The Ashes

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File:Ashes urn.jpg
The Ashes urn is reputed to contain a set of burnt bails symbolising "the ashes of English cricket".

The Ashes is a biennial Test cricket contest played between England and Australia. The Ashes is one of cricket's fiercest and most celebrated rivalries, and certainly the oldest such in international cricket. The 2005 Ashes series was played in England, and was won by England. Australia had held the Ashes for 18 years prior to that. The next Ashes series will be in Australia in 2006/2007; the next series in England will be in 2009.

The series is named after a satirical obituary published in The Sporting Times in 1882 following the match at The Oval, in which Australia beat England in England 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 dubbed the next English tour to Australia as the quest to regain The Ashes. A small terracotta urn was presented to the England captain Ivo Bligh by a group of Melbourne women after England's victory in the Test series. The urn is reputed to contain a set of burnt bails symbolising "the ashes of English cricket". While the urn has come to symbolise the Ashes series, the name The Ashes predates the existence of the urn. The urn is not used as the trophy for the Ashes series, and whichever side "holds" the Ashes, the urn remains in the MCC Museum at Lord's. Since the 1998/99 Ashes series, a Waterford crystal trophy has been presented to the winners.

Notable Ashes series took place in 1932/33 (the Bodyline tour), 1948 (Sir Donald Bradman's "Invincibles" Australian side), 1981 (in which an England team spearheaded by Ian Botham won a thrilling series), and 2005 (when England eventually won the Ashes back, after a 'drought' of 18 years).

The obituary

File:Ashes notice facsimile.png
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 only to their ninth Test match, played in 1882.

On the 1882 tour, the Australians played only one Test, at The Oval in London. It was a low-scoring game 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 made 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 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.

When England's last batsman went in the team needed only 10 runs to win, but the final batsman Peate scored only 2 before being bowled by Boyle. The astonished crowd fell silent, not believing that England could possibly have lost by 7 runs. When what had happened had sunk in, the crowd cheered the Australians.

When Peate returned to the Pavilion he was reprimanded by WG Grace for not allowing his partner at the wicket Charles Studd to get the runs. Despite Studd being one of the best batsman in England, Peate replied, "I had no confidence in Mr Studd, sir, so thought I had better do my best."

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 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 Ashes urn

After the third game of the 1882/83 tour, the English team, led by Ivo Bligh were guests of Sir William Clarke, at his property "Rupertswood" at Sunbury, Victoria. A group of Victorian ladies headed by Lady Clarke burned what has variously been called a ball, bail or veil [1], and presented the resulting ashes 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 Melbournian ladies, Florence Morphy. When he died in 1927, his widow presented the urn to the Marylebone Cricket Club. The urn itself is made of terracotta and is about four inches (10 cm) tall.

A poem was presented to Bligh with the urn and appears on it [2]:

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.

The Ashes urn itself is never physically awarded to either England or Australia, but is kept permanently in the MCC Cricket Museum at Lord's Cricket Ground, where it can be seen together with a specially-made red and gold velvet bag and the scorecard of the 1882 match.

The urn has been back to Australia once, in 1988 for a museum tour as part of Australia's Bicentennial celebrations. In the 1990s, given Australia's long dominance of the Ashes series, the idea was mooted (mostly by Australians) 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. The MCC, considering the urn too fragile to transport to Australia, instead commissioned a Waterford Crystal larger-scale replica trophy which is now awarded to the winning team.

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.

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 (to 1883): 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 four-inch urn was presented to Bligh by some Melbournian 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 1897/98 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.


Main article: Bodyline
File:4th Test Fingleton.jpg
Bill Woodfull 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.

Jardine's comments summed up England's views: "I've not travelled 6,000 miles to make friends. I'm here to win the Ashes."

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 of 346 runs 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

Main article: 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 second ball 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 at Old Trafford to retain the Ashes — the sixth test at the Oval was drawn.

Australian dominance

England were the better 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 did not win an Ashes series again until 2005. 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.

Australia's almost complete superiority since 1989 has impacted upon the overall statistics between the two sides. Before the 1989 series began, Australia had won 36.9% of all Tests played against England, England 33.5% with 29.7% of matches ending in draws. Previous to the 2005 series, Australia had won 40.8% of all Tests, England 31% with 28.1% drawn.[3]

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.[4]

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. Leading into the match Waugh had been heavily scrutinised by selectors and the media over his advancing age and lack of recent form, having not posted a Test century since 2001. As this was the last match of the series and last test of the Australian summer, Waugh was likely to be dropped from the team if he failed again in this match. Asked before the match about the defining moment of a career likely to soon be over, Waugh predicted gamely "It might be yet to come." In a stunning display of determination and defiance, he then fulfilled this prophesy by scoring a chanceless century on the second afternoon. He had entered the final over of the day on 97 not out, and hit a boundary off the last ball (bowled by English off spinner Richard Dawson) to bring up his ton. Waugh left the ground to an emotional standing ovation, his test career saved. It came to be known as his 'Perfect Day'.

The Ashes come home

Main article: The 2005 Ashes

England were undefeated in Test matches in the 2004 calendar year, which took the team to second in the LG ICC Test Championship and raised hopes that the 2005 Ashes series would be closely fought. In fact, the series proved to be even more competitive than most commentators had predicted.

The first Test was played at Lord's from 21 July to 24 July, and was won convincingly by Australia by 239 runs. However, England fought back in the remaining four matches, which were all tense and closely fought. The second Test, played at Edgbaston from 4 August to 7 August was won by England by 2 runs, the smallest runs victory margin in Ashes history, and the second closest runs victory margin in all Tests. The rain-affected third Test, played at Old Trafford from 11 August to 15 August, ended with the final two Australian batsmen holding out to claim a draw. The fourth Test, played at Trent Bridge from 25 August to 28 August, was won by England by three wickets after Australia was forced to follow on for the first time in 191 Tests. England earned a draw at the fifth and final Test match, played at The Oval from 8 September to 12 September, to win an Ashes series for the first time in 18 years.

From the start the 2005 Ashes series was played at a very high intensity and the tension did occasionally lead to mistakes on both sides with many dropped catches, run outs and other errors. Australia were unlucky with the injury to a key bowler Glenn McGrath (who missed two matches) and the loss of form of others such as Jason Gillespie, Adam Gilchrist and Matthew Hayden, whereas England were able to pick the same eleven until Simon Jones sustained an ankle injury midway through the Fourth Test, forcing him out of the series decider. However many consider the series to have been the most exciting in living memory, providing enthralling viewing to those lucky enough to get the very scarce tickets for the matches, or those watching on television. Respected commentator Richie Benaud is reported by BBC correspondent Bob Chaundry [5] as having said: "In the past two years, I've seen the best cricket I've ever watched. This current Ashes series shades even the great one of 1981."

At the end of the series, Andrew Flintoff was awarded the inaugural Compton-Miller medal as the player of the series for his batting and bowling efforts. Flintoff was also chosen as "Man of the Series" by the Australian coach and his English counterpart chose Shane Warne, who took 40 wickets in the five matches and batted skilfully down the order.

Summary of results and statistics

Template:Ashes timeline

Chart of the matches won between the two sides.

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 62 Ashes series have been played with Australia winning 30, England winning 27. The remaining five series were drawn, with Australia retaining the Ashes four times and England retaining it once.

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). 293 matches have been played, with Australia winning 115 times, England 92 times, and 86 draws. 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 today, rivalling the intensity of the other great international cricket rivalry between India and Pakistan . The failure of England to regain the Ashes for 16 years from 1989, coupled with the global dominance of an almost invincible Australian team, had dulled the lustre of the series in recent years. But the close results in the 2005 Ashes series, and the overall high quality and competitiveness of the cricket, have boosted the popularity of the sport in Britain and considerably enhanced the profile of the Ashes around the world. Whilst the tension of the matches has caused an occasional angry moment, the matches were generally played with good spirit, and sportsmanship of the players of both sides has been high, with commentators often highlighting Andrew Flintoff consoling Brett Lee at the end of the second Test as epitomising this. In interviews following the final match, players from both sides were quick to congratulate their opponents, both the individual players and the team as a whole.

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 Melbourne Cricket Ground (first staged an England-Australia Test in the 1876–77 season), the 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 (1884), Trent Bridge (1899), Headingley Stadium (1899) and Edgbaston Stadium (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 comedy novel Life, the Universe and Everything, the third "Hitchhiker's Guide To The Galaxy" book by Douglas Adams.

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



  1. ^  In 1998, Lord Darnley’s 82-year-old daughter-in-law said they were the remains of her mother-in-law’s veil, not a bail. Other evidence suggests a ball. The certain origin of the ashes, therefore, is the subject of some dispute.
  2. ^  Ashes — The Beginning, 334 Not out
  3. ^  Statistics obtained from Cricinfo at [6]
  4. ^  Statistics obtained from Cricinfo at [7]
  5. ^ Bob Chaundry (2005) "So Long Sport", BBC News Magazine [online]
    Available from: [Accessed 14th September 2005].


  • Birley, D. (2003). A Social History of English Cricket, London: Aurum Press. ISBN 1-85410-941-3.
  • Frith, D. (1990). Australia versus England: a pictorial history of every test match since 1877, Victoria (Australia): Penguin Books. ISBN 0-670-90323-X.
  • Gibb, J. (1979). Test cricket records from 1877, London: Collins. ISBN 0-00411-690-9.
  • Gibson, A. (1989). Cricket Captains of England, London: Pavilion Books. ISBN 1-85145-395-4.
  • Green, B. (1979). Wisden Anthology 1864-1900, London: M & J/QA Press. ISBN 0-356-10732-9.
  • Munns, J. (1994). Beyond reasonable doubt - Rupertswood, Sunbury - the birthplace of the Ashes, Australia: Joy Munns. ISBN 0-646-22153-1.
  • Warner, P. (1987). Lord's 1787-1945, London: Pavilion Books. ISBN 1-85145-112-9.
  • Warner, P. (2004). How we recovered the Ashes : MCC Tour 1903-1904, London: Methuen. ISBN 0-413-77399-X.
  • Wynne-Thomas, P. (1989). The complete history of cricket tours at home and abroad, London: Hamlyn. ISBN 0-600-55782-0.


  • Wisden's Cricketers Almanack (various editions)

External links


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