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The Ashes: origins, history, and 2019 expectations

Written by Sport

The Ashes provides one certainty in its entire history; that it’ll always be a nasty, gritty and feisty affair and deserves its place as one of the greatest rivalries in sporting history. The key thing for England this will be not to let their summer World Cup win get to their head and instead look forward to an Aussie side desperate to not only to keep the urn, but also gain more credibility from the affairs that have tarnished their name in the last year.

 

ORIGINS

The history of games of cricket between England and Australia go as far back as the late 1800s. However, the term “the Ashes” was coined in 1882, when England lost to Australia on home turf at the Oval in London, the first time that this had ever happened. After this, the Sporting Times printed a mock obituary for English cricket, stating “the body will be cremated and the ashes taken to Australia”. When England next travelled to Australia, captain Ivo Bligh said he was aiming to “take back the ashes”. The prize up for grabs became a small urn, said to contain the ashes of a wicket bail. The fragility of the urn means that it now lives in Lords in London, on display in the grounds’ museum.

Since 1882, England and Australia have played 330 matches, with Australia winning 134 overall and England falling behind with 106 wins.

 

SOME ASHES HISTORY

Sledging

Of course, cricket always produces a bit of back and forth insulting, known as “sledging”. And the sledging between England and Australia always proves to be a smasher.

  • “Don’t bother shutting the gate son, you’ll be back soon.” Fred Trueman to an Australian batsman.
  • “Would you like me to bowl you a piano to see if you can play that?” Merv Hughes to English batsman Graham Gooch.
  • Merv Hughes v Robin Smith

“You can’t bat!” Hughes says to Smith, next ball Hughes bowls Smith hits it for four, to which Smith replies, “we’d make a fine pair, I can’t bat and you can’t bowl.”

  • Australian bowler Rodney Hogg lost his balance bowling and fell at Ian Botham’s feet, which led to Botham remarking, “I know you think I’m great Hoggy, but there’s no need to get down on your knees.”
The “Bodyline” Ashes

Since its humble beginnings in 1882, the rivalry between the two sides has developed into one of the bitterest contests in sport. This bitterness can probably be pinpointed to the infamous “Bodyline Ashes” in 1933, which only soured the contest between the two countries. This clash saw the English deemed as “unsportsmanlike” for bowling at the bodies of the Australian batsmen; at the time the law stated that if the ball was caught bouncing off the body, the batsman would be out. One ball in particular caught Bert Oldfield on the head causing his skull to be fractured. England’s aim in this Ashes was to scare off Australia’s top batsman, Don Bradman (whose average at the time was around a staggering 139.5), by bowling the ball in his chest up to an amazing 100mph. By the end of the series, England had won 4-1 and Bradman’s average was reduced to 59. The Bodyline tactic was outlawed a few years later, but this is an episode that has lingered nearly 90 years later.

The 80s

The 80s may go down as a time of great music and questionable hair choices, but it’s also considered to contain some of the best Ashes series in history. This decade saw the urn go back and forth between the two counties, with Australia winning two series and England just edging it with three wins. The 1981 Ashes were nicknamed “Botham’s Ashes” due to the performance of England’s Ian Botham with bat and ball. England won this series 3-1, setting a fiercely competitive tone for the rest of the decade.

2005 Ashes

If you’ve never come across the brilliance of the 2005 Ashes series, you’ve been living under a rock. Sound-tracked to the marvellous “Mambo Number Five”, this is the series where England finally regained the famous urn for the first time since 1987. After a comfortable Aussie win at Lords in the first test, the margins between victory and loss soon became thin in the matches. In fact, the second test at Edgbaston produced the narrowest win in Ashes history, where England snatched it by two runs. The third test at Old Trafford resulted in a draw, the fourth test England won by three wickets and the final test at the Oval was a draw. England had won 2-1 by the finest margins and produced a number of memorable individual performances from the likes of Andrew Flintoff, Michael Vaughan and Kevin Pietersen.

 

2019 ASHES

This year’s competition takes place in England, where the home side will be aiming to reclaim the famous urn following on from a disastrous campaign in Australia in 2017/18. Australia’s tour in England this year is probably going to be one of the nastiest the Aussies will experience after the infamous ball tampering scandal in South Africa last year. The tampering trio of Steve Smith, David Warner and Cameron Bancroft all return from their suspensions, where they’ve been warmly received by the English crowds. When Bancroft and Warner came to open against England on Thursday, the pair were greeted with a section of the crowd waving sandpaper at them. Additionally, on Saturday, when Warner was out in the field, he was met with various sandpaper chants, to which he turned his pockets inside out to the crowd in jest.

“Neither team have a particularly strong or scary batting line-up”
However, crowd antics to one side, this match will prove to be an interesting affair. Neither team have a particularly strong or scary batting line-up. Real key players for Australia batting consist of opener David Warner and fourth-man Steve Smith. Smith proved on Thursday how invaluable a player he is to the Aussie line-up when he dragged his side to a score of 283 by scoring 144 runs. All ball-tampering aside, that innings just demonstrated what a great player the man is. For England, they have batsmen who can really perform, but can also be rather inconsistent. Ever since the departure of Andrew Strauss and Alastair Cook, England have really struggled to find a remarkable opening pair. This year sees Rory Burns and Jason Roy open, both of whom have the potential to produce some big scores; in fact, Burns achieved his first test hundred in the first innings of the first test against the Aussies in Birmingham – proving he is more than capable of becoming a reliable opener. England’s strength lies in their middle order, where specialist batsmen like Jos Buttler, Ben Stokes and Jonny Bairstow come into play, three men who are big hitters and often rack up big scores.

“Both teams have an incredibly threatening set of bowlers”
Whilst batting for both sides may be a bit weak, both teams have an incredibly threatening set of bowlers, players who can really transform a game. Australia have a good set of bowlers who have worked together for years in Pat Cummins, Nathan Lyon, Josh Hazelwood and Mitchell Starc, the latter of whom took 27 wickets at the Cricket World Cup in the summer, making him the competition’s leading wicket taker. It came as a bit of a surprise when captain Tim Paine left out Starc and Hazelwood for the first test. Two of the Aussie’s leading pacemen were dropped in favour of Peter Siddle and James Pattinson instead, with Cummins coming in to join them and Lyon providing the spin for the side. England also have a rather strong bowling line-up. Senior bowlers Jimmy Anderson and Stuart Broad, both of whom have taken over 100 wickets against Australia, are absolutely invaluable to the team. This has been proven especially with Anderson’s troublesome calf playing up in the first test, leaving him unable to play, and England did miss him a bit. However, Broad’s first innings in the first test really carried the team through, taking five wickets. Chris Woakes comes in off the back of a good World Cup and has also picked up wickets so far in the first test. England can also utilise their all-rounders in Ben Stokes and spinner Moeen Ali. Unfortunately, Ali hasn’t really shined with bat or ball in recent tests, so it would be good to see England’s spin provided by Jack Leach at some point in this series if Ali’s form continues. The home side are also able to look to younger players in Olly Stone and Jofra Archer. Providing he’s fit, Archer may have to come in to replace Anderson following on from his injury.

“It’ll always be a nasty, gritty and feisty affair and deserves its place as one of the greatest rivalries in sporting history”

The Ashes provides one certainty in its entire history; that it’ll always be a nasty, gritty and feisty affair and deserves its place as one of the greatest rivalries in sporting history. The key thing for England this will be not to let their summer World Cup win get to their head and instead look forward to an Aussie side desperate to not only to keep the urn, but also gain more credibility from the affairs that have tarnished their name in the last year.

Last modified: 5th August 2019

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