The England v Australia Ashes is the oldest continuous international cricket fixture of all, dating back to March 1877. Australia won then in a match played in Melbourne and coming into this latest series the Aussies hold an advantage of 130 wins to England's 95, with the 86 test matches drawn.
The Ashes Urn
England won their first home encounter at the Oval in 1880, but at the same ground in 1882 they suffered their first home defeat. which prompted the famous obituary notice for English cricket in the Sporting Times. Which effectively said that English cricket is in ashes. This in turn led to a group of Australian ladies on the following winter tour to Australia to present the then English captain, the Hon Ivo Bligh, with a small urn containing the ashes of a bail. The ashes were born at that time and the urn is still played for today.
After his death in 1927, Bligh's widow presented the urn to MCC and, apart from special occasions, it never leaves the sanctuary of Lord's. These days a replica is awarded to the winning captain.
Ashes - The Early Years
In the earlier years England had the advantage with Ashes legends such as WG Grace dominating proceedings. Australia won the Ashes only once in the twelve year period between 1883 and 1896.
The pendulum swung for the next thirty years, but Australia began to dominate proceedings from the early 1920s onwards but Percy Chapman, in his first Test as captain, led the England to victory at the Oval in 1926 to regain the Ashes. Chapman followed that up with a 4-1 series victory in 1928-9.
That same series launched the Ashes legend of Wally Hammond, who scored a staggering 905 runs in the series. It was also the series that launched the test career of the biggest Ashes legend of all, Donald Bradman.
Bradman and the Bodyline Series
The 1930s belonged to Bradman and was also the time that infamous bodyline series was played. The strategy behind the bodyline attack was to bowl short pitched to a pack leg side field and as much as it was effective it all so produced more acrimony than anything known in sport at the time. Englands Harold Larwood became a fantastic exponent of this aggressive new style, but unfortunately it ended his Test playing career. See Ashes Legends for more.
The Bodyline series also affected relationship between the Governments of the two countries. It achieved its aim however, Bradman managed only a mere average of 57 rather than his career mark of 99.94 England won the series 4-1 but it was their only success during that period as Bradman, carried all before him for the rest of the period.
Ashes - Post War
Hammond for England and Bradman for Australia were still at the helm immediately after the war when Ashes cricket resumed. The period was dominated by the Aussie tour of England when known as the 'Invincibles' thrashed England 4-0 in 1948. If the 302 and 40s belonged to Australia, then the 50s belonged to England, dispute starting and ending the decade with defeats.
60s – 70s
Australia dominated the 60s, never losing a series but in the 70s, they were to lose down under to an English side, captained by Ray Illingworth. By the time the mid 70s were here however, Australia introduced the infamous Lillee/Thompson fast bowling partnership that crushed England 4-1 in 1974/5. England did manage to regain the Ashes in 1979 under the guidance of Mike Brearley.
Until victorious in 2005, the last time England won the Ashes was in the 1980’s, a period that started with magnificent 1981 series, known to many as Bothams Ashes, where the Ashes legend Ian Botham stole the show. England were also to win in 1985 and 1986/7.
Ashes - Present day
Excluding the 2005 Ashes, England have failed to win a series since 1986/7.. Admittedly, the Aussies during most of this time had the considerable talents of two other Ashes Legends, Shane Warne and Glenn Mcgrath. The win in 2005 for England came in a pulsating test confrontation and will go down as one of the most exciting of all time.
Sadly the 2006/7 tour, like the 2002/3 tour was an unmitigated disaster for England, they were whitewashed for the second time 5-0 and came home to England in despair. This series however, England may well have the upper hand, gone are Shane Warne and Glenn McGrath plus several other of their top players.
The outstanding batsmanship of captain Ricky Ponting is still a big plus for the Australian team and they are still the number one side in the world, but they are nowhere near the team they were three years ago and England under new captain, Kevin Pietersen have a great chance to regain the coveted urn.
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