THE ASHES The Ashes cricket competition between Australia and England takes place every two years. It is steeped in tradition and is fiercely competitive, generating an enormous amount of news coverage in Australia and England. The roots of the competition date back to 1862 when an English team toured Australia for the first time.
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HISTORY 1862 An English team toured Australia for the first time playing 14 matches. At that time Australia were made up of separate colonies so no national team existed.
1877 The very first test match took place in Melbourne with the Australians winning by 45 runs.
1882 Only one test match was played on this Australian tour of England taking place at the Oval. In the first innings Australia batted first and were all out for only 63 runs. However England could only muster a reply of 101 runs. In the second innings Australia did not fare a great deal better, only posting a total of 122 runs. This meant England only needed 85 runs to win the match and it looked certain that England would win. At one stage in their second innings England were at 4 for 65 leaving them needing just 19 runs with 5 wickets remaining. However England collapsed and were all out for only 77 runs and the unthinkable had happened with Australia winning by 8 runs. The English press savaged the team with the Sporting Times printing an obituary that brought about the legend of the Ashes, itread:
“In affectionate remembrance of English cricket which dies at The Oval on 29th August 1882. Deeply lamented by a large circle of sorrowing friends and acquaintances R.I.P. NB: The body will be cremated, and the ashes taken to Australia.”
1882/83 England organised a tour of Australia and appointed the Honourable Francis Bligh as captain. Bligh was instructed by the Lord’s members to ensure the Ashes of cricket were returned to their rightful home in England. Three tests were organised as England thought their chances would be better in a best of three series. England did indeed win the series by 2-1 and returned home as heroes having retuned the Ashes. Bligh stayed with the Fletcher family during the third test in Sydney and after the test Annie Fletcher presented a velvet bag to Bligh into which she stored the “imaginary” Ashes of English cricket. After Sydney Bligh travelled to Melbourne where he met Florence Morphy who decided along with some friends that the bag was not grand enough. The friends therefore purchased a 4 inch high silver urn and placed the ashes of a burnt stump or a bail in the urn. Bligh took the Ashes to Australia with him when he travelled back to marry Florence Morphy.
1927 Bligh died in this year and the Ashes were presented to the Marylebone Cricket Club who put them on permanent display.
1932/33 This series was particularly memorable and the cause of much debate, known as the Bodyline tour.
1948 Sir Donald Bradman lead a great Australian team daubed the “Invincibles” to victory.
1977 The Centenary Test took place at the Melbourne Cricket Ground and by a strange coincidence Australia won by the same margin as in 1877, winning by 45 runs.
1981 A thrilling England team headed by Ian Botham won the Ashes.
2005 England drew the final test at The Oval but beat Australia 2-1 in the series to win the Ashes for the first time in 18 years.
FORMAT A biennial contest played over five Test matches. The location alternates between the two countries. The matches are played over five different grounds. Australia currently uses Melbourne Cricket Ground, Sydney Cricket Ground, Adelaide Oval, The Gabba and the WACA in Perth. England play at The Oval, Old Trafford, Lord’s, Trent Bridge and Edgbaston.
PRIZES The prestige of winning The Ashes goes to the winning team.
RECORDS The highest score for a completed innings was at the Oval in 1938 when England declared on 903 for 7.
The highest individual score by an English player in Ashes history was when L Huttton scored 364 in the 1938 Oval test.
The highest individual score by an Australian player in Ashes history was when Donald Bradman scored 334 in the 1930 Leeds test.
Herbert Sutcliffe was the first ever batsman to score four centuries in an Ashes series.
In England’s first tour of Australia the England team of 12 players often faced teams with up to 22 players, the laws of cricket at that time did not stipulate a maximum number of players.
The only time the Ashes have left their display cabinet at Lord’s was in 1998 where they were flown to Australia for a museum tour as part of the bicentennial celebrations.
Although currently a five Test series there was a four match series in 1938 and 1975. There have also been six Test series in 1970/71, 1974/75, 1978/79, 1981, 1985, 1989, 1993 and 1997.
Only one test has ever been played at the Brisbane Exhibition Ground and that was in 1928/29.
Following Australia’s long dominance of the Ashes series it was suggested that the Ashes urn should be retained by the winners until the next series. Bligh’s great-great-grandson argued that the Ashes should not be returned to Australia as they were the property of his family and the MCC were only given them to look after. Instead the MCC commissioned a Waterford Crystal larger-scale replica trophy that is now awarded to the winning team.
Rick Darling the Australian batsman had to be given the kiss of life after being hit by a Bob Willis delivery in the 5th Test of the 1978-79 Ashes series.
Only one test has ever been played at Bramall Lane, Sheffield which took place in 1902.
In the third test at Headingley of the 1981 series England followed on 227 runs behind. An English bookmaker offered odds of 500-1 for an English victory and Australian players Dennis Lillee and Rod Marsh laid a small bet. A famous victory by England resulted in Lillee and Marsh being reprimanded for betting on the match.
The Ashes featured in the 1953 film The Final Test. It is about an England cricketer, played by Jack Warner, playing in the last Test of his career. Cricketers Jim Laker and Denis Compton make cameo appearances.
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