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History of the Ashes

The term Ashes can almost be viewed as an accidental phenomenon. Following on from England’s loss to Australia on 29th August 1882 at The Oval, Reginald Shirley Brooks, a journalist of the Sporting Times, published a mock obituary of the match, reading:

"In affectionate remembrance of English cricket which died at The Oval, 29th August, 1882. Deeply lamented by a large circle of sorrowing friends and acquaintances, RIP. NB The body will be cremated and the Ashes taken to Australia."

Only a few weeks later, Hon Ivo Bligh (later Lord Darnley) captained the English team on a tour around Australia, assuring his country that he would return with ‘the ashes’. Likewise, Australian WL Murdoch claimed that he would defend them.

Australia won the first Test by nine wickets, but since England won the next two, it was widely believed that Bligh had stuck to his word and led the English team to victory. As a gift during his stay, Bligh received a small terracotta urn to symbolize the ashes that he had come to collect. He kept the urn until his death in 1927, when it was passed over to the MCC Museum at Lord’s, and remains until this day.

It wasn’t until the 1990s that the MCC, recognizing the two teams’ desire to also have a trophy to fight for, commissioned a replica of Bligh’s urn, as a Waterford Crystal trophy. Mark Taylor was the first to receive the trophy, after his Australian side won in the 1998-1999 Test series.

There is an element of mystery surrounding Bligh’s original urn, as much has been left unanswered. It is widely believed that the real ‘ashes’ were made from a bail used in the third match, but other theories are around. In 1998, Lord Darnley’s 82 year old daughter-in-law said that the ashes were the remains of Bligh’s wife’s veil. Another theory is that a cleaner at Bligh’s residence accidently knocked the contents out of the urn long ago, and replaced it with ashes burning in the fire to cover his back. It is clear that this is still an area for dispute.

The Ashes series has five Tests, which are alternately hosted by England and Australia every few years. England currently holds the ashes, having won the 2015 series, and in all, Australia and England have won 32 series’ individually, and have drawn 5. The next Ashes are to be held in 2017/2018, in Australia.