In 1877, the first Test match was played in Australia between Australia and England. Australia won it by 45 runs, and the next one, also in Australia, by a smaller margin. The matches continued, on and off, for several years. When Australia won a match in England, in 1882, some part of a set of wooden stumps was burned - presumably one of the two bails - and the ashes placed in a 4-inch-high urn. Afterwards, this mock obituary appeared in the Sporting Times:
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.
Later in 1882, after the obituary appeared, England took a team to Australia and won the ashes back. Indeed, the then English captain Ivo Bligh was given them back for the trip back to England, and since then they have remained mostly in England at the MCC Museum, at Lord's Cricket Ground. England dominated the England/Australia matches until 1897, and since then, the Ashes (as they became known in the early 1900s) have been back and forth so many times that English and Australian people have been flocking to the matches, hoping to see their respective countries take it back.
Why is there such fierce rivalry between these two countries? Well, as of this writing, England and Australia are pretty much even in strength and playing power, which is one good reason. The other reason is that we both want the honour of winning against each other, because we are the oldest two cricketing nations in the world (and, as an aside, only eight other countries play Test cricket today). Winning the Ashes shows our strength to the other team, and gives us non-cricketers - the ones who are actually serious about this business - bragging rights.
The Ashes is, however, not a matter of life and death. Oh no. It is far, far more serious than that. (Apologies to Bill Shankley.)
Memorable Ashes Series
The English tour to Australia in 1894, probably the best in history. England won the first Test match after following on, a feat rarely accomplished by any team. Australia needed just 177, an easy score, but after rain fell overnight England took the match back. Australia won 2 of the next 3 to level the series at 2-2, before the final match saw an English victory by 6 wickets.
An Australian 1948 tour to England was known simply as The Invincibles, as they did not lose a match. Usually, asides from the regular matches, several warm-up matches are played to get the teams going - and the Australians lost none of them. This was a team that included Sir Donald Bradman - considered by many the greatest batsman in the world - and his fateful final innings, in which he needed 4 runs to retire with a lifetime Test average of 100.
The series of 2005, in England, was the closest series in Ashes history. Australia had held the Ashes since 1989, but lost them again in this highly thrilling series. Australia won the first of five matches comfortably, and lost the next one by a mere two runs. Many cricket fans watched the final moments - including me - and were absolutely stunned when the final batsman went out, with Australia just 3 runs short. Never before had an Ashes match been decided by so small a margin.
The last three matches went England's way, with two draws and another England victory. Australia only needed to win one of the last two to retain the Ashes, but failed. So important was this series to England that, when they won, a set of postage stamps was created to honor the victory.
- Series played: 64
- Series won by Australia: 31
- Series won by England: 28
- Series drawn: 5
- Matches played: 300
- Matches won by Australia: 121
- Matches won by England: 95
- Matches drawn: 84
- Matches tied: 0
- Matches played in Australia: 152
- Matches won by Australia in Australia: 76
- Matches won by England in Australia: 53
- Matches drawn in Australia: 23
- Matches played in England: 148
- Matches won by England in England: 42
- Matches won by Australia in England: 45
- Matches drawn in England: 61
- Longest amount of time a team has held the Ashes: 16 years (Australia, 1989-2005)
The Best Ashes Moment
When English bowler Steve Harmison took the wicket of Australian bowler Michael Kasprowicz to seal a two-run victory for England in 2005, the first thing English all-rounder Andrew "Freddie" Flintoff did was to walk up to Australian bowler Brett Lee, who remained not out on 43, and console him upon such a narrow defeat. Such behaviour shows that, though the competition of the Ashes is absolutely fierce, the sportsmanship and friendship of the players from both nations still remains strong.
The Ashes 2006-07, in Australia, apart from being the most anticipated in history, was sold out for every single match. It turned out to be the first 5-0 whitewash for many years, with Ricky Ponting's team easily defeating the English in the first 3 matches, and after that the Poms never really looked in it. Tough luck, guys - see you in 2009.
GO THE AUSSIES!