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Why is England vs Australia Test Series Called The Ashes? The Ashes is one of the most prestigious and oldest rivalries in cricket, dating back to 1877 when the two teams played their first test match in Melbourne. However, the name “The Ashes” was not coined until 1882, after a historic and shocking defeat of England by Australia on English soil.
The Origin of the Name
The term “The Ashes” originated in a satirical obituary published in a British newspaper, The Sporting Times, immediately after Australia’s 1882 victory at The Oval, its first Test win on English soil. The obituary said that English cricket had died and its “body will be cremated and Ashes were taken to Australia”.
The mock death notice captured the public imagination and sparked a fierce rivalry between the two nations. When England toured Australia later that year, the captain Ivo Bligh (who later became Lord Darnley) promised that he would “recover those Ashes”. His counterpart WL Murdoch vowed to defend them.
England won that three-test series 2-1, becoming the first holders of “the Ashes” and beginning a decade of dominance against their great rivals. During the tour, Bligh’s team also played a series of more lighthearted social matches. After one such affair in Melbourne just before Christmas, the skipper was presented with a small, symbolic terracotta urn, which some think was originally a perfume bottle2. A label is pasted upon it which contains a six-line poem published in The Melbourne Punch during the tour, which begins: “When Ivo goes back with the urn, the urn”.
The Legacy of the Name
The urn has become a symbol of the Ashes series and is kept at the MCC Museum at Lord’s Cricket Ground in London. It is believed to contain the ashes of a burnt cricket bail, although some have suggested it might be a woman’s veil or even a piece of fruit cake. The urn is too fragile to be transported, so it is not awarded to the winning team. Instead, they receive a replica trophy made of crystal.
The Ashes series has continued to be one of the most exciting and competitive events in world cricket, with both teams striving to win or retain the coveted urn. The series is usually held every two years, alternating between England and Australia. The current format is a five-test series, with each match lasting up to five days. The team with the most wins at the end of the series is declared the winner. If the series is drawn, the previous holder retains the Ashes.
As of 2023, there have been 72 Ashes series played, with Australia winning 34, England winning 33 and five drawn. The most recent series was held in 2021-22 in Australia, where the hosts won 4-0. The current series is underway in England, with the first test being played at Edgbaston in Birmingham.
The Ashes series has produced some of the most memorable moments and players in cricket history, such as Don Bradman’s batting feats, Ian Botham’s heroics, Shane Warne’s magic ball and Ben Stokes’ miracle innings. The rivalry between England and Australia is fierce but friendly, with both teams respecting each other’s skills and traditions. The Ashes series is not only a cricket contest, but also a celebration of culture and history.
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