The Ashes series is the one of the most popular and the oldest test series held once in every two years between Australia and England. The Ashes series was first played in the year 1882-83. A five-match series is hosted in turn by Australia and England once in every two years. So far 69 Ashes test series are played out of which both Australia and England have won 32 each with five being drawn. Current champions of the series are England. The 70th series started in Australia on 23 November 2017. With Australia winning the first test and thus leading the series 1-0 so far.
Although, the first test played between Australia and England was in the year 1877 but it was after the 1882 Oval test that the Ashes legend started. The story behind the name is an interesting one. The credit for naming the series ‘The Ashes’ can be given to a British newspaper called “The Sporting Times”. The result of the test played at the Oval in England in 1882 was in Australia’s favor due to a disappointing performance by the English cricketers in a low scoring test. In the Oval test, Australia managed only 63 runs in their first innings. The Englishmen, however, performed better on a difficult wicket and managed to get past 100 with a total score of 101 taking a 38-run lead over the Aussies. As a part of their second innings, Australians managed to score 122 runs with the contribution of a whopping 55 of 60 deliveries from Hugh Massie. This left England with a target of 85 runs to win the match. As a result, the Australian cricketers were greatly demoralized. However, the Australian fast bowler Fred Spofforth refused to give up and ended up taking his final four wickets for just two runs and thus leaving the hosts just eight runs short if the victory.
Due, to this disappointing performance by the English cricketers on their home soil the whole country was stunned; the crowd at the Oval ground sank in silence for a few moments finding it hard to believe that England has lost a test on their home soil to the Australians- a colony. After that, the performance of England was widely criticized by the English media. A poem was published in Punch reading:
Well done, Cornstalks! Whipt us
Fair and square,
Was it luck that tript us?
Was it scare?
Kangaroo Land’s ‘Demon’, or our own
Want of ‘devil’, coolness, nerve, backbone?
As a result, the British newspaper “The Sporting Times” published a satirical obituary stating:
In Affectionate Remembrance
which died at the Oval
29 August 1882,
Deeply lamented by a large circle of sorrowing
friends and acquaintances
N.B.—The body will be cremated and the
ashes taken to Australia.
After this, a wooden cricket bail was burnt and its ashes transferred into an urn. This urn was then gifted to the then Australian captain. However, during the 1882-83 England tour of Australia the then English captain Ivo Bligh promised to ‘recover those ashes’. He used the term multiple times during the tour so the Australian media kept hold of it. England managed to clinch the series 2-1 and thus Ivo kept his promise. However, for 20 years following the incident, the term ‘ashes’ disappeared. It was in the year 1903 when English captain Pelham Warner made a promise similar to that of Bligh; the Australian media kept hold of the term. After keeping his promise Warner published a book entitled How We Recovered the Ashes. It was after the release of this book that the term gained immense popularity in both media as well as it was also accepted by the public. Thus, over time the series was named ‘the Ashes’. Although the origins of the term are not referred to in the book, the title was sufficient to revive the public interest in the term.
Earlier there was no concept of presenting the winners with the urn. However, several attempts were made to embody the Ashes in a physical memorial. The contents of the urn also attracted some disputes; they were various reports that the contents are the remains of a stump, bail or the outer casing of a ball, but in 1998 Ivo Bligh’s 82-year-old daughter-in-law said they were the remains of her mother-in-law’s veil.
Now, as an Ashes trophy, a terracotta urn is being used. This urn is 15 cm tall and is believed to be a perfume jar originally. It is kept by the side who wins the five-match series. In case the series is drawn, the side previously holding the trophy manages to retain it.