The Ashes

The Ashes

Infobox cricket tournament main
name = The Ashes

imagesize = 220px
caption = The Ashes urn is reputed to contain a burnt item of cricket equipment, possibly a bail.
administrator = International Cricket Council
cricket format = Test
tournament format = series
first = 1882
last =
participants = 2
champions = cr|AUS
most successful = cr|AUS (31 titles)
most runs = flagicon|AUSDonald Bradman (5,028)
most wickets = flagicon|AUS Shane Warne (195)

The Ashes is a Test cricket series, played between England and Australia. It is one of international cricket's most celebrated rivalries and dates back to 1882. It is currently played biennially, alternately in England and Australia. However, since cricket is a summer game, the venues being in opposite hemispheres means the break between series alternates between 18 and 30 months. A series of "The Ashes" now comprises five Test matches, two innings per match, under the regular rules for international Test-match cricket. If a series is drawn then the country holding the Ashes retains them.

The series is named after a satirical obituary published in an English newspaper, "The Sporting Times", in 1882 after the match at The Oval in which Australia beat England on an English ground for the first time. The obituary stated that English cricket had died, and "the body will be cremated and the ashes taken to Australia". The English media then dubbed the next English tour to Australia (1882–83) as "the quest to regain The Ashes".

During that tour in Australia, a small terracotta urn was presented as a gift to the England captain Ivo Bligh by a group of Melbourne women. The contents of the urn are reputed to be the ashes of an item of cricket equipment, possibly a bail, ball or stump. Some Aborigines hold that The Ashes are in fact those of King Cole, the cricketer who toured England in 1868. [ White, Stephen: "The Ashes" (from Davies, Douglas James; Mates, Lewis H.: "Encyclopedia Of Cremation" [Ashgate, 2005] , p 397. ).] The Dowager Countess of Darnley, meanwhile, claimed recently that her mother-in-law (and Bligh's wife), Florence Morphy, said that they were the remains of a lady's veil.

The urn is erroneously believed, by some, to be the trophy of the Ashes series but it has never been formally adopted as such and Ivo Bligh always considered it to be a personal gift. [Cite web |title=The Ashes History|url= |publisher=Lords: The home of cricket] Replicas of the urn are often held aloft by victorious teams as a symbol of their victory in an Ashes series, but the actual urn has never been presented or displayed as a trophy in this way. Whichever side holds the Ashes, the urn normally remains in the Marylebone Cricket Club Museum at Lord's since being bequeathed to the MCC by Ivo Bligh's widow upon his death. [Cite news | url= | title=Ashes urn heads to Australia | publisher=BBC Sport | date=2006-10-15 | accessdate=2007-11-08 In 2006–07 the urn was taken to Australia and exhibited at each of the Test match grounds to coincide with the England tour.]

Since the 1998–99 Ashes series, a Waterford Crystal representation of the Ashes urn has been presented to the winners of an Ashes series as the official trophy of that series.

Australia currently holds The Ashes, after beating England 5–0 to regain them in 2006–07. The next Ashes series will be held in England in 2009.

The legend of The Ashes

The first Test Match between England and Australia was played in 1877, but the Ashes legend dates back only to the ninth Test Match, played in 1882.

On their tour of England that year, the Australians played just one Test, at The Oval in London. It was a low-scoring affair on a difficult wicket. [Fred Spofforth, however, contended that, the fourth innings aside, it played perfectly well.] Australia made a mere 63 runs in its first innings, and England, led by "Boss" Hornby, took a 38-run lead with a total of 101. In their second innings, the Australians, boosted by a spectacular run-a-minute 55 from Hugh Massie, managed 122, which left England only 85 runs to win.

The Australians were greatly demoralised by the manner of their second-innings collapse, but fast bowler Fred Spofforth, spurred on by some gamesmanship on the part of his opponents, refused to give in. "This thing can be done," he declared. Spofforth went on to devastate the English batting, taking his final four wickets for only two runs to leave England just seven runs short of victory in one of the closest and most nail- (or umbrella-) biting finishes in the history of cricket.

When Ted Peate, England's last batsman, came to the crease, his side needed just ten runs to win, but Peate managed only two before he was bowled by Harry Boyle. An astonished Oval crowd fell silent, struggling to believe that England could possibly have lost to a colony. When it finally sunk in, however, the crowd swarmed onto the field, cheering loudly and chairing Boyle and Spofforth to the pavilion.

When Peate returned to the pavilion, he was reprimanded by his peers for not allowing Charles Studd, his partner, to get the runs. Although Studd was one of the best batsman in England, having already hit two centuries that season against the colonists, Peate replied, "I had no confidence in Mr Studd, sir, so thought I had better do my best."Fact|date=August 2007

The momentous defeat was widely recorded in the English press, which praised the Australians for their plentiful "pluck" and berated the Englishmen for their lack thereof. A celebrated poem appeared in "Punch" on Saturday, 9 September. The first verse (quoted most frequently) reads thus:

:::"Well done, Cornstalks! Whipt us"::"Fair and square,":::"Was it luck that tript us?"::"Was it scare?":"Kangaroo Land's 'Demon"' [Spofforth's nickname.] ", or our own" :"Want of 'devil', coolness, nerve, backbone?"

On 31 August, in the great Charles Alcock-edited magazine "Cricket: A Weekly Record of The Game", there appeared a now-obscure mock obituary:


Two days later, on 2 September, a second, more celebrated mock obituary, written by Reginald Brooks under the pseudonym "Bloobs", appeared in "The Sporting Times". It 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."

Ivo Bligh fastened on to this notice and promised that, on the tour to Australia in 1882–83 (which he was to captain), he would regain "the ashes". He spoke of them again several times over the course of the tour, and the Australian media quickly caught on. The three-match series resulted in a two-one win to England, notwithstanding a fourth match, won by the Australians, whose status remains a matter of ardent dispute.

In the twenty years following Bligh's campaign, the term "The Ashes" largely disappeared from public use. There is no indication that this was the accepted name for the series -- at least not in England. The term became popular again in Australia first, when George Giffen, in his memoirs ("With Bat and Ball", 1899), used the term as if it were well known. [Gibson, A., "Cricket Captains of England", p. 26.]

The true and global revitalisation of interest in the concept dates from 1903, when Pelham Warner took a team to Australia with the promise that he would regain "the ashes". As had been the case on Bligh's tour twenty years before, the Australian media latched fervently onto the term, and, this time, it stuck. Having fulfilled his promise, Warner published a book entitled "How We Recovered The Ashes". Although the origins of the term are not referred to in the text, the title served (along with the general hype created in Australia) to revive public interest in the legend. The first mention of "The Ashes" in Wisden Cricketers' Almanack occurs in 1905, while "Wisden"'s first account of the legend is included in the 1922 edition.

The Ashes Urn

As it took many years for the name the Ashes to be given to the ongoing series between England and Australia, there was no concept of there being a representation of the ashes being presented to the winners. As late as 1925, the following verse appeared in The Cricketers Annual:

:"So here’s to Chapman, Hendren and Hobbs,:"Gilligan, Woolley and Hearne:":"May they bring back to the Motherland,":"The ashes which have no urn!"

Nevertheless, several attempts had been made over the years to embody The Ashes in a physical memorial. Examples include one presented to Warner in 1904, another to Australian Captain MA Noble in 1909 and another to Australian Captain WM Woodfall in 1934.

The oldest however, and the one to enjoy enduring fame, was the one presented to Hon Ivo Bligh, later Lord Darnley, during the 1882–83 tour. The precise nature of the origin of this urn however, is matter of dispute. Based on a statement by Darnley made in 1894, it was believed that a group of Victorian ladies, including Darnley's later wife Florence Morphy, made the presentation after the victory in the Third Test in 1883. More recent researchers, in particular Ronald Willis [Cite book | first=Ronald | last=Willis | title=Cricket's biggest Mystery: The Ashes | isbn=0-7270-1768-3] and Joy Munns [Cite book | first=Joy | last=Munns | title=Beyond Reasonable Doubt: The birthplace of the Ashes | isbn=0-646-22153-1] have studied the tour in detail and concluded that the presentation was made after a private cricket match played over Christmas 1882 when the English team were guests of Sir William Clarke, at his property 'Rupertswood', in Sunbury, Victoria. This was before the matches had started. The prime evidence for this theory was provided by a descendant of Lord Clarke.

The contents of the Darnley urn are also problematic; they were variously reported to be the remains of a stump, bail or the outer casing of a ball, but in 1998, Lord Darnley’s 82-year-old daughter-in-law said they were the remains of her mother-in-law’s veil, casting a further layer of doubt on the matter. However during the tour of Australia in 2006/7, the MCC official accompanying the urn said the veil legend had been discounted, and it was now "95% certain" that the urn contains the ashes of a cricket bail. Speaking on Channel Nine TV on 25 November 2006, he also said x-rays of the urn had shown the pedestal and handles were cracked, and repair work had to be carried out. The urn itself is made of terracotta and is about six inches (15 cm) tall and may originally have been a perfume jar.

A six verse poem appeared in the 1 February edition of Melbourne Punch, the fourth verse of which makes reference to the urn; at some point this verse was glued to the urn and remains so to the present day. The verse in question reads: [Cite web | url= | title=Ashes - The Beginning | | accessdate=2007-11-08] :"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."

In February 1883, just before the disputed Fourth Test, a velvet bag, which was made by Mrs Ann Fletcher, the daughter of Joseph Hines Clarke and Marion Wright, both of Dublin, was given to Bligh to contain the urn.

During Darnley’s lifetime, there was little public knowledge of the urn, and no record of a published photograph exists before 1924. However, when Darnley died in 1927, his widow presented the urn to the Marylebone Cricket Club and that was the key event in establishing the urn as the physical embodiment of the legendary ashes. MCC first displayed the urn in the Long Room at Lord's Cricket Ground and since 1953 in the MCC Cricket Museum at the ground. It is ironic that MCC’s wish for it to be seen by as wide a range of cricket enthusiasts as possible has led to its being mistaken for an official trophy.

It is in fact a private memento, and for this reason the Ashes urn itself is never physically awarded to either England or Australia, but is kept permanently in the MCC Cricket Museum where it can be seen together with the specially-made red and gold velvet bag and the scorecard of the 1882 match.

Due to its fragile condition, the urn has been allowed to travel to Australia only twice. The first occasion was in 1988 for a museum tour as part of Australia's Bicentennial celebrations. The second visit was timed to coincide with the 2006/7 Ashes series. The urn arrived on 17 October 2006, going on display at the Museum of Sydney. It then toured to other states, with the final appearance at the Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery on 21 January 2007.

In the 1990s, given Australia's long dominance of the Ashes series, and the popular acceptance of the Darnley urn as ‘The Ashes’, the idea was mooted that the victorious team in an Ashes series should be awarded the urn as a trophy and allowed to retain it until the next series. As its condition is fragile, and it is a prized exhibit at the MCC Cricket Museum, the MCC were reluctant to agree. Furthermore, in 2002, Bligh's great-great-grandson (Lord Clifton, the heir-apparent to the Earldom of Darnley) argued that the Ashes urn should not be returned to Australia as it was essentially the property of his family and only given to the MCC for safe-keeping.

As a compromise, the MCC commissioned a trophy in the form of a larger-scale replica of the urn in Waterford Crystal to award to the winning team of each series from 1998–99. This did little to diminish the status of the Darnley urn as most important icon in cricket, the symbol of this most ancient and keenly fought of contests.

eries and matches

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

The quest to "recover those ashes"

:"See also: "

Later in 1882, following the famous Australian victory at The Oval, the Honourable Ivo Bligh led an England team to Australia, as he said, to "recover those ashes". 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, England were generally considered to have "won back the Ashes" 2–1. A fourth match was in fact played, against a "United Australian XI", which was arguably stronger than the Australian sides that had competed in the previous three matches; this game, however, is not generally considered part of the 1882-83 series. It "is" counted as a Test, but as a standalone.

1884 to 1896

After Bligh's victory, there was an extended period of English dominance. The tours generally had fewer Tests in the 1880s and 1890s than people have grown accustomed to in more recent years, the first five-Test series taking place only in 1894-95. England only lost four Ashes Tests in the 1880s, out of 23 played, and they won all the seven series contested.

There was more chopping and changing in the teams, given that there was no official board of selectors for each country (in 1887-88, two separate English teams were on tour in Australia) and popularity with the fans varied. The 1890s games were more closely fought, Australia taking their first series win since 1882 with a 2–1 victory in 1891-92. But England still predominated, winning the next three series to 1896 despite continuing player disputes.

The 1894-95 series began in sensational fashion when England won the First Test at Sydney by just 10 runs having followed on. Australia had scored a massive 586 (Syd Gregory 201, George Giffen 161) and then dismissed England for 325. But England responded with 437 and then dramatically dismissed Australia for 166 with Bobby Peel taking 6/67. At the close of the penultimate day's play, Australia had been 113-2, only needing 64 more runs. But heavy rain fell overnight and next morning the two slow left-arm bowlers, Peel and Johnny Briggs, were all but unplayable. England went on to win the series 3-2 after it had been all square before the Final Test, which England won by 6 wickets. The English heroes were Peel, with 27 wickets in the series at 26.70, and Tom Richardson, with 32 at 26.53.

In 1896, England under the captaincy of W G Grace won the series 2-1, but this marked the end of what remains England's longest period of Ashes dominance.

1897 to 1902

Australia resoundingly won the 1897-98 series by 4-1 under the captaincy of Harry Trott. His successor, Joe Darling won the next three series in 1899, 1901-02 and the classic 1902 series, which became one of the most famous in the history of Test Match cricket.

Five matches were played in 1902 but the first two were drawn after being hit by bad weather. In the First Test (the first ever played at Edgbaston), after scoring 376, England bowled out Australia for 36 (Wilfred Rhodes 7/17) and reduced them to 46-2 when they followed on. Australia won the Third and Fourth Tests at Bramall Lane and Old Trafford respectively. At Old Trafford, Australia won by just 3 runs after Victor Trumper had scored 104 on a "bad wicket", reaching his hundred before lunch on the first day. England won the last Test at The Oval by one wicket. Chasing 263 to win, they slumped to 48-5 before Jessop's 104 gave them a chance. He reached his hundred in just 75 minutes. The last wicket pair of George Hirst and Rhodes were left with 15 runs to get, and duly got them. When Rhodes joined him, Hirst is famously supposed to have said: "We'll get them in singles, Wilfred." The story appears to be apocryphal and in any case they are believed to have scored at least one two among the singles.

The period of Darling's captaincy saw the emergence of several outstanding Australian players such as Trumper, Warwick Armstrong, James Kelly, Monty Noble, Clem Hill, Hugh Trumble and Ernie Jones.

Reviving the Ashes legend

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" [Plum Warner, "How We Recovered The Ashes", Longman, 1905] . The title of this book revived the Ashes legend and it was after this that England v Australia series were customarily referred to as "The Ashes".

1905 to 1912

England and Australia were evenly matched until the outbreak of the First World War in 1914. Five more series took place between 1905 and 1912. In 1905 England's captain Stanley Jackson not only won the series 2-0, but also won the toss in all five matches and headed both the batting and the bowling averages. Monty Noble led Australia to vistory in both 1907-08 and 1909. Then England won in 1911-12 by four matches to one. Jack Hobbs establishing himself as England's first-choice opening batsman with three centuries, while Frank Foster (32 wickets at 21.62) and Sydney Barnes (34 wickets at 22.88) formed a formidable bowling partnership.

England retained the Ashes when they won the 1912 Triangular Tournament, which also featured South Africa. However, the 1912 Australian touring party had been severely weakened by a dispute between the board and players that caused Clem Hill, Victor Trumper, Warwick Armstrong, Tibby Cotter, Sammy Carter and Vernon Ransford to be omitted [Harte, pp.251 256.] .

1920 to 1933

After the war, Australia took firm control of both the Ashes and world cricket. For the first time, the tactic of using two express bowlers in tandem paid off as Jack Gregory and Ted McDonald regularly destroyed the England batting. Australia recorded thumping victories both in England and on home soil. They won the first eight matches in succession and England only won one Test out of fifteen from the end of the war until 1925. England suffered a 5-0 whitewash in 1920-1921 at the hands of Warwick Armstrong's team [Harte, pp.274 276.] .

In a rain-hit series in 1926, England managed to eke out a 1–0 victory with a win in the final Test at The Oval. Because the series was at stake, the match was to be "timeless": i.e., played to a finish. Australia had a narrow first innings lead of 22. Jack Hobbs and Herbert Sutcliffe took the score to 49-0 at the end of the second day, a lead of 27. Heavy rain fell overnight, and next day the pitch soon developed into a traditional sticky wicket. England seemed doomed to be bowled out cheaply and to lose the match. In spite of the very difficult batting conditions, however, Hobbs and Sutcliffe took their partnership to 172 before Hobbs was out for exactly 100. Sutcliffe went on to make 161 and in the end England won the game comfortably. [Harte, pp.298 301.]

Despite the debut of Donald Bradman, Australia could not win the next series in 1928-29 either, losing 4–1. [Harte, pp.312 316.] England had a very strong batting side, with Wally Hammond contributing 905 runs at an average of 113.12, and Hobbs, Sutcliffe and Patsy Hendren all scoring heavily; the bowling was more than adequate, without being outstanding.

But Bradman fulfilled his promise in the 1930 series when he scored a remarkable 974 runs at 139.14. In the Headingley Test, he made 334, reaching 309* at the end of the first day, including a century before lunch. Bradman himself thought that his 254 in the preceding match, at Lord's, was a better innings. England managed to stay in contention until the deciding final Test at The Oval, but yet another double hundred by Bradman, and 7-92 by Percy Hornibrook in England's second innings, enabled Australia to win by an innings and take the series 2-1. Clarrie Grimmett's 29 wickets at 31.89 for Australia in this high-scoring series were also important.

Australia had one of the best batting line-ups ever in the early 1930s with Bradman, Archie Jackson, Stan McCabe, Bill Woodfull and Bill Ponsford. It was the prospect of bowling at this line-up that caused England's 1932-33 captain Douglas Jardine to adopt the tactic of fast leg theory, also known as bodyline.

Jardine instructed 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, thus providing easy catches to a stacked leg-side field. Jardine insisted that the tactic was legitimate and called it "leg theory" but it was widely disparaged by its opponents, who dubbed it "bodyline" (from "on the line of the body"). Although England won the Ashes, bodyline 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.

Jardine's comment was: "I've not travelled 6,000 miles to make friends. I'm here to win the Ashes". [ [ "The Times", September 4, 2007, "Top 50 British achievements".] ]

Although some of Bill Woodfull's men asked him to use the same tactic against the England team, he declined. He famously told the English side's manager, Pelham Warner, "There are two teams out there. One is playing cricket; the other is making no attempt to do so". [Cashman, Franks, Maxwell, Sainsbury, Stoddart, Weaver, Webster (1997). "The A-Z of Australian cricketers", pp. 322–323.]

1934 to 1953

On the batting-friendly wickets that prevailed in the late 1930s, most Tests up to the Second World War still gave results. It should be borne in mind that Tests in Australia prior to the war were all played to a finish. Many batting records were set in this period.

The 1934 Ashes series began with the notable absence of the English players Harold Larwood, Bill Voce and Douglas Jardine. The MCC had made it clear, in light of the revelations of the bodyline series, that these players would not face Australia. It should be noted that the MCC, although it had earlier condoned and encouraged Fact|date=August 2007 bodyline tactics in the 1932-33 series, laid the blame on Harold Larwood when relations turned sour. Larwood was forced by the MCC either to apologise for using bodyline or be removed from the Test side. He went for the latter.

Australia recovered the Ashes in 1934 and held them until 1953, although no international cricket was possible during the Second World War.

As in 1930, the 1934 series was decided in the final Test at The Oval. Australia, batting first, posted a massive 701 in the first innings. Bradman (244) and Ponsford (266) were in record-breaking form with a partnership of 451 for the second wicket. England eventually faced a massive 707 run target for victory and failed, Australia winning the series 2-1. [Harte, pp. 356 357.]

In 1936-37, Bradman succeeded Woodfull as Australian captain. He won his first series in charge 3-2. The 1938 series was drawn 1-1, Australia retaining the Ashes. The highlight was Len Hutton's then world record score of 364 at The Oval. After the war, England toured in 1946-47 and, as in 1920-21, found that Australia had made the best post-war recovery. Still captained by Bradman and now featuring the potent new ball partnership of Ray Lindwall and Keith Miller, Australia were convincing 3-0 winners.

In 1948, Australia created new standards, completely outplaying England to win 4-0 with one draw. This Australian team, led by the now 39-year-old Bradman on his final tour of England, has gone down in cricketing legend as "The Invincibles". Playing 36 first-class matches on tour, including the five Tests, they remained unbeaten by winning 27 and drawing only 9.

The 1948 series ended with one of the most poignant moments in cricket history, as Bradman played his final innings for Australia in the Fifth Test at The Oval needing to score only 4 runs to maintain a career batting average of 100. Eric Hollies bowled him second ball for a duck with a googly, sending him into retirement with a career average of 99.94.

Bradman was succeeded as Australian captain by Lindsay Hassett, who led the team to another resounding victory in 1950-51, when they defeated England 4-1.

But the tide finally turned in 1953 when England won the final Test at The Oval to take the series 1-0. This was the beginning of a great period in English cricket history with players like captain Len Hutton, Fred Trueman, Brian Statham, Alec Bedser, Jim Laker, Peter May, Tom Graveney, Godfrey Evans and Colin Cowdrey.

1954 to 1971

In 1954-55, Australia's batsmen had no answer to the pace of Frank Tyson and Brian Statham. After winning the First Test, Australia lost its way and England took a hat-trick of victories to win the series 3-1. [Harte, pp.435 437.]

A see-sawing series in 1956 saw a record that will probably never be beaten: off-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. [Harte, pp.444 446.] Never has the phrase "he won the match single-handedly" been more appropriate.

England's dominance was not to last, however. Australia won 4–0 in 1958-59, having found a good bowler of their own in new skipper 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. It was in the 1960s that the predominance of England and Australia in world cricket was seriously challenged for the first time. West Indies defeated England twice in the mid-sixties and then South Africa, in its last series before it was banned, completely outplayed Australia.

In 1970-71, Ray Illingworth led England to a 2-0 win in Australia, mainly because of John Snow's fast bowling, while Geoffrey Boycott and John Edrich scored the runs. It was not until the last session of what was the 7th Test (one match having been abandoned without a ball bowled) that England's success was secured. The Australian captain Bill Lawry was sacked in the middle of the series after the selectors lost patience with Australia's lack of success and dour strategy. Lawry was not informed of the decision privately and heard his fate over the radio [Harte, pp. 526 530.] , a medium in which he later made another successful career.

1972 to 1987

The 1972 series finished all square at 2-2, with England under Illingworth retaining the Ashes [Harte, pp. 538 540.] .

In the 1974-75 series, with the England team breaking up and their best batsman Geoff Boycott refusing to play, Australian pace bowlers Jeff Thomson and Dennis Lillee wreaked havoc. A 4-1 result was a fair reflection as England were left shell shocked. [Harte, pp.557 559.] England then lost the 1975 series 0-1, but at least restored some pride under new captain Tony Greig [Harte, pp.561 563.] .

Australia won the 1977 Centenary Test [Harte, pp.580 581.] which was not an Ashes contest but then a storm broke as Kerry Packer announced his intention to form World Series Cricket. [Harte, pp.579 590] WSC affected all Test playing nations but it weakened Australia especially as the bulk of its players had signed up with Packer; the Australian Cricket Board (ACB) would not select WSC-contracted players and an almost completely new Test team had to be formed. WSC coincided with the decline of both the Australian and English teams; the Ashes had long been seen as a cricket world championship but the rise of the West Indies in the late 1970s challenged that view. The West Indies would go on to record resounding Test series wins over Australia and England and dominated world cricket until the 1990s.

With Greig having joined WSC, England appointed Mike Brearley as their captain and he enjoyed great success against Australia. Largely assisted by the return of Geoff Boycott, Brearley's England team won the 1977 series 3-0 and then completed an overwhelming 5-1 series win against an Australian side missing its WSC players in 1978-79. Allan Border made his Test debut for Australia in 1978-79.

Brearley retired from Test cricket in 1979 and was succeeded by Ian Botham, who started the 1981 series as England captain. After Australia took a 1-0 lead in the first two Tests, Botham was forced to resign or was sacked (depending on the source). Brearley surprisingly agreed to be reappointed before the Third Test at Headingley. This was a remarkable match in which Australia looked certain to take a 2-0 series lead after they had forced England to follow-on 227 runs behind. England, despite being 135 for 7, produced a second innings total of 356 with ex-skipper Botham scoring 149*. Chasing just 130, Australia were sensationally dismissed for 111, Bob Willis taking 8/43. It was the first time since 1894-95 that a team following on had won a Test match. Under Brearley's leadership, England went on to win the next two matches before a drawn final match at The Oval [Harte, pp.627 628.] .

In 1982-83, Australia had Greg Chappell back from WSC as captain, while the England team was weakened by the enforced omission of their South African tour rebels, particularly Graham Gooch and John Emburey. Australia went two-nil up after three Tests, but England won the Fourth Test by 3 runs (after a 70-run last wicket stand) to set up the final decider, which was drawn [Harte, pp.636 637.] .

In 1985, David Gower's England team was strengthened by the return of Gooch and Emburey as well as the emergence at international level of Tim Robinson and Mike Gatting. Australia, now captained by Allan Border, had themselves been weakened by a rebel South African tour, the loss of Terry Alderman being a particular factor. England won 3-1.

Despite suffering heavy defeats by West Indies during the 1980s, England continued to do well in the Ashes. Mike Gatting was the captain in 1986-87 but his team started badly and attracted some criticism [Cite web | url= | title=Can't bat, can't bowl, can't field | publisher=Cricinfo | last=Miller | first=Andrew | coauthors=Martin Williamson | date=2006-11-16 | accessdate=2007-11-08] . Then Chris Broad scored three hundreds in successive Tests and bowling successes from Graham Dilley and Gladstone Small meant England won the series 2-1 [Harte, pp.662 664.] . At the time, few would have predicted that England would have to wait until 2005 to win the Ashes again.

1989 to 2003

The Australian team of 1989 was comparable to the great Australian teams of the past, and resoundingly defeated England 4–0 [Harte, pp.679 682.] . Well led by Allan Border, the team included the young cricketers Mark Taylor, Merv Hughes, David Boon, Ian Healy and Steve Waugh, who were all to prove long-serving and successful Ashes competitors. England, now led once again by David Gower, suffered from injuries and poor form. During the Fourth Test news broke that prominent England players had agreed to take part in a "rebel tour" of South Africa the following winter; three of them (Tim Robinson, Neil Foster and John Emburey) were playing in the match, and were subsequently dropped from the England side [cite web|url=|title=Rebels take a step too far (English rebel tour to South Africa, 1989)|first=Nick|last=Hoult|publisher=Cricinfo|month=July | year=2004|accessdate=2007-10-22] .

There can be little doubt that Australia reached a cricketing peak in the 1990s and early 2000s, coupled with a general decline in England's fortunes. After re-establishing its credibility in 1989, Australia underlined its superiority with a succession of victories in the 1990-91, 1993, 1994-95, 1997, 1998-99, 2001 and 2002-03 series, all by convincing margins.

Great Australian players in the early years included batsmen Allan Border, David Boon and Mark Taylor. The captaincy passed from Border to Taylor in the mid-1990s and then to Steve Waugh before the 2001 series. In the latter part of the 1990s Waugh himself, along with his twin brother Mark, scored heavily for Australia and fast bowler Glenn McGrath made a serious impact. The wicketkeeper-batsman position was held by Ian Healy for most of the 1990s and by Adam Gilchrist from 2001 to 2006-07. In the 2000s, batsmen Justin Langer, Damien Martyn and Matthew Hayden became noted players for Australia. But the most dominant Australian player was legspinner Shane Warne, whose first delivery in Ashes cricket in 1993 became known as the ball of the century.

Australia's record between 1989 and 2005 had a significant impact on the statistics between the two sides. Before the 1989 series began, the win-loss ratio between the two sides was almost even with 87 Ashes Test wins for Australia to England's 86, with a further 74 Tests having been drawn. [ [;filter=advanced;opposition=1;orderby=won;spanmax2=1+Apr+1989;spanval2=span;team=2;template=results;trophy=1;type=team Cricinfo statistics] ] By the time of the 2005 series, Australia's wins had increased to 115 whereas England's had increased to only 93 (and a further 82 draws). [ [;filter=advanced;opposition=1;orderby=won;spanmax2=1+Apr+2005;spanval2=span;team=2;template=results;trophy=1;type=team Cricinfo statistics] ] In the period between 1989 and the beginning of the 2005 series, the two sides had played 43 times; Australia winning 28 times, England 7 times, with 8 draws. Even more astonishingly, only a single England victory had come in a match in which the Ashes were still at stake, namely the First Test of the 1997 series. All others were consolation victories when the Ashes had been secured by Australia. [Statistics obtained from Cricinfo at [;team=AUS;class=testteam;filter=basic;opposition=ENG;notopposition=0;decade=0;homeaway=0;continent=0;country=0;notcountry=0;groundid=0;season=0;startdefault=1877-03-15;start=1877-03-15;enddefault=2005-03-29;end=2005-03-29;tourneyid=0;finals=0;daynight=0;toss=0;scheduledovers=0;scheduleddays=0;innings=0;followon=0;result=0;seriesresult=0;captainid=0;recent=;viewtype=series;runslow=;runshigh=;wicketslow=;wicketshigh=;ballslow=;ballshigh=;overslow=;overshigh=;bpo=0;batevent=;conclow=;conchigh=;takenlow=;takenhigh=;ballsbowledlow=;ballsbowledhigh=;oversbowledlow=;oversbowledhigh=;bpobowled=0;bowlevent=;submit=1;.cgifields=viewtype] ]

2005 to present

England finally began to recover in the early 2000s and were undefeated in Test matches through the 2004 calendar year. This elevated them to second in the ICC Test Championship and raised hopes that the 2005 Ashes series would be closely fought.

In fact, the series was more competitive than anyone had predicted and was still undecided as the closing session of the final Test began. The First Test at Lord's was convincingly won by Australia, but in the remaining four matches the teams were evenly matched and England fought back to win the Second Test by 2 runs, the smallest victory by a runs margin in Ashes history, and the second-closest such victory in all Tests.

The rain-affected Third Test ended with the last two Australian batsmen holding out for a draw and England won the Fourth Test by three wickets after forcing Australia to follow-on for the first time in 191 Tests. A draw in the final Test gave England victory in an Ashes series for the first time in 18 years and their first Ashes victory at home since 1985. Experienced journalists including Richie Benaud rated the series as the most exciting in living memory. It has been compared with the great series of the distant past, such as 1894-95 and 1902.

Australia regained The Ashes in the 2006-07 series with a convincing 5-0 victory, the second time an Ashes series has been won by that margin. Glenn McGrath, Shane Warne and Justin Langer retired from Test cricket after the series, having been the backbone of the Australian team for almost a decade. Damien Martyn also retired during the series [cite web|url=|title=Damien Martyn|publisher=cricinfo] .

The next series will take place in England in 2009.

ummary of results and statistics

:"See also: List of Ashes series for a full listing of all the Ashes series since 1882."A team must win a series to gain the right to hold the Ashes. A drawn series results in the previous holders retaining the Ashes. To date, a total of 64 Ashes series have been played, with Australia winning 31 and England 28. The remaining five series were drawn, with Australia retaining the Ashes four times (1938, 1962–63, 1965–66, 1968) and England retaining it once (1972). The win-loss ratio in Ashes Tests [Australia and England have played an additional 16 Tests but the Ashes weren't at stake in those games. Including these Tests as well as the Tests played for the Ashes, the win-loss record now stands at 131 Australian wins, 97 English wins, and 88 draws (up to and including the 2006/07 series). See [;filter=advanced;opposition=1;orderby=won;team=2;template=results;type=team Cricinfo statistics] ] (up to and including the 2006/07 series) stands at 121 wins for Australia to 95 wins for England, with 84 draws. [ [;filter=advanced;opposition=1;orderby=won;team=2;template=results;trophy=1;type=team Cricinfo statistics] ]

Ashes series have generally been played over five Test matches, although there have been four match series (1938; 1975) and six match series (1970–71; 1974–75; 1978–79; 1981; 1985; 1989; 1993 and 1997). Australians have made 264 centuries in Ashes Tests, twenty-three of them over 200, while Englishmen have scored 212 centuries, of which ten have been scores over 200. On 41 occasions, individual Australians have taken ten wickets in a match. Englishmen have performed that feat 38 times.

The Ashes today

The Ashes is one of the most fiercely contested competitions in cricket.

The failure of England to regain the Ashes for 16 years from 1989, coupled with the global dominance of the Australian team, had dulled the lustre of the series in recent years throughout most of the cricketing world, although it has remained the most popular cricketing contest for Australians. However the close results in the 2005 Ashes series, and the overall high quality and competitiveness of the cricket greatly boosted the popularity of the sport in Britain and considerably enhanced the profile of the Ashes around the world. It remains to be seen whether the lopsided results of the 2006-07 Ashes series will have a negative impact on this newly acquired popularity outside of Australia.

Match venues

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

In Australia, the grounds currently used are "The Gabba" in Brisbane (first staged an England-Australia Test in the 1932–33 season), Adelaide Oval (1884–85), The WACA, Perth (1970–71) the Melbourne Cricket Ground (MCG) (1876–77) and the Sydney Cricket Ground (SCG) (1881–82). One Test was held at the Brisbane Exhibition Ground in 1928–29. Traditionally, Melbourne hosts the Boxing Day Test. Cricket Australia has proposed that the 2010–11 series consist of six Tests, with the additional game to be played at Bellerive Oval in Hobart. The England Cricket Board is yet to agree to this.

In England the grounds used are The Oval (since 1880), Old Trafford (1884), Lord's (1884), Trent Bridge (1899), Headingley (1899) and Edgbaston (1902). One Test was held at Bramall Lane, Sheffield in 1902. Sophia Gardens in Cardiff, Wales is scheduled to hold the first (and its first) Test in the 2009 Ashes series.

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 The Ashes (rugby league)). 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 urn is also featured in the science fiction comedy novel "Life, the Universe and Everything", the third "Hitchhiker's Guide To The Galaxy" book by Douglas Adams. The urn is stolen by alien robots, as it is part of the key needed to unlock the "Wikkit Gate" and release the imprisoned world of "Krikkit".

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. [cite web|url=|title=The Final Test (1953)|publisher=Internet Movie Database|accessdate=2006-11-16]

ee also

*Ball of the Century
*History of Test cricket from 1877 to 1883
*History of Test cricket from 1884 to 1889
*History of Test cricket from 1890 to 1900



*"Wisden's Cricketers Almanack" (various editions)

External links

* [ MCC Museum's history of the Ashes]
* [ Visit the Ashes urn at Lord's]
* [ Cricinfo's Ashes site]
* [ History of the Ashes published by Melbourne Cricket Club Library]
* [ The Origin of the Ashes - Rex Harcourt]
* [ The Ashes Tray]
* [ Ashes that Aussies can’t win - Article in The Telegraph]

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