The story of the Ashes

Ashes Follow Us

Harold Larwood

Harold Larwood bowls at Don Bradman in the infamous 'Bodyline' series that so soured Anglo-Australian relations

It all started with a mock obituary in the Sporting Times newspaper following England's first defeat in a home Test against Australia, and has grown into the cricketing phenomenon that is the Ashes.

Sub-editors at the London newspaper could never have imagined the impact their satirical death notice would have, which read: “In Affectionate Remembrance of English cricket, which died at the Oval on 29th August, 1882...the body will be cremated and the ashes taken back to Australia.”

The message prompted a group of Australian women to present the Honourable Ivo Bligh, the England tour captain, with an urn the following winter, which is reputed to contain either the ashes of a ball, a bail or a veil, depending on which legend you believe.

Since that 1882-83 tour, Tests between England and Australia have always been regarded as the Ashes series, with the exception of a couple of occasions in the late 1970s.

Figurative ownership of the Ashes is given to whichever side gains an outright victory - currently England following their 2-1 triupmh on home soil in 2009.

In recent years a replica of the urn has been presented to the winning captain, with the original being given to the MCC by Bligh's widow following his death in 1927, where it has stayed ever since apart from occasional exhibitions.

Australia may have had the better of recent years, with the exception of 2005, but during the early years they were dominated by England, who held the Ashes for all but one of the 12 series played between 1883 and 1896.

Len Hutton

Len Hutton's world record 364 ensured England levelled the hard-fought 1938 series just prior to the outbreak of World War One

All that changed following the turn of the century and during those early years, which was interrupted by the First World War, with England losing four series in the early part of the 20th century.

The ebb and flow of Ashes fortunes continued into the next decade, with England dominating this period. Johnny Douglas' side lost the first match at Sydney in 1910 only to produce one of the great Ashes comebacks to win the next four, while CB Fry led England to victory in 1912.

Once the first World War had ended, however, it was Australia who emerged as the more dominant force under the leadership of Warwick Armstrong and Herbie Collings.

They won three successive series, winning 12 Tests and losing only one, and achieved the first whitewash in 1920-21.

Not for the last time in their history, England would turn to experience to try to halt their losing run and recalled Wilfred Rhodes at the age of 48 to help them claim a memorable win at the Oval in 1926 and reclaim the Ashes in Percy Chapman's first Test as captain.

Chapman repeated that success in Australia in 1928-9 by claiming a 4-1 series triumph, helped mostly by Wally Hammond's 905 runs in the series despite the arrival of an emerging Don Bradman.

Australia's discovery of that young batsman from Bowral transformed their fortunes over the next decade and led to the most notorious series of them all in 1932-33, when England devised a policy which became known as ‘Bodyline’ to try to limit Bradman's effectiveness.

Captain Douglas Jardine developed a tactic of short-pitched, leg-side bowling to a packed field from an intimidating attack including Harold Larwood, Bill Voce and Bill Bowes, which led to questions in parliament and threatened the relationship between the two countries.

The policy worked, with Bradman restricted to an average of just 56.57 during the series, excellent for most players but well short of his career average of 99.94.

Steve Waugh

The emergence of Steve Waugh in the summer of 1989 heralded an Australian thrashing and a new era of dominance

It also helped England win the series 4-1, but it was a solitary success for some time as Bradman and a strong Australia side won regularly throughout the 1930s.

It took a magnificent 364 from Len Hutton at the Oval - the highest score in test cricket - to level the 1938 series, the last before the outbreak of the Second World War.

Ashes cricket resumed again in 1946-47 with Australia, now under Bradman's leadership, once again triumphing before arguably the greatest Australia side in history arrived in England in 1948.

Now known as 'The Invincibles', they swept all before them to complete a 4-0 victory with crowds flocking to witness Bradman's last tour.

Interest reached fever pitch for the final Test at the Oval, with Bradman needing just four runs to achieve a Test average of 100. However, he was bowled by Eric Hollies for a second-ball duck.

Despite Bradman's retirement, Australia continued that dominance at the start of the 1950s and secured a 4-1 triumph on home soil in 1950-51, but England reclaimed the Ashes for the first time in 20 years with a stunning victory in south London in 1953.

Led by Hutton, England began their own period of dominance with a 3-1 win in Australia in 1954-55 before Jim Laker bowled them to victory in 1956 with 46 wickets in the series, including 10 in an innings and 19 in the match at Old Trafford.

Richie Benaud ended England's brief taste of success by leading Australia to victory in 1958-59 and they held the Ashes throughout the next decade.

It took a blunt-speaking Yorkshireman to finally end Australia's winning run, with Ray Illingworth leading England to a 2-0 series win in Australia in 1970-71 and a 2-2 draw at home in 1972.

The emergence of fast bowling pair Dennis Lillee and Jeff Thomson in 1974-75 saw Australia regain the Ashes again, but England fought back to win successive triumphs as the 1970s came to an end.

Michael Vaughan

Captain Michael Vaughan returns the Ashes to England in 2005, after 16 years in Australia's possession

They followed that with perhaps the most memorable series prior to 2005, with Ian Botham inspiring a stunning 3-1 triumph after they lost the opening Test at Lord's, after which he was replaced as skipper by Mike Brearley.

The Ashes swapped hands for the next few series but a largely untried Australia party arrived on English soil in 1989 and crushed England 4-0 to begin 16 years of dominance.

During the 1990s Australia enjoyed one of their most successful periods in Ashes history with players like Steve Waugh, Shane Warne and Glenn McGrath helping them win five successive series.

The turn of the new century did not change England's fortunes either, with Australia winning successive series 4-1 under Steve Waugh and, although the captaincy had passed to Ricky Ponting, they were still favourites going into the 2005 series in England.

What transpired is widely recognised as the best series in Ashes history, with a confident England side led by Michael Vaughan bouncing back in thrilling fashion after a heavy defeat in the opening Test at Lord's.

The second Test at Edgbaston was one of the closest ever with England narrowly winning by two runs. McGrath had stepped on a ball in the warm-up and was ruled out of the match.

Australia drew the next at Old Trafford with McGrath blocking out the final few balls, and England won another thriller at Trent Bridge to take the lead in an Ashes series for the first time since 1997.

They completed their stunning triumph with a draw at the Oval and were rewarded for their victory with an open-top bus parade through London and a visit to Downing Street.

Stunned by their unexpected defeat, Australia regrouped under Ponting and with Warne and McGrath playing their final series, they completed only the second whitewash in Ashes history by thumping England, now captained by all-rounder Andrew Flintoff, 5-0.

Andrew Strauss

A jubilant Andrew Strauss lifts the urn in 2009 after England claimed the fifth Test at the Oval to defeat Australia 2-1

Australia brought a new-look squad, still under Ponting’s leadership, to England in 2009 to take on Andrew Strauss’ side.

The hosts scraped a draw in the opener, the first Test to be played at Cardiff - which featured four Australia first-innings hundreds, thanks to the day-four weather and Paul Collingwood’s final-day batting heroics.

Strauss’ century and Flintoff’s Herculean bowling effort gave England victory at Lord’s in the second Test ahead of a rain-ruined draw at Edgbaston.

The tourists thrashed England at Headingley, meaning the hosts had to win at the Oval to regain the urn. Stuart Broad’s five-wicket haul and Jonathan Trott’s century on debut ensured they did just that.

Both teams, with the same skippers as in 2009, are as desperate as ever to add to the history of the Ashes this winter.

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