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Test Cricket's ultimate tournament: The Ashes Series

The Ashes Series Logo

Cricket lovers all over the world look up to the Ashes as the ultimate test tournament. The Ashes has been around for more than 100 years now, and is known for the age-old rivalry between Australia and England. Though the eponymous cricket fan is always enchanted by One Day and Twenty-Twenty formats, nothing can take away the century-old charm of the Ashes. Follow this article to know more about one of the greatest cricketing tournaments: The Ashes. Looking for cricket betting tips on the Ashes, we have it covered. 

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Hoary origins

Though the first Australia-England test match took place in 1877 (Melbourne), the Ashes took roots in 1882. In fact, it took both teams nine tests to traverse the Ashes series. As such, the history of The Ashes makes interesting reading.

In the 1882 Oval match, the Aussies made a mere 63 runs in the first innings. However, it must be said that this was a difficult wicket. The Englishmen didn't perform very well when their turn came. The latter, led by Hornby scored 101 runs only.

The Aussies, in their second innings, did better and managed 122 runs, thanks to a spectacular 55 off 60 runs by Hugh Massie.

England had to score only 85 runs and snatch the victory from the colonists. There was no doubt about the outcome of this one-match series at Oval. But the Englishmen blew up their chances.

Australian bowler Spotforth refused to give up while stopping England in its tracks. Taking inspiration from the rival captain W.G.Grace, Spotforth dismissed the last 4 English wickets for just runs and led his team to its first win on the English coil. Australia had finally won this series.

Inaugural match of The Ashes

Immediately after the English defeat, The Sporting Times ran an obituary that said “the body will be cremated and the ashes taken to Australia”. These mythical ashes were associated with the 1882-1883 'revenge tour' of England to Australia. Prior to this 3-match tour, the English captain Ivo Bligh had vowed to get these ashes back to England.

After England had won two of the three matches in Australia, a small group of Australian women came to Bligh and presented him with a small urn. This urn was supposed to carry the ashes of a wooden ball. These were the “ashes of Australian cricket”, a humorous phrase coined by the then cricketing world. Bligh would go on to marry Florence Morphy, a member of that group.

Years later, Morphy presented a silver urn to the MCC after her husband's death. It's not clear if that urn contained the same ashes that were there in the original vessel. However, this urn has never been the official trophy of the Ashes series.

The first official Ashes Series trophy was presented in the 1998-99 Ashes Trophy. It is kept in the MCC museum at Lord's nowadays, but this trophy travels whenever this Series is held in Australia.

Tracking the Urn

It took several years before the England- Australia series took up the name “The Ashes”. In fact, there was no cup or trophy linked to this series. Nevertheless, there were several attempts to lend a physical appearance to this series. Physical mementoes were presented to Warner, Noble and Woodfull in 1904, 1909, and 1934, respectively.

In the 1990s, both cricket boards agreed to award the Damley urn (the one gifted by Motphy) to the victorious team. But Lord Clifton, the heir to Bligh, argued this urn was his personal property and was given to the MCC only as an exhibit.

Finally, as a compromise, the MCC came up with its own Ashes urn to be given to the victor of the Australia-England series. This development took place in the 1998-1999 Ashes Series. However, MCC's experiment hasn't diminished the aura of the Damley urn at all.

Format

There are 5 matches in every Ashes Series. The team that wins this series wins the trophy. If there is a draw, the team that previously won the tournament keeps the trophy.

So far, there have been 71 Ashes series. Australia have won 33 of them, England 32, and the rest of the series have ended in a draw. Let's track this series since its inception.

Milestones in the Ashes Series

After its debacle in Oval, England has led several campaigns against Australia to “reclaim the ashes.” Both teams played 3 matches during 1882-1883 in Australia. While the latter won the first match, the colonialists bagged the next two Tests. The result was a 2-1 victory for England.

There was a fourth test match also, and it was played between Australia XI and England. Though this match was won by the Aussies, it isn't considered part of the official 1882-1883 Ashes Series.

1884-1896

England won all the four series played in this period. It lost only 4 Test matches played against Australia and won all the remaining 23 contested. Readers should know that earlier, there were fewer test matches in any Ashes Series. The first 5-Test Match series was played only in 1894-95.

1897-1902

Australia won all the Ashes played in this period. Harry Trot's team devastated the Englishmen 4-1 in 1897-98. Trot's successor, the illustrious Joe Darling, won the next 3 series in this period. These five years marked the Australian dominance in the Ashes Series.

“How we recovered the Ashes”

By now, the MCC had understood the problems facing English cricket. Learning from its past mistakes, the cricket body managed the 1903-1904 tour itself, and the results were quite pleasing for all cricket lovers. England won that series, and its captain Plum Warner wrote a lovely book, “How we recovered the Ashes”. This book revived the Ashes legend, and from here on, the England-Australia series came to be called The Ashes.

1905-1933

Both teams shared the honours between 1905 and 1912. There was a long lull in the cricketing activity between the two teams because of the First World War.

After the war ended, Australia took a firm hold on the Ashes and world cricket. This was the time when it introduced the concept of two fast bowlers bowling from the opposite sides in tandem.

This period also marked the appearance of The Don. Australia had a terrific batting line-up comprising Bradman, Jackson, and others. And we shouldn't forget either the infamous Body line series crafted by Douglas Jardine.

1982-85 Ashes Series

The Englishmen were a depleted side in the 1982-83 series by the absence of Graham Gooch and John Emburey. On the other hand, the Aussies had terrific batsmen like Chappell in their ranks. Not surprisingly, Australia won this series 2-1.

The tables turned in the 1985 Ashes when England won 3-1. The Australian side had been greatly weakened by the absence of the members of the rebel South African tour.

Reaching the cricketing peak

The Kangaroos reached their cricketing peak in the 1990s and early 2000s. At the same time, England suffered a decline because of several reasons. Australia won all the Ashes Series in this period by convincing margins.

Reaching the pinnacle

England were the undefeated side in the 2004 series. Many cricket pundits hoped that the 2005 series would be evenly contested. These hopes were fulfilled, when both teams reached a draw, England, thanks to the 2004 and 2005 series, climbed to the second spot in the ICC Test rankings.

A humiliating defeat

Australia went into the 2015 Ashes as favourites. Although England won the Cardiff Test, the Kangaroos took the next match comfortably. Everybody felt the Aussies were making a comeback. However, there was a disaster in the making.

The Aussies could make only 136 runs in Edgbaston, and 60 in the next test. Not surprisingly, England won these two tests comfortably and won the Series 3-1.

2017-2019

The 2017 Ashes was a turning point for both teams. While England had a weak middle order, the Aussies were criticized for being overly reliant on captain Steve Smith and David Warner. English all-rounder Ben Stokes was also ruled out for this Series, because of a police investigation. Australia went on to win this Ashes convincingly.

In 2019, the Australian side was beset with major scandals. Some of its players were barred from international cricket because of a ball-tampering controversy. Both teams also had struggling batting orders. Despite all this, Australia retained the Ashes because this Series was a 2-2 draw.

Cultural references

The popularity of Ashes has made other sports bodies sit up and take notice. The Great Britain-Australia rugby series is also modelled after the Ashes. Popular TV serials, such as Gladiators and Sale of the Century, have also adopted “Ashes” in their content strategies.

“Bodyline”, a TV serial based on the infamous Bodyline Series. has also talked about the 1930s Ashes Series in detail. The cast includes Gary Sweet and Hugo Weaving as Donald Bradman and Douglas Jardine, respectively.

The Ashes also featured in “The Final Test” based on a TV play. This film features Jack Warner playing his final Ashes Series match. The Final Test has a cameo from Len Hutton, a member of the 1953 England Test side.

Conclusion

Ashes has been one of the most successful cricket tournaments, so far. Millions of cricket lovers track this 5-match test series that mixes controversy, cricket acumen, and great performances. Ashes has achieved a cult status today and straddles the world of sport and entertainment.


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Gian Chacko

Sports enthusiast with love for cricket, football and sports in general. Holds 10+ years of following and writing about sports and lately also betting.