of 191 overs to take nineteen out of twenty possible Australian wickets. Never has the phrase "He won the match single-handedly" been more appropriate. England's dominance was not to last, however. Australia thumped them 4-0 when they next toured in 1958/59, having found a good bowler of their own in Richie Benaud who took 31 wickets in the 5-Test series. England failed to win any series during the 1960s, a period dominated by draws as teams found it more prudent to save face with a draw than risk losing. Of a total of 25 Ashes Tests playing during this decade, Australia won seven and England three.

In the first series of the 1970s, however, England managed to win 2-0, much thanks to the efforts of Geoffrey Boycott who scored four fifties and three centuries in the series, but in the mid-1970s Australia regained ascendancy with fast bowler Dennis Lillee taking English wickets all too consistently. However, both teams had their victories, England enjoying an emphatic 5-1 win in 1978/79 while Australia took a non-Ashes series (with the WSC players returning) 3-0 a year later. Most would say that the two sides were evenly matched, but no one knew just how evenly they would be matched in the next one.

Botham's Ashes

Australia took a 1-0 lead in the first two Tests of the 1981 series, and looked to make it 2-0 in the third Test at Headingley when they forced England to follow-on 227 runs behind. Famously, an English bookmaker offered odds of 500-1 for an English victory, and Australian players Dennis Lillee and Rod Marsh laid a small bet. This came back to haunt them as England, reduced to 135 for 7 wickets, produced a second innings of 356, Ian Botham scoring an unbeaten 149, and adding 221 for the last three wickets in partnerships with Graham Dilley, Chris Old and their fast bowler Bob Willis. Chasing 130, Australia were dismissed for 111, with a devastating spell of 8-43 by Willis giving England a miraculous victory by 18 runs. Lillee and Marsh were reprimanded for betting on the outcome of a game, but not suspended.

The fourth Test at Edgbaston was a similarly inspired comeback victory for England. Ian Botham this time starred with the ball, taking five for 11, including a spell of five wickets for a solitary run, in Australia's second innings of 121 to give England victory by 29 runs. England also went on to win the fifth Test to take The Ashes.

Australian dominance

England were the best team of the early 1980s, although it was close: Australia won the 1982/83 series, but England then took two victories in 1985 and 1986/87. After those wins, however, a period of extended Australian dominance began, and England have not won an Ashes series since. Australia won the 1989 series 4-0, and an England side weakened by Test bans following the Gatting tour to apartheid South Africa lost 3-0 in 1990/91. The Australians underlined their superiority in the contest by winning the 1993, 1994/95, 1997, 1998/99 and 2001 series – all by convincing margins – and although before every Ashes series the English tried to talk up their chances, each time they failed to back up their words with wins on the cricket field. These successes, together with the Australian team's great success against other opposition, brought them recognition as the best team in world cricket.

Steve Waugh's last Ashes

Main article: England in Australia in 2002-3

After playing in nine successive Ashes series, the 2002/03 rubber was to be Australian captain Steve Waugh's last against England, and was to prove one of the most emphatic victories he enjoyed against the English. The series began with what many regard in hindsight as one of the worst captaincy decisions of all time, as Nasser Hussain won the toss for England in the first Test and sent Australia in to bat. By the end of the first day, Australia had amassed a staggering 364/2, and placed a stamp of authority on the series that would not be undone as they raced to victory by 384 runs. This was followed by two innings victories to Australia, and a fairly comfortable five-wicket win. England only managed to save some face with a 225-run victory in the final Test.

The series' most memorable moment came on the second day of the Fifth Test at the Sydney Cricket Ground, where Waugh – who had been heavily criticised for his lack of form – scored a century after hitting a boundary off English spinner Richard Dawson. He had entered the final over of the day on 97 not out, and hit a four on the last ball of the day to bring up his century. Waugh left the ground to a standing ovation, only to be dismissed in the first over the next day to finish with 102, a welcome return to form after not posting a Test century in 2002.

Summary of results and statistics

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Chart of the matches won between the two sides.
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Chart of the series won between the two sides.

A team has to win a series to gain the right to hold the Ashes trophy. A drawn series results in the previous holders retaining the trophy. To date, a total of 62 Ashes series have been played with Australia winning 39 and England 27 of them. Five of the sixty-two rubbers have been drawn which resulted in England retaining the Ashes once, and Australia retaining it four times.

293 matches have been played, with England winning 92 times, Australia 115 times, and 86 draws. Englishmen have scored 212 centuries in Ashes Tests, of which ten have been scores over 200, while Australians have made 264 centuries, twenty-three of them over 200. On 38 occasions, individual Englishmen have taken ten wickets in a match. Australians, however, have performed that feat 41 times.

The Ashes today

The Ashes may be one of the most contested rivalries in cricket today, but still lacks the intensity and razzmatazz that India-Pakistan rivalries generate. The failure of the English cricket team to regain the Ashes for over a decade now, coupled with the global dominance of an almost invincible Australian team, have robbed recent series of its lustre.

In recent times, Australian matches against India for the Border-Gavaskar trophy have garnered more media coverage than the Ashes with critics in Australia dubbing these clashes as more competitive that that of the Ashes. Nevertheless, the Ashes tournament between the sport's oldest two teams still generates considerable news coverage in much of the international sports media.

However, after England's navigation of the 2004 calendar year undefeated, catapulting them to the second spot in the LG ICC Test Championship table; could mean that the 2005 series might be closely fought. With England also having home advantage, the tickets, including those for the fifth day of the last Test, are sold out, though bookies still favour Australia.

Match venues

The series alternate between Australia and England, and within each country each of the five matches are held at a different cricket ground.

In Australia, the grounds currently used are Melbourne Cricket Ground (first staged an England-Australia Test in the 1876-77 season), Sydney Cricket Ground (1881-82), Adelaide Oval (1884-85), The Gabba (1932-33) and The WACA, Perth (1970-71). One Test was held at the Brisbane Exhibition Ground in 1928-29.

In England the grounds used are The Oval (since 1880), Old Trafford (1884), Lord's Cricket Ground (1884), Trent Bridge (1899), Headingley Stadium (1899) and Edgbaston (1902). One Test was held at Bramall Lane, Sheffield in 1902.

The Ashes outside cricket

The popularity and reputation of the cricket series has led to many other events taking the name for England against Australia contests. The best-known and longest-running of these events is the rugby league contest between Great Britain and Australia (see Rugby League Ashes). The contest first started in 1908, the name being suggested by the touring Australians. Another example is in the British television show Gladiators, where two series were based around the Australia-England contest.

The trophy also features in the science-fiction novel Life, the Universe and Everything by Douglas Adams. Robots steal the urn because it contains the ashes of the Wooden Bail, one of the components necessary to unlock the device imprisoning the inhabitants of the planet Krikkit whose ambition is to unleash death and destruction on the galaxy.

In the cinema, The Ashes featured in the film The Final Test, released in 1953, based on a television play by Terence Rattigan. It stars Jack Warner as an England cricketer playing the last Test of his career, which is the last of an Ashes series; the film contains cameo appearances from prominent contemporary Ashes cricketers including Jim Laker and Denis Compton.

See also

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References

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