Behind the Ashes urn lies one great tale of sporting rivalry between a colonial power and its former colony, begun during the colonial days. This a short introduction to the history of cricket contentions between England and Australia. Read on!
Although England and Australia first met in a cricket Test match in Melbourne in 1877, the competitive event which most defined this early stage of the rivalry, ‘the Ashes’, was born in 1882. The name has its origins in a satirical obituary published by British newspaper ‘The Sporting Times’, which mourned the death of English cricket after they humiliatingly lost to their colonial subjects on home soil for the first time, expressing that “The body will be cremated and the Ashes taken to Australia”. Three weeks after such ignominious defeat, English nobleman Ivo Bligh led his countrymen on a tour to Australia dubbed “the quest to recover the Ashes”, which they successfully accomplished, winning the three-Test series two matches to one. A group of Melbourne women then presented the skipper with a small terracotta urn containing the burnt remains of a wooden cricket ball. When Lord Darnley died in 1927, the memento was presented to the Marylebone Cricket Club — the guardians of the game, based at the iconic Lord’s cricket ground in London. The urn has remained on display at Lord’s ever since. and is conventionally considered by all concerned to be the symbol of the sport’s most enduring rivalry.
Since 1882, both nations have prided themselves on playing this gentlemanly sport in a 'friendly' spirit, but the most intense period of rivalry in Ashes history came in the summer of 1932-33, when England’s controversial ‘Bodyline’ tactics exploded into a diplomatic incident. English captain Douglas Jardine, a haughty British aristocrat who under the influence of his utter contempt for a believed barbarity in the Australian crowds, instructed his fast bowlers to target the Australian batsmen — particularly the prodigious Donald Bradman. Naturally, the Australian team was infuriated by the hyper-aggressive strategy. This was famously evidenced by the mild-mannered captain of the Australian team - Bill Woodfull - telling the English camp, that “there are two teams out there. One is playing cricket, the other is making no attempt to do so". Despite the bad blood generated, the English tactic worked, delivering a 4-1 series victory to England. This tactic of aggression however forced cricket’s law-makers to quickly change the rules of the game to prevent the unsporting tactic from ever being exploited again.
Now, we go into the modern times...
Since the Second World War, each nation typically hosts a five-match Ashes series every four years. For example, Australia was the host in 1994-95, then England took its turn in 1997, and then Australia again in 1998-99, and then England again in 2001. The Australians enjoyed a distinct edge in the overall number of Test wins — 130 to 106, with 89 draws — the 69 Ashes series are remarkably locked at 32 apiece, with five draws.
In recent years however, England has enjoyed an extended run of success after a lean couple of decades. Australia impressively did not lose a series between 1989 and 2002-03 — a run of eight Ashes victories on the trot. This was in no small part due to the presence of Australian legends like Allan Border, Mark Taylor, Ian Healy, the Waugh twins, Shane Warne, Glenn McGrath, Ricky Ponting, Adam Gilchrist and Matthew Hayden.
The rivalry continues....
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