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The Ashes

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The Ashes
Ashes Urn.jpg
The Ashes urn is reputed to contain a burnt cricket bail.
Countries  Australia and  England
Administrator International Cricket Council
Format Test cricket
First tournament 1882/83
Next tournament 2013
Tournament format Test Series
Number of teams 2
Current trophy holder  England
Most successful  Australia (31 titles)
Most runs Australia Donald Bradman (5,028)
Most wickets Australia Shane Warne (195)
2010–11 Ashes series

The Ashes is a Test cricket series played between England and Australia since 1882. It is one of the most celebrated rivalries in international sport and is currently played biennially, alternately in England and Australia. Cricket being a summer sport, and the venues being in opposite hemispheres, the break between series alternates between 18 and 30 months. A series of "The Ashes" comprises five Test matches, two innings per match, under the regular rules for Test match cricket. If a series is drawn then the country already holding the Ashes retains them.

The series is named after a satirical obituary published in a British newspaper, The Sporting Times, in 1882 after a match at The Oval in which Australia beat England on an English ground for the first time. The obituary stated that English cricket had died, and the body will be cremated and the ashes taken to Australia. The English media dubbed the next English tour to Australia (1882–83) as the quest to regain The Ashes.

During that tour a small terracotta urn was presented to England captain Ivo Bligh by a group of Melbourne women. The contents of the urn are reputed to be the ashes of an item of cricket equipment, a bail.

The urn is erroneously believed by some to be the trophy of the Ashes series, but it has never been formally adopted as such and Bligh always considered it to be a personal gift. Replicas of the urn are often held aloft by victorious teams as a symbol of their victory in an Ashes series, but the actual urn has never been presented or displayed as a trophy in this way. Whichever side holds the Ashes, the urn normally remains in the Marylebone Cricket Club Museum at Lord's since being presented to the MCC by Bligh's widow upon his death.

Since the 1998–99 Ashes series, a Waterford Crystal representation of the Ashes urn has been presented to the winners of an Ashes series as the official trophy of that series.

England are the current holders after winning the Ashes in 2009 and retaining them in the 2010/11 series in Australia. The next series will be held in 2013 in England.


The first Test match between England and Australia was played in 1877, though the Ashes legend started later, after the ninth Test, played in 1882.

On their tour that year (1882) the Australians played just one Test, at The Oval in London. It was a low-scoring affair on a difficult wicket. Australia made a mere 63 runs in its first innings, and England, led by A. N. Hornby, took a 38-run lead with a total of 101. In their second innings, the Australians, boosted by a spectacular 55 runs off 60 deliveries from Hugh Massie, managed 122, which left England only 85 runs to win.

The Australians were greatly demoralised by the manner of their second-innings collapse, but fast bowler Fred Spofforth, spurred on by some gamesmanship by his opponents, refused to give in. "This thing can be done," he declared. Spofforth went on to devastate the English batting, taking his final four wickets for only two runs to leave England just eight runs short of victory in one of the closest finishes in the history of cricket.

When Ted Peate, England's last batsman, came to the crease, his side needed just ten runs to win, but Peate managed only two before he was bowled by Harry Boyle. An astonished Oval crowd fell silent, struggling to believe that England could possibly have lost to a colony. When it finally sank in, the crowd swarmed onto the field, cheering loudly and chairing Boyle and Spofforth to the pavilion.

When Peate returned to the pavilion he was reprimanded by his captain for not allowing his partner, Charles Studd (one of the best batsman in England, having already hit two centuries that season against the colonists) to get the runs. Peate humorously replied, "I had no confidence in Mr Studd, sir, so thought I had better do my best."

The momentous defeat was widely recorded in the British press, which praised the Australians for their plentiful "pluck" and berated the Englishmen for their lack thereof. A celebrated poem appeared in Punch on Saturday, 9 September. The first verse, quoted most frequently, reads:

Well done, Cornstalks! Whipt us
Fair and square,
Was it luck that tript us?
Was it scare?
Kangaroo Land's 'Demon', or our own
Want of 'devil', coolness, nerve, backbone?

On 31 August, in the great Charles Alcock-edited magazine Cricket: A Weekly Record of The Game, there appeared a mock obituary:


On 2 September a more celebrated mock obituary, written by Reginald Brooks under the pseudonym "Bloobs", appeared in The Sporting Times. It read:

In Affectionate Remembrance
which died at the Oval
29th AUGUST 1882,
Deeply lamented by a large circle of sorrowing
friends and acquaintances
N.B.—The body will be cremated and the
ashes taken to Australia.
The death notice that appeared in The Sporting Times

Bligh promised that on the tour to Australia in 1882–83, which he was to captain, he would regain "the ashes". He spoke of them several times over the course of the tour, and the Australian media quickly caught on. The three-match series resulted in a two-one win to England, notwithstanding a fourth match, won by the Australians, whose status remains a matter of ardent dispute.

In the 20 years following Bligh's campaign the term "The Ashes" largely disappeared from public use. There is no indication that this was the accepted name for the series, at least not in England. The term became popular again in Australia first, when George Giffen, in his memoirs (With Bat and Ball, 1899), used the term as if it were well known.

The true and global revitalisation of interest in the concept dates from 1903, when Pelham Warner took a team to Australia with the promise that he would regain "the ashes". As had been the case on Bligh's tour 20 years before, the Australian media latched fervently onto the term, and, this time it stuck. Having fulfilled his promise, Warner published a book entitled How We Recovered The Ashes. Although the origins of the term are not referred to in the text, the title served (along with the general hype created in Australia) to revive public interest in the legend. The first mention of "The Ashes" in Wisden Cricketers' Almanack occurs in 1905, while Wisden's first account of the legend is in the 1922 edition.


As it took many years for the name "The Ashes" to be given to the ongoing series between England and Australia, there was no concept of there being a representation of the ashes being presented to the winners. As late as 1925 the following verse appeared in The Cricketers Annual:

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!

Nevertheless, several attempts had been made to embody The Ashes in a physical memorial. Examples include one presented to Warner in 1904, another to Australian Captain M.A. Noble in 1909, and another to Australian Captain W.M. Woodfull in 1934.

The oldest, and the one to enjoy enduring fame, was the one presented to Bligh, later Lord Darnley, during the 1882–83 tour. The precise nature of the origin of this urn is matter of dispute. Based on a statement by Darnley made in 1894, it was believed that a group of Victorian ladies, including Darnley's later wife Florence Morphy, made the presentation after the victory in the Third Test in 1883. More recent researchers, in particular Ronald Willis and Joy Munns have studied the tour in detail and concluded that the presentation was made after a private cricket match played over Christmas 1882 when the English team were guests of Sir William Clarke, at his property " Rupertswood", in Sunbury, Victoria. This was before the matches had started. The prime evidence for this theory was provided by a descendant of Clarke.

In August 1926 Ivo Bligh (now Lord Darnley) displayed the Ashes Urn at the Morning Post Decorative Art Exhibition held in the Central Hall, Westminster. He made the following statement about how he was given the Urn.

When in the autumn the English Eleven went to Australia it was said that they had come to Australia to “fetch” the ashes. England won two out of the three matches played against Murdoch's Australian Eleven, and after the third match some Melbourne ladies put some ashes into a small urn and gave them to me as captain of the English Eleven.”

A more detailed account of how the Ashes were given to Ivo Bligh was outlined by his wife, the Countess of Darnley, in 1930 during a speech at a cricket luncheon. Her speech was reported by the London Times as follows.

In 1882, she said, it was first spoken of when the Sporting Times, after the Australians had thoroughly beaten the English at the Oval, wrote an obituary in affectionate memory of English cricket “whose demise was deeply lamented and the body would be cremated and taken to Australia”. Her husband, then Ivo Bligh, took a team to Australia in the following year. Punch had a poem containing the words “When Ivo comes back with the urn” and when Ivo Bligh wiped out the defeat Lady Clarke, wife of Sir W. J. Clarke, who entertained the English so lavishly, found a little wooden urn, burnt a bail, put the ashes in the urn, and wrapping it in a red velvet bag, put it into her husband’s (Ivo Bligh’s) hands. He had always regarded it as a great treasure.”

There is another statement which is not totally clear made by Lord Darnley in 1921 about the timing of the presentation of the Urn. He was interviewed in his home at Cobham Hall by Montague Grover and the report of this interview was as follows.

"This urn was presented to Lord Darnley by some ladies of Melbourne after the final defeat of his team, and before he returned with the members to England."

He made a similar statement in 1926. The report of this statement in the Brisbane Courier was as follows.

"The proudest possession of Lord Darnley is an earthenware urn containing the ashes which were presented to him by Melbourne residents when he captained the Englishmen in 1882. Though the team did not win, the urn containing the ashes was sent (could mean presented) to him just before leaving Melbourne.”

The contents of the Darnley urn are also problematic; they were variously reported to be the remains of a stump, bail or the outer casing of a ball, but in 1998 Darnley's 82-year-old daughter-in-law said they were the remains of her mother-in-law's veil, casting a further layer of doubt on the matter. However, during the tour of Australia in 2006/7, the MCC official accompanying the urn said the veil legend had been discounted, and it was now "95% certain" that the urn contains the ashes of a cricket bail. Speaking on Channel Nine TV on 25 November 2006, he said x-rays of the urn had shown the pedestal and handles were cracked, and repair work had to be carried out. The urn is made of terracotta and is about six inches (150 mm) tall and may originally have been a perfume jar.

The 1921 first published photo of the Urn in the Illustrated London News.
The full version of the song from Melbourne Punch, the fourth verse of which is pasted onto the urn

A label containing a six line verse is pasted on the urn. This is the fourth verse of a song-lyric published in Melbourne Punch on 1 February 1883:

When Ivo goes back with the urn, the urn;
Studds, Steel, Read and Tylecote return, return;
The welkin will ring loud,
The great crowd will feel proud,
Seeing Barlow and Bates with the urn, the urn;
And the rest coming home with the urn.

In February 1883, just before the disputed Fourth Test, a velvet bag made by Mrs Ann Fletcher, the daughter of Joseph Hines Clarke and Marion Wright, both of Dublin, was given to Bligh to contain the urn.

During Darnley’s lifetime there was little public knowledge of the urn, and no record of a published photograph exists before 1921. The London Illustrated News published this photo in January 1921 (shown at right) This 1921 photo was also used by the Perth Western Mail in 1924 in a montage and is shown at the right below it.

The 1921 first published photo of the Ashes Urn used in a montage by the Perth Western Mail in 1924.

When Darnley died in 1927 his widow presented the urn to the Marylebone Cricket Club and that was the key event in establishing the urn as the physical embodiment of the legendary ashes. MCC first displayed the urn in the Long Room at Lord's Cricket Ground and since 1953 in the MCC Cricket Museum at the ground. MCC’s wish for it to be seen by as wide a range of cricket enthusiasts as possible has led to its being mistaken for an official trophy.

It is in fact a private memento, and for this reason it is never awarded to either England or Australia, but is kept permanently in the MCC Cricket Museum where it can be seen together with the specially made red and gold velvet bag and the scorecard of the 1882 match.

Because the urn itself is so delicate, it has been allowed to travel to Australia only twice. The first occasion was in 1988 for a museum tour as part of the Australian Bicentenary celebrations; the second was for the 2006/7 Ashes series. The urn arrived on 17 October 2006, going on display at the Museum of Sydney. It then toured to other states, with the final appearance at the Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery on 21 January 2007.

In the 1990s, given Australia's long dominance of the Ashes and the popular acceptance of the Darnley urn as ‘The Ashes’, the idea was mooted that the victorious team should be awarded the urn as a trophy and allowed to retain it until the next series. As its condition is fragile and it is a prized exhibit at the MCC Cricket Museum, the MCC were reluctant to agree. Furthermore, in 2002, Bligh's great-great-grandson Lord Clifton, the heir-apparent to the Earldom of Darnley, argued that the Ashes urn should not be returned to Australia because it belonged to his family and was given to the MCC only for safe keeping.

As a compromise, the MCC commissioned a trophy in the form of a larger replica of the urn in Waterford Crystal to award to the winning team of each series from 1998–99. This did little to diminish the status of the Darnley urn as the most important icon in cricket, the symbol of this old and keenly fought contest.

Series and matches

Quest to "recover those ashes"

Later in 1882, following the famous Australian victory at The Oval, Bligh led an England team to Australia, as he said, to "recover those ashes". Publicity surrounding the series was intense, and it was at some time during this series that the Ashes urn was crafted. Australia won the First Test by nine wickets, but in the next two England were victorious. At the end of the Third Test, England were generally considered to have "won back the Ashes" 2–1. A fourth match was played, against a "United Australian XI", which was arguably stronger than the Australian sides that had competed in the previous three matches; this game, however, is not generally considered part of the 1882–83 series. It is counted as a Test, but as a standalone. This match ended in a victory for Australia

1884 to 1896

After Bligh's victory, there was an extended period of English dominance. The tours generally had fewer Tests in the 1880s and 1890s than people have grown accustomed to in more recent years, the first five-Test series taking place only in 1894–95. England lost only four Ashes Tests in the 1880s out of 23 played, and they won all the seven series contested.

There was more chopping and changing in the teams, given that there was no official board of selectors for each country (in 1887–88, two separate English teams were on tour in Australia) and popularity with the fans varied. The 1890s games were more closely fought, Australia taking their first series win since 1882 with a 2–1 victory in 1891–92. But England dominated, winning the next three series to 1896 despite continuing player disputes.

The 1894–95 series began in sensational fashion when England won the First Test at Sydney by just 10 runs having followed on. Australia had scored a massive 586 ( Syd Gregory 201, George Giffen 161) and then dismissed England for 325. But England responded with 437 and then dramatically dismissed Australia for 166 with Bobby Peel taking 6 for 67. At the close of the second last day's play, Australia were 113–2, needing only 64 more runs. But heavy rain fell overnight and next morning the two slow left-arm bowlers, Peel and Johnny Briggs, were all but unplayable. England went on to win the series 3–2 after it had been all square before the Final Test, which England won by 6 wickets. The English heroes were Peel, with 27 wickets in the series at an average of 26.70, and Tom Richardson, with 32 at 26.53.

In 1896 England under the captaincy of W G Grace won the series 2–1, and this marked the end of England's longest period of Ashes dominance.

1897 to 1902

Australia resoundingly won the 1897–98 series by 4–1 under the captaincy of Harry Trott. His successor Joe Darling won the next three series in 1899, 1901–02 and the classic 1902 series, which became one of the most famous in the history of Test cricket.

Five matches were played in 1902 but the first two were drawn after being hit by bad weather. In the First Test (the first played at Edgbaston), after scoring 376 England bowled out Australia for 36 ( Wilfred Rhodes 7/17) and reduced them to 46–2 when they followed on. Australia won the Third and Fourth Tests at Bramall Lane and Old Trafford respectively. At Old Trafford, Australia won by just 3 runs after Victor Trumper had scored 104 on a "bad wicket", reaching his hundred before lunch on the first day. England won the last Test at The Oval by one wicket. Chasing 263 to win, they slumped to 48–5 before Jessop's 104 gave them a chance. He reached his hundred in just 75 minutes. The last wicket pair of George Hirst and Rhodes were left with 15 runs to get, and duly got them. When Rhodes joined him, Hirst is was supposed to have said: "We'll get them in singles, Wilfred." The story is apocryphal and they are believed to have scored at least one two among the singles.

The period of Darling's captaincy saw the emergence of outstanding Australian players such as Trumper, Warwick Armstrong, James Kelly, Monty Noble, Clem Hill, Hugh Trumble and Ernie Jones.

Reviving the legend

After what the MCC saw as the problems of the earlier professional and amateur series they decided to take control of organising tours themselves, and this led to the first MCC tour of Australia in 1903–04. England won it against the odds, and Plum Warner, the England captain, wrote up his version of the tour in his book How We Recovered The Ashes. The title of this book revived the Ashes legend and it was after this that England v Australia series were customarily referred to as "The Ashes".

1905 to 1912

The Australian team from the 1911–12 tour.

England and Australia were evenly matched until the outbreak of the First World War in 1914. Five more series took place between 1905 and 1912. In 1905 England's captain Stanley Jackson not only won the series 2–0, but also won the toss in all five matches and headed both the batting and the bowling averages. Monty Noble led Australia to victory in both 1907–08 and 1909. Then England won in 1911–12 by four matches to one. Jack Hobbs establishing himself as England's first-choice opening batsman with three centuries, while Frank Foster (32 wickets at 21.62) and Sydney Barnes (34 wickets at 22.88) formed a formidable bowling partnership.

England retained the Ashes when they won the 1912 Triangular Tournament, which also featured South Africa. The Australian touring party had been severely weakened by a dispute between the board and players that caused Clem Hill, Victor Trumper, Warwick Armstrong, Tibby Cotter, Sammy Carter and Vernon Ransford to be omitted.

1920 to 1933

After the war, Australia took firm control of both the Ashes and world cricket. For the first time, the tactic of using two express bowlers in tandem paid off as Jack Gregory and Ted McDonald crippled the English batting on a regular basis. Australia recorded overwhelming victories both in England and on home soil. They won the first eight matches in succession including a 5–0 whitewash in 1920–1921 at the hands of Warwick Armstrong's team.

The ruthless and belligerent Armstrong led his team back to England in 1921 where his men lost only two games late in the tour to narrowly miss out of being the first team to complete a tour of England without defeat.

Herbert Sutcliffe sweeps Arthur Mailey during the first Ashes Test in Sydney, 1924.

England won only one Test out of 15 from the end of the war until 1925.

In a rain-hit series in 1926, England managed to eke out a 1–0 victory with a win in the final Test at The Oval. Because the series was at stake, the match was to be "timeless", i.e., played to a finish. Australia had a narrow first innings lead of 22. Jack Hobbs and Herbert Sutcliffe took the score to 49–0 at the end of the second day, a lead of 27. Heavy rain fell overnight, and next day the pitch soon developed into a traditional sticky wicket. England seemed doomed to be bowled out cheaply and to lose the match. In spite of the very difficult batting conditions, however, Hobbs and Sutcliffe took their partnership to 172 before Hobbs was out for exactly 100. Sutcliffe went on to make 161 and England won the game comfortably. Australian captain Herbie Collins was stripped of all captaincy positions down to club level, and some accused him of throwing the match.

Australia's ageing post-war team broke up after 1926, with Collins, Charlie Macartney and Warren Bardsley all departing, and Gregory breaking down at the start of the 1928–29 series.

Despite the debut of Donald Bradman, the inexperienced Australians, led by Jack Ryder, were heavily defeated, losing 4–1. England had a very strong batting side, with Wally Hammond contributing 905 runs at an average of 113.12, and Hobbs, Sutcliffe and Patsy Hendren all scoring heavily; the bowling was more than adequate, without being outstanding.

In 1930, Bill Woodfull led an extremely inexperienced team to England.

Bradman fulfilled his promise in the 1930 series when he scored 974 runs at 139.14, which remains a world record Test series aggregate. A modest Bradman can be heard in a 1930 recording saying "I have always endeavoured to do my best for the side, and the few centuries that have come my way have been achieved in the hope of winning matches. My one idea when going into bat was to make runs for Australia." In the Headingley Test, he made 334, reaching 309* at the end of the first day, including a century before lunch. Bradman himself thought that his 254 in the preceding match, at Lord's, was a better innings. England managed to stay in contention until the deciding final Test at The Oval, but yet another double hundred by Bradman, and 7/92 by Percy Hornibrook in England's second innings, enabled Australia to win by an innings and take the series 2–1. Clarrie Grimmett's 29 wickets at 31.89 for Australia in this high-scoring series were also important.

Australia had one of the strongest batting line-ups ever in the early 1930s, with Bradman, Archie Jackson, Stan McCabe, Bill Woodfull and Bill Ponsford. It was the prospect of bowling at this line-up that caused England's 1932–33 captain Douglas Jardine to adopt the tactic of fast leg theory, also known as Bodyline.

Bill Woodfull evades a ball from Harold Larwood with Bodyline field settings.

Jardine instructed his fast bowlers, most notably Harold Larwood and Bill Voce, to bowl at the bodies of the Australian batsmen, with the goal of forcing them to defend their bodies with their bats, thus providing easy catches to a stacked leg-side field. Jardine insisted that the tactic was legitimate and called it "leg theory" but it was widely disparaged by its opponents, who dubbed it "Bodyline" (from "on the line of the body"). Although England decisively won the Ashes 4–1, Bodyline caused such a furore in Australia that diplomats had to intervene to prevent serious harm to Anglo-Australian relations, and the MCC eventually changed the Laws of cricket to curtail the number of leg side fielders.

Jardine's comment was: "I've not travelled 6,000 miles to make friends. I'm here to win the Ashes".

Some of the Australians wanted to use Bodyline in retaliation, but Woodfull flatly refused. He famously told England manager Pelham Warner, "There are two teams out there. One is playing cricket; the other is making no attempt to do so" after the latter had come into the Australian rooms to express sympathy for a Larwood bouncer had struck the Australian skipper in the heart and felled him.

1934 to 1953

On the batting-friendly wickets that prevailed in the late 1930s, most Tests up to the Second World War still gave results. It should be borne in mind that Tests in Australia prior to the war were all played to a finish. Many batting records were set in this period.

The 1934 Ashes series began with the notable absence of Larwood, Voce and Jardine. The MCC had made it clear, in light of the revelations of the bodyline series, that these players would not face Australia. It should be noted that the MCC, although it had earlier condoned and encouraged bodyline tactics in the 1932–33 series, laid the blame on Larwood when relations turned sour. Larwood was forced by the MCC to either apologise or be removed from the Test side. He went for the latter.

Australia recovered the Ashes in 1934 and held them until 1953, although no international cricket was possible during the Second World War.

As in 1930, the 1934 series was decided in the final Test at The Oval. Australia, batting first, posted a massive 701 in the first innings. Bradman (244) and Ponsford (266) were in record-breaking form with a partnership of 451 for the second wicket. England eventually faced a massive 707 run target for victory and failed, Australia winning the series 2–1. This made Woodfull the only captain to regain the Ashes and he retired upon his return to Australia.

In 1936–37 Bradman succeeded Woodfull as Australian captain. He started badly, losing the first two Tests heavily after Australia were caught on sticky wickets. However, the Australians fought back and Bradman won his first series in charge 3–2.

The 1938 series was high-scoring affair with many high-scoring draws, resulting in a 1–1 result, Australia retaining the Ashes. After the first two matches ended in stalemate and the Third Test at Old Trafford never started due to rain. Australia then scraped home by five wickets inside three days in a low-scoring match at Headingley to retain the urn. In the timeless Fifth Test at The Oval, the highlight was Len Hutton's then world record score of 364 as England made 903-7 declared. Bradman and Jack Fingleton injured themselves during Hutton's marathon effort, and with only nine men, Australia fell to defeat by an innings and 578 runs, the heaviest in Test history.

The Ashes resumed after the war when England toured in 1946–47, and as in 1920–21, found that Australia had made the best post-war recovery. Still captained by Bradman and now featuring the potent new ball partnership of Ray Lindwall and Keith Miller, Australia were convincing 3–0 winners.

Aged 38 and having been unwell during the war, Bradman had been reluctant to play. He batted unconvincingly and reached 28 when he hit a ball to Jack Ikin; England believed it was a catch, but Bradman stood his ground, believing it to be a bump ball. The umpire ruled in the Australian captain's favour and he appeared to regain his fluency of yesteryear, scoring 187. Australia promptly seized the initiative, won the First Test convincingly and inaugurated a dominant post-war era. The controversy over the Ikin catch was one of the biggest disputes of the era.

In 1948 Australia set new standards, completely outplaying their hosts to win 4–0 with one draw. This Australian team, led by Bradman, who turned 40 during his final tour of England, has gone down in history as The Invincibles. Playing 34 matches on tour—three of which were not first-class—including the five Tests, they remained unbeaten, winning 27 and drawing only 7.

Bradman's men were greeted by packed crowds across the country, and records for Test attendances in England were set in the Second and Fourth Tests at Lord's and Headingley respectively; the crowd at Headingley remains a record, and it was there that Australia set a world record by chasing down 404 on the last day for a seven-wicket victory.

The 1948 series ended with one of the most poignant moments in cricket history, as Bradman played his final innings for Australia in the Fifth Test at The Oval, needing to score only four runs to end with a career batting average of exactly 100. However, Bradman made a second ball duck, bowled by a Eric Hollies googly that sent him into retirement with a career average of 99.94.

Bradman was succeeded as Australian captain by Lindsay Hassett, who led the team to 4–1 victory in 1950–51. The series was not as one-sided as the number of wins suggest, with several tight matches.

The tide finally turned in 1953 when England won the final Test at The Oval to take the series 1–0, having narrowly evaded defeat in the preceding Test at Headingley. This was the beginning of one of the greatest periods in English cricket history with players such as captain Len Hutton, batsmen Denis Compton, Peter May, Tom Graveney, Colin Cowdrey, bowlers Fred Trueman, Brian Statham, Alec Bedser, Jim Laker, Tony Lock and wicket-keeper Godfrey Evans.

1954 to 1971

Peter May driving Bill Johnston on his way to a century at Sydney.

In 1954–55, Australia's batsmen had no answer to the pace of Frank Tyson and Statham. After winning the First Test by an innings after being controversially sent in by Hutton, Australia lost its way and England took a hat-trick of victories to win the series 3–1.

A dramatic series in 1956 saw a record that will probably never be beaten: off-spinner Jim Laker's monumental effort at Old Trafford when he bowled 68 of 191 overs to take 19 out of 20 possible Australian wickets in the Fourth Test. It was Australia's second consecutive innings defeat in a wet summer, and the hosts were in strong positions in the two drawn Tests, in which half the playing time was washed out. Bradman rated the team that won the series 2–1 as England's best ever.

England's dominance was not to last. Australia won 4–0 in 1958–59, having found a high-quality spinner of their own in new skipper Richie Benaud, who took 31 wickets in the five-Test series, and paceman Alan Davidson, who took 24 wickets at 19.00. The series was overshadowed by the furore over various Australian bowlers, most notably Ian Meckiff, whom the English management and media accused of illegally throwing Australia to victory.

Australia consolidated their status as the leading team in world cricket with a hard-fought 2–1 away series. After narrowly winning the Second Test at Lord's, dubbed "The Battle of the Ridge" because of a protrusion on the pitch that caused erratic bounce, Australia mounted a comeback on the final day of the Fourth Test at Old Trafford and sealed the series after a heavy collapse during the English runchase.

The tempo of the play changed over the next four series in the 1960s, held in 1962–63, 1964, 1965–66 and 1968. The powerful array of bowlers that both countries boasted in the preceding decade moved into retirement, and their replacements were of lesser quality, making it more difficult to force a result. England failed to win any series during the 1960s, a period dominated by draws as teams found it more prudent to save face than risk losing. Of the 20 Tests played during the four series, Australia won four and England three. As they held the Ashes, Australian captains Bob Simpson and Bill Lawry were happy to adopt safety-first tactics and their strategy of sedate batting saw many draws. During this period, spectator attendances dropped and media condemnation increased, but Simpson and Lawry flatly disregarded the public dissatisfaction.

It was in the 1960s that the bipolar dominance of England and Australia in world cricket was seriously challenged for the first time. West Indies defeated England twice in the mid-1960s and South Africa, in two series before they were banned for apartheid, completely outplayed Australia 3–1 and 4–0. Australia had lost 2–1 during a tour of the West Indies in 1964–65, the first time they had lost a series to any team other than England.

In 1970–71, Ray Illingworth led England to a 2–0 win in Australia, mainly due to John Snow's fast bowling, and the prolific batting of Geoffrey Boycott and John Edrich. It was not until the last session of what was the 7th Test (one match having been abandoned without a ball bowled) that England's success was secured. Lawry was sacked after the Sixth Test after the selectors finally lost patience with Australia's lack of success and dour strategy. Lawry was not informed of the decision privately and heard his fate over the radio.

1972 to 1987

The 1972 series finished 2–2, with England under Illingworth retaining the Ashes.

In the 1974–75 series, with the England team breaking up and their best batsman Geoff Boycott refusing to play, Australian pace bowlers Jeff Thomson and Dennis Lillee wreaked havoc. A 4–1 result was a fair reflection as England were left shell shocked. England then lost the 1975 series 0–1, but at least restored some pride under new captain Tony Greig.

Australia won the 1977 Centenary Test which was not an Ashes contest, but then a storm broke as Kerry Packer announced his intention to form World Series Cricket. WSC affected all Test playing nations but it weakened Australia especially as the bulk of its players had signed up with Packer; the Australian Cricket Board (ACB) would not select WSC-contracted players and an almost completely new Test team had to be formed. WSC came after an era during which the duopoly of Australian and English dominance dissipated; the Ashes had long been seen as a cricket world championship but the rise of the West Indies in the late 1970s challenged that view. The West Indies would go on to record resounding Test series wins over Australia and England and dominated world cricket until the 1990s.

With Greig having joined WSC, England appointed Mike Brearley as their captain and he enjoyed great success against Australia. Largely assisted by the return of Boycott, Brearley's men won the 1977 series 3–0 and then completed an overwhelming 5–1 series win against an Australian side missing its WSC players in 1978–79. Allan Border made his Test debut for Australia in 1978–79.

Brearley retired from Test cricket in 1979 and was succeeded by Ian Botham, who started the 1981 series as England captain, by which time the WSC split had ended. After Australia took a 1–0 lead in the first two Tests, Botham was forced to resign or was sacked (depending on the source). Brearley surprisingly agreed to be reappointed before the Third Test at Headingley. This was a remarkable match in which Australia looked certain to take a 2–0 series lead after they had forced England to follow-on 227 runs behind. England, despite being 135 for 7, produced a second innings total of 356, Botham scoring 149*. Chasing just 130, Australia were sensationally dismissed for 111, Bob Willis taking 8–43. It was the first time since 1894–95 that a team following on had won a Test match. Under Brearley's leadership, England went on to win the next two matches before a drawn final match at The Oval.

In 1982–83 Australia had Greg Chappell back from WSC as captain, while the England team was weakened by the enforced omission of their South African tour rebels, particularly Graham Gooch and John Emburey. Australia went 2–0 up after three Tests, but England won the Fourth Test by 3 runs (after a 70-run last wicket stand) to set up the final decider, which was drawn.

In 1985 David Gower's England team was strengthened by the return of Gooch and Emburey as well as the emergence at international level of Tim Robinson and Mike Gatting. Australia, now captained by Allan Border, had themselves been weakened by a rebel South African tour, the loss of Terry Alderman being a particular factor. England won 3–1.

Despite suffering heavy defeats against the West Indies during the 1980s, England continued to do well in the Ashes. Mike Gatting was the captain in 1986–87 but his team started badly and attracted some criticism. Then Chris Broad scored three hundreds in successive Tests and bowling successes from Graham Dilley and Gladstone Small meant England won the series 2–1.

1989 to 2003

Melbourne Cricket Ground Boxing Day Test 1998.

The Australian team of 1989 was comparable to the great Australian teams of the past, and resoundingly defeated England 4–0. Well led by Allan Border, the team included the young cricketers Mark Taylor, Merv Hughes, David Boon, Ian Healy and Steve Waugh, who were all to prove long-serving and successful Ashes competitors. England, now led once again by David Gower, suffered from injuries and poor form. During the Fourth Test news broke that prominent England players had agreed to take part in a "rebel tour" of South Africa the following winter; three of them ( Tim Robinson, Neil Foster and John Emburey) were playing in the match, and were subsequently dropped from the England side.

Australia reached a cricketing peak in the 1990s and early 2000s, coupled with a general decline in England's fortunes. After re-establishing its credibility in 1989, Australia underlined its superiority with victories in the 1990–91, 1993, 1994–95, 1997, 1998–99, 2001 and 2002–03 series, all by convincing margins.

Great Australian players in the early years included batsmen Border, Boon, Taylor and Steve Waugh. The captaincy passed from Border to Taylor in the mid-1990s and then to Steve Waugh before the 2001 series. In the latter part of the 1990s Waugh himself, along with his twin brother Mark, scored heavily for Australia and fast bowlers Glenn McGrath and Jason Gillespie made a serious impact, especially the former. The wicketkeeper-batsman position was held by Ian Healy for most of the 1990s and by Adam Gilchrist from 2001 to 2006–07. In the 2000s, batsmen Justin Langer, Damien Martyn and Matthew Hayden became noted players for Australia. But the most dominant Australian player was leg-spinner Shane Warne, whose first delivery in Ashes cricket in 1993, to dismiss Mike Gatting, became known as the Ball of the century.

Australia's record between 1989 and 2005 had a significant impact on the statistics between the two sides. Before the 1989 series began, the win-loss ratio was almost even, with 87 wins for Australia to England's 86, 74 having been drawn. By the 2005 series Australia's wins had increased to 115 whereas England's had increased to only 93 (with 82 draws). In the period between 1989 and the beginning of the 2005 series, the two sides had played 43 times; Australia winning 28 times, England 7 times, with 8 draws. Only a single England victory had come in a match in which the Ashes were still at stake, namely the First Test of the 1997 series. All others were consolation victories when the Ashes had been secured by Australia.

2005 to present

Flintoff reaches 100 at Trent Bridge.

England began to recover in the early 2000s and were undefeated in Test matches through the 2004 calendar year. This elevated them to second in the ICC Test Championship. Hopes that the 2005 Ashes series would be closely fought proved well-founded, as the series was more competitive than anyone had predicted and was still undecided as the closing session of the final Test began. Experienced journalists including Richie Benaud rated the series as the most exciting in living memory. It has been compared with the great series of the distant past, such as 1894–95 and 1902.

The First Test at Lord's was convincingly won by Australia, but in the remaining four matches the teams were evenly matched and England fought back to win the Second Test by 2 runs, the smallest victory by a runs margin in Ashes history, and the second-closest such victory in all Tests. The rain-affected Third Test ended with the last two Australian batsmen holding out for a draw and England won the Fourth Test by three wickets after forcing Australia to follow-on for the first time in 191 Tests. A draw in the final Test gave England victory in an Ashes series for the first time in 18 years and their first Ashes victory at home since 1985.

With several England players having retired or been injured after the 2005 series, Australia regained The Ashes in the 2006–07 series with a convincing 5–0 victory, the second time an Ashes series has been won by that margin. Glenn McGrath, Shane Warne and Justin Langer retired from Test cricket after that series, while Damien Martyn retired during the series.

Chris Tremlett bowls Michael Beer to complete England's 3–1 Ashes victory on 7 January 2011

The 2009 series began with a tense draw in the First Test at SWALEC Stadium in Cardiff, with final pair James Anderson and Monty Panesar surviving 69 balls. England then achieved their first Ashes win at Lord's since 1934 to go 1–0 up. After a rain-affected draw at Edgbaston, the fourth match at Headingley was convincingly won by Australia by an innings and 80 runs to level the series. Finally, England won the Fifth Test at The Oval by a margin of 197 runs to regain the Ashes. Andrew Flintoff retired from Test cricket soon afterwards.

The 2010–11 series was held in Australia. The First Test at Brisbane ended in a draw, but England won the Second Test, at Adelaide, by an innings and 71 runs. Australia came back with a victory at Perth in the Third Test. In the Fourth Test at Melbourne Cricket Ground, England batting second scored 513 to defeat Australia (98 & 258) by an innings and 157 runs. This allowed England to take an unbeatable 2–1 lead in the series and so they retained The Ashes. Jonathan Trott (England) scored 168 not out while Peter Siddle (Australia) took 6–75. England went on to win the series 3–1, beating Australia by an innings and 83 runs at Sydney in the Fifth Test. Australia, captained by Michael Clarke, batted first on a cloudy day after winning the toss and were bowled out for 280. England made 644, their highest innings total since 1938. Alastair Cook scored 189 and both Ian Bell and Matt Prior made centuries. England bowled Australia out again for 281 and so won a series on Australian soil for the first time in 24 years. The 2010–11 Ashes series is the only one in which a team has won three Tests by innings margins and it was the first time England had scored 500 or more four times in a single series.

The upcoming Ashes series in 2013 will be held in England, and it will not feature Ricky Ponting as he announced his retirement on November 29, 2012 before the final test against South Africa at the WACA. Mike Hussey will also not feature after he announced his retirement on the 29 December. He will retire after the ODI Series Against Sri Lanka and West Indies early in 2013.

Summary of results and statistics

Ashes match results
from 1882 to the 5th Test of the 2010–11 series
Matches won by Australia
Matches won by England
Matches drawn

A team must win a series to gain the right to hold the Ashes. A drawn series results in the previous holders retaining the Ashes. Sixty-six series have been played, with Australia winning 31 and England 30. The remaining five series were drawn, with Australia retaining the Ashes four times (1938, 1962–63, 1965–66, 1968) and England retaining it once (1972). The win-loss ratio in Ashes Tests (up to and including the 2011 series) stands at 123 wins for Australia to 100 wins for England, with 87 draws.

Ashes series have generally been played over five Test matches, although there have been four-match series (1938; 1975) and six-match series (1970–71; 1974–75; 1978–79; 1981; 1985; 1989; 1993 and 1997). Australians have made 264 centuries in Ashes Tests, 23 of them over 200, while Englishmen have scored 212 centuries, of which 10 have been over 200. On 41 occasions Australians have taken 10 wickets in a match, Englishmen 38 times.

Overall Ashes Series Results

Nation Series Won Lost Drawn
Australia Australia
England England

Match venues

The series alternates between the United Kingdom and Australia, and within each country each of the usually five matches is held at a different cricket ground.

In Australia, the grounds currently used are The Gabba in Brisbane (first staged an England–Australia Test in the 1932–33 season), Adelaide Oval (1884–85), The WACA, Perth (1970–71) the Melbourne Cricket Ground (MCG) (1876–77) and the Sydney Cricket Ground (SCG) (1881–82). A single Test was held at the Brisbane Exhibition Ground in 1928–29. Traditionally, Melbourne hosts the Boxing Day Test and Sydney hosts the New Year Test. Cricket Australia proposed that the 2010–11 series consist of six Tests, with the additional game to be played at Bellerive Oval in Hobart. The England and Wales Cricket Board declined and the series was played over five Tests.

In the United Kingdom the grounds used are The Oval (since 1880), Old Trafford (1884), Lord's (1884), Trent Bridge (1899), Headingley (1899) and Edgbaston (1902). One Test was held at Bramall Lane, Sheffield in 1902. Sophia Gardens in Cardiff held the First Test in the 2009 Ashes series, the first time England had played a home Test in Wales. In the next series on English soil in 2013, Durham's Chester-le-Street ground will host its first Ashes Test match.

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