The term « Ashes » refers to a test cricket series between Australia and England. This sporting event can be traced back to the very end of the nineteenth century, in 1882. It can be characterized as a form of cricket, a bat-and-ball game which takes place in an oval-shaped field where two groups of eleven players bat to score as many runs as possible to win the competition. The format of the matches is called ‘Test cricket series’. The modern form of the sport comes from England but it is now played in most of the Nations of the Commonwealth. Two teams of eleven players play a series of matches over five days. Each day, there are three sessions of two hours. Each match consists in four innings, which means that each team plays twice in the position of the batsman and the bowler.
The Ashes is an old tradition which began in 1882. That year the Australian cricket team came to England to play one Test match and they won, which was a bitter surprise for the English. Consequently, a lot of articles were written about this defeat in newspapers. Among these articles, there was a satirical obituary from the British newspaper “The Sporting Time” in which the author claimed that “British cricket was dead” and that “the body will be cremated and the ashes taken to Australia.” The term ‘ashes’ comes thus from this quote. But later on, the captain of the English cricket team said that during their next tour in Australia, they would “regain the ashes.” This term was then used by the press and spread in the common language. From that point, the legend of the “Ashes” was born. In 1882-83, the English cricket team arrived in Australia to play a series of three Test matches. It is eventually the English team who won the series.
The origin of the urn has raised a lot of rumours and legends. It is commonly believed that the urn, made of terra cotta, was offered to Ivo Bligh, the England team’s captain, by Australian women during the English tour in Australia of 1882. The urn is said to contain the ashes of a bail (a small piece of wood which is placed on the top of a wicket, a part of the equipment). This urn was never officially considered as the trophy of the tournament, since Bligh kept it in his house as a personal gift. However, the legend can be dated back to 1925 when the public became aware of the urn. The following verses from the British magazine “The Cricketers Annual” mentions:
‘So here’s to Chapman, Hendren and Hobbs, Gilligan, Woolley and Hearne: May they bring back to the Motherland, The ashes which have no urn!’
From the 1990s, it is a replica of this urn which is given to the captain of the winning team. The original urn which Bligh received in 1882 is now on display in the MCC Museum (Marylbone Cricket Club). The urn and its replicas are well-known for their small size: only eleven centimetres!
Because of their victories in 2009 and 2011, England is currently the holder of the Ashes. But Australia has the largest number of victorious series (thirty-one, against thirty for the English team). The next tournament will take place in 2013 in England.
Charlotte Kinard & Marie Gillet