The Ashes is much more than a sporting contest. It is much more than a simple game of cricket, it is an ultimate battle and struggle of wills between two great and proud cricketing nations, England and Australia. Every two years these nations come together in a friendly (and sometimes not too friendly) war over the cricketing crease. But just how The Ashes got its name, and how it actually came about, is as interesting and legendary as the ruthless and high profile series itself.
The legend that is The Ashes was born in 1882 during an Australian tour of England, where they smashed England for the very first time in dramatic fashion at The Oval, the famous cricket ground in London. On a very low scoring wicket Australia made a mere 63 runs during their first over. England responded with a low, but superior 103 and went into the second innings as favourites. Australia made 122 the second time out, which left England needing just 85 runs for victory.
Distraught by the expected repeated victory of England’s noble batsmen, Australia looked down and out until a heroic figure named Fred Spofforth, arose from amongst the ranks. He took the fight to England’s surprised cricketers in a performance that is still talked about in awe today.
He fought demonically for Australia and devastated the English batsmen, taking the final four wickets for just two runs, leaving England 7 runs short of victory. Australia had done it, they had rewritten the rule of cricket and beaten the English at their own sport, in their own back yard. It still remains one of the closest cricketing contests of all time, forever going down in cricketing history.
From that moment English cricket has never really been the same again. As an obituary at the time stated that English cricket had died and “the body will be cremated and the ashes taken to Australia”. To this day nobody knows what exactly the ashes refer to, though the most likely conclusion is the very same bails used in the contest.
The next English tour of Australia in 1883 became a quest to regain The Ashes, and so began the momentous cricketing contest which more than thrives to this day.
Officially however The Ashes today are safely stored away in a museum at Lords cricket ground and the winner of the contest since 1998 is awarded the Waterford Crystal. However the real pride which still burns inside of every Australian and English cricketer knows that it is the pride of The Ashes that they are really fighting for.
It has become something that is deeply symbolic to both countries and successes and losses are painfully and emotionally expressed by both sides bi-annually. No matter who wins the contest, every two year the series alternates between England and Australia. As is the ritual, fans of both sides gather together in every bar up and down the land to cheer their side on to victory, or to drown out their sorrows with friends.
Over the years The Ashes has yielded many famous victories and humiliating defeats for both sides. Since the 1930s Australia has all but dominated the series, apart from a good English crop of players in the 1980s, with the likes of Ian Botham who helped to galvanize success for English cricket.
Since then however England have only won on one occasion during the famous 2005 victory. In recent years the painful phrase “English batting collapse” has been a discordant sound to every English fans ear. Australia, on the other hand has not only dominated The Ashes series, they have ruled the world of cricket with their devastating band of iconic players. In particular the Australian hero Shane Warne has ripped his opponents apart with his awesome spin bowling, becoming one of the most fearsome bowlers of all time.
This years Ashes series is fast upon us, with both sides preparing for war once again. Despite Australia being favourites as usual, one or two cricket pundits and ex-players believe that it could be England’s year this time. Ian Chappell, captain of the 1972 and 1975 squad, believes that Australia has picked a “ridiculous” bowling combination, which will give England a sure fire shot at success.
Whatever the result this year, one thing is for certain, the five series match will once again have fans screaming at TV sets around the world, in the battle for crickets’ greatest prize, The Ashes.