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What Are the Ashes? England Vs Australia Explained

Updated on August 8, 2019
The real Ashes urn on display at Lord's Cricket Ground, London.
The real Ashes urn on display at Lord's Cricket Ground, London. | Source


The Ashes are basically a special series of Test Matches contested between England and Australia. It’s one of sports longest standing rivalries, and from the English point of view it’s a case of trying to remind their old ‘dominion’ of their place so to speak. Whilst for Australia, it’s a case of trying to stick it to the old ‘mother country’. The two nations usually meet every two years and each series is hosted alternately by each nation. When the series is hosted by England, it’s played during the English summer- between May and September; when it’s hosted by Australia it’s played during the Australian summer- between October and April.

They play for glory and pride, obviously, but they also play for one of the most famous and arguably the smallest trophy in all of sports- the Ashes urn.

Each series consists of five test matches, with each test match lasting up to five days. Meaning that for Cricket fans, an Ashes series offers more than a month’s worth of tension, joy, euphoria and despair all rolled into one.

The current 2019 series is the 71st and began on the 1st August at Edgbaston, Birmingham. Australia claimed a comfortable 251 run win to go 1-0 up in the series. Australia also hold a narrow lead in the all time series results with 33 wins to England’s 32. The remaining 5 have been draws. Incidentally if a series does end in a draw, then the Ashes remains in the possession of the side that won the previous series. The last drawn series occurred on English soil in 1972 with England retaining the Ashes they had won two years previously in Australia.

The now famous headline, as it appeared in The Sporting Times
The now famous headline, as it appeared in The Sporting Times
A portrait of England captain Ivo Bligh, the man who successfully reclaimed the Ashes on England's 1882 tour of Australia.
A portrait of England captain Ivo Bligh, the man who successfully reclaimed the Ashes on England's 1882 tour of Australia.

Why are they called the Ashes?

Curiously for a sporting rivalry, the Ashes actually started with a joke. England and Australia had first played a Test Match against each other in Melbourne back in 1877. However, five years later the Aussies- then a dominion member of the British Empire caused one of the greatest upsets in sporting history at that time. They defeated the English in a Test Match for the first time away from home at the Oval, Surrey. The result sent shockwaves around the world and caused Australia’s Sporting Times to print a now famous joke headline, ‘lamenting’ the death of English Cricket.

The newspaper went onto say that English Cricket would be burnt down and the ashes packaged off to Australia. Barely a year later, the Ashes became real with a pair of bails actually being burnt, and the resulting ashes placed in the now sacred urn. At the same time, England were touring Australia and captain Ivo Bligh made it his personal mission to recover those ashes, which he duly did. Thus a legend and an enduring rivalry was born.

Nowadays the winning team is presented with a replica, with the real urn being far too fragile to be handled by 11 overly exuberant Cricketers. The real urn lives at the MCC museum located the Lord’s Cricket ground in London.

The replica urn, which will be claimed by either Joe Root or Tim Paine at the conclusion of the 2019 series.
The replica urn, which will be claimed by either Joe Root or Tim Paine at the conclusion of the 2019 series. | Source

Who will win the Ashes?

Whilst the all time series results are close, recent Ashes series have largely been dominated by the Australians. The 70th and most recent series in Australia was a comfortable 4-0 win for the hosts (the fifth match ended in a draw). However, England did win the most recent series to be held on home soil, albeit narrowly 3-2.

The Baggy Greens, to coin an English nickname for the Aussies have at times being ruthless in their slaughtering of the old mother country. In 2006/2007 they thrashed England 5-0 and did the same again in 2013/14, and in the 20 years prior to England’s famous win in 2005 they claimed the urn every single time.

Coming into this series, you could be forgiven for feeling quietly confident that England would be able to regain the Ashes, especially after winning the ODI World Cup just a month before. Along the way they had managed to beat Australia’s superstars in the semi final. However, Test Match Cricket is a whole different form of the game, and thus far Australia have been far more ruthless with both bat and ball. The beauty of a 5 match series though, is that things can change dramatically and quickly. I still think it's too close to call; for me the destination of the urn rests on the outcome of the 2nd Test. If Australia win at Lords, then I cannot see England finding a way back.

The Best of Jofra Archer

England captain Joe Root in action against Sri Lanka back in June 2014.
England captain Joe Root in action against Sri Lanka back in June 2014.

Players to Watch

In England, the name on everybody’s lips is young Jofra Archer, who emerged from obscurity to become one of England’s World Cup heroes by claiming more wickets than anybody else. Archer is an exceptional bowler, capable of unleashing 90 mph rockets at the world’s top batsmen. However, he has never played Test Match Cricket before, and thus his inclusion in the squad is a gamble, but at just 24 years old Jofra Archer should have a long and successful Test career with England.

Another English player to look out for is captain Joe Root. The Yorkshireman took over the captaincy in 2017 and despite reservations from some quarters has proven himself a capable leader. He’s also a top quality all rounder, but is most effective with the bat, amassing 6781 runs in his first 81 Test matches. Root also lays claim to being the youngest man to ever score a century for England in an Ashes match, doing so in 2013 at Lord’s.

From the Australian side of things, the undoubted star of the team is all rounder Steve Smith. Smith is arguably one of the best batsmen in the world, and during 2017 recorded an average of 76.76 and a rating of 947 the second highest of all time behind the great Sir Don Bradman. However, Smith’s legacy has been somewhat tarnished by his involvement in the infamous ball tampering scandal that marred Australia's tour of South Africa back at the turn of 2018. Admittedly Smith didn’t actually commit the crime, but was complicit in it, and thus was banned from all Cricket for 12 months along with David Warner. Cameron Bancroft- the man who actually committed the crime was banned for 9 months. The 2019 Ashes series marks the return of all 3 men into the Test arena. Thus far, Smith has done the best job in silencing the critics by hitting 144 and 142 runs respectively in the 1st Ashes Test.

Australia are blessed with some very fine bowlers, and one of them hasn’t even featured in this current series, but surely must play a part at some point. Josh Hazelwood was the scourge of England during the last Ashes series and prior to the current one has taken 164 wickets in just 44 matches. Thus far in this series, the two standout bowlers have been Nathan Lyons and Pat Cummins. Of the 20 wickets claimed by Australia in the 1st Test 16 were taken by Lyons and Cummins, with the former recording 9 across 2 innings and the latter claiming 7. Lyons in particular was lethal during England’s 2nd innings, taking 6 wickets with Cummins taking the rest. With that kind of bowling attack, it’s difficult to see how England can pull off the victory, but as they say it ain’t over ‘til it’s over.

Steve Smith during the 2017/18 Ashes series, where he averaged an astonishing 137.40 runs.
Steve Smith during the 2017/18 Ashes series, where he averaged an astonishing 137.40 runs. | Source

Australia Wrap up the 1st Test in Style.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2019 James Kenny


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