The sensational summer continues as England and Australia go head-to-head for cricket's oldest rivalry over the coming weeks
Two weeks post the World Cup, England was almost caught daydreaming at Lords. Ahead of the Ashes, England was scheduled to play a one-off test against Ireland. To their surprise, they were bowled out for a mere 85 in the first innings. They did eventually manage to win the Test by 143 runs, but England should not let the World Cup high get the better of them against the mighty Aussies. Australia thrashed England 4-0 the last time these two teams played for the Ashes in 2017.
A 6-inch trophy to fight for – the Ashes is one of the smallest cricket trophies yet a historic one. Australia and England first played against each other back in 1877 but the rivalry started five years later. In 1882, chasing a paltry 84 runs to victory, England was destroyed by the pace of Fred Spofforth and was bowled out for 77 – marking the first defeat on home soil since playing the sport from 1739.
The very next day, a British daily, The Sporting Times, published a satirical obituary in regard to the demise of English Cricket. It read, "The body will be cremated and the ashes will be taken to Australia." Following that, various media published obituaries on the same lines. Ahead of the 1982-83 tour of Australia, Ivo Bligh promised that as England's captain he would "recover those Ashes". The English media dubbed the tour as England's quest to regain the Ashes.
England went on to win the series 2-1, thus marking the beginning of the Ashes. After the victory, Bligh was presented a small urn with the ashes of a wooden bail by a few women from Melbourne including the Countess of Darnley, Florence Morphy. The urn has never been the official trophy as it was a personal gift. But replicas of the urn are held aloft by the victorious team.
Thereafter, England went on to win eight consecutive Ashes series. Australia managed to get the better of the English team in their ninth attempt – winning their first Ashes series in 1892. The rivalry kept on growing to great boundaries. In the 1932 series, Australia had the great Don Bradman in their armoury. To counter the threat of the great batsman, English bowlers developed the 'bodyline' technique that won them the series – a technique when balls were bowled towards a batsman's body expecting the ball to deflect off the bat while the batsman tries to defend the ball. In modern context, this might not make sense, but during that time, cricket was in a phase when protective gears were not developed.
In a game that was supposed to uphold gentlemanly traditions, England's tactics were considered intimidating and physically threatening. Over time, several of the Laws of Cricket were changed to render the bodyline technique less effective. Buoyed by Bradman's batting, Australia came back to retain the Ashes in the next series. Thus began a six series unbeaten streak spanning over 19 years. The rivalry had now shifted powers and Australia eventually gained the nickname, "The Invincibles".
From the 1999 series, a Waterford Crystal representation of the urn has remained the trophy for the Ashes series. The original urn remains at the Marylebone Cricket Club Museum in Lord's – the home of cricket.
As we go into the 2019 series, a lot has changed over the last century. The rules have changed, but the series stills hold a prominent place in the heart of Australian, English as well as neutral cricket fans. Both teams would go into the series on even terms with all boxes checked. England managed to turn fortunes in the World Cup with grit and determination. A rejuvenated England will begin their quest to regain the Ashes from August 1.
Aug 1- Aug 5, 1st Test
Aug 14 - Aug 18, 2nd Test
Aug 22 - Aug 26, 3rd Test
Sep 4- Sep 8, 4th Test
Emirates Old Trafford, Manchester
Sep 12 - Sep 16, 5th Test
Kennington Oval, London