Sport

A beginner’s guide to the Ashes

By Antoinette Muller 9 July 2013

The Ashes series is almost here. No, non-cricket fans, it’s not a volcano. We’re talking about the sport’s most-hyped up Test series. England and Australia are about to fight to the death (sort of) for a little urn. BY ANTOINETTE MULLER.

The Ashes will begin at Trent Bridge in Nottingham on Wednesday after a lead-up which already began sometime last year, when the A-word was mentioned by pundits for the first time. It is easily the most hyped-up series in world cricket, leaving some transfixed, some in tears and others drunk and passed out in the stands.

It’s also an extremely endearing series, with something decidedly enchanting about it. No idea what we’re talking about? Don’t worry, we’ve got you covered.

Where it all began

The first Test between the two was played in 1877, but the Legend of the Ashes only sprouted roots in 1882. After losing a Test at The Oval, the British press were out in full voice and mock obituaries were recorded all-round. One of the most notable, written by Reginald Brooks, appeared in The Sporting Times. It read as follows:

In Affectionate Remembrance

of

ENGLISH CRICKET,

which died at the Oval

on

29th AUGUST 1882,

Deeply lamented by a large circle of sorrowing

friends and acquaintances

R.I.P.

N.B.—The body will be cremated and the

ashes taken to Australia.

It would, however, take years before the name would establish itself in pop culture, and the origin of the urn (the small red trophy given to the side who wins) is also debated. There are stories dating back to 1882, when apparently the ashes of a burnt bail were put in a little urn by the wife of Ivo Bligh, an Australian player.

There are various accounts of the urn, but the earliest published photo of it dates back to 1921 from the Illustrated London News. That little urn is now one of the most talked-about little trophies in English folklore and to this day, it is handed over to whichever side wins or retains the Ashes. It makes for often comical celebrations. There’s no holding a grand trophy aloft; instead, it’s an urn the size of a large shot glass.

Where it stands now

The two sides have played 326 Tests between them, with Australia winning 133 of those. England eventually broke the shackles of Australian dominance in 2005, when they won the series 2-1 on home soil, for the first time since 1987. Australia bounced back during the return leg, thrashing England 5-0.

The English regained the urn in 2009 and have held it since then. Australia’s transitional phase has been seemingly too much to handle with the retirement of some of their best players. The Aussies have struggled to plug the gaps left by greats such as Shane Warne, Glenn McGrath, Ricky Ponting and Mike Hussey, to name a few.

Now, the Australian team is in England on the back of a 4-0 series whitewash in India, which was crowned with “homeworkgate”. That saw four players dropped from the squad for failing to do, erm, their homework. In the Champions Trophy, the ICC competition prior to the Test series, Australian batsman David Warner was involved in a punch-up with England player Joe Root. In the early hours of a Sunday morning, Warner apparently took a swing at Root in a bar in Birmingham, follow the two sides’ Champions Trophy match. It all cumulated for the Australians with their coach, Mickey Arthur, being fired.

England was not without controversy of its own, though. They were accused of ball tampering and a whole new can of worms about what can and can’t be done with the ball was opened.

Many have written Australia off, giving them absolutely zero chance. But that’s a silly thought. With the appointment of Darren Lehmann as their new coach, the Aussies will be galvanised and revitalised and up for a good scrap come the first Test at Trent Bridge.

Five Tests over the next six weeks or so makes for one heck of a feisty contest. If the series ends up in a draw after five Tests, England will be the winner, so to speak. Since they currently hold the Ashes urn, they will simply “retain” it, ensuring English dominance remains, at least until the end of the year when they go back to Australia for the return leg.

The coaching contrasts

Andy Flower and Darren Lehmann know each other from way back in their playing days. They were teammates back in 2003, when Flower spent a season with South Australia. They only featured together in two games, though, but Lehmann always recalls his encounters with Flower fondly. They also crossed paths during their times playing county cricket with Flower at Essex and Lehmann at Yorkshire.

Playing and coaching cricket is about as much as they have in common, though. As people, they are complete opposites. Flower, the stern father who can shoot daggers through his eyes. Lehmann, the jovial joker who is happy to discuss serious team issues over a beer.

What it all means

Even if Test cricket isn’t your thing (it’s weird playing for five days with no winner, we know) The Ashes is worth keeping an eye on. There is so much more to The Ashes than simply the on-field battles. The history, the quirks, the off-field jibes and the way it completely involves everyone who loves cricket is something few series can boast with. There has even been outrage over a man who is not allowed to blow his trumpet at Trent Bridge. If you’re looking for the best, unscripted reality TV for the next few weeks, look no further than The Ashes. DM

Photo: England’s captain Andrew Strauss (R) and Paul Collingwood celebrate after England won the Ashes series and beat Australia in the fifth Ashes cricket test at the Sydney Cricket Ground January 7, 2011. REUTERS/Tim Wimborne

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