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The history of the Ashes

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For cricket fans, there’s nothing quite like the Ashes. This bi-yearly battle between England and Australia is one of sport’s oldest and longest-running contests, and attracts thousands of spectators across the five matches, whether it’s held in the UK or Down Under.

But what are the origins of cricket’s greatest grudge match? As the 2023 Series continues apace, and as fans analyse the Ashes odds, let’s dive into the history books and explore the fascinating story of how the Ashes came to be, and how it grew into one of sport’s most recognisable tussles.


The rivalry in cricket between England and Australia dates back to the late 1800s. The first Test match between the two nations was held in Melbourne in 1877, and from there the tradition of the two teams going head-to-head began to blossom into something that would last for decades.

Five years later, Australia’s 1882 tour of England ended with a stunning win for the visitors at the Oval, prompting consternation among English cricket fans and the press. Indeed, the Sporting Times posted a mock obituary, which read:

In Affectionate Remembrance
English Cricket,
which died at the Oval
29 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.

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That last line would prove to be the birth of ‘The Ashes’ as we know it, although it must be noted that it wasn’t until the early 1900s that the term began to be used frequently when referring to the match-ups between England and Australia.

The Urn

Another iconic piece of Ashes history is the urn awarded to the winning team. This tiny receptacle is one of the most recognisable unique ‘trophies’ awarded in sport, and can be traced back to the 1882-83 tour. When England next travelled to Australia after that defeat at the Oval, captain Ivo Bligh was presented with a small urn, which stands just 10cm tall.

The exact origin of this urn is a matter of debate, with a whole host of stories ruminating on its creation. However, Bligh himself said that after England won two of the three matches in Australia that year, ‘some Melbourne ladies put some ashes into a small urn and gave them to me as captain of the English Eleven.’

The original urn is currently on display at Lord’s cricket ground, and due to the size and delicacy of the piece, it has only travelled to Australia on two occasions, with a replica generally used in its place.

The growth of a sporting tradition

In the years since, the Ashes has grown to be one of the most important occasions in English and Australian sport. The five-test series always attracts plenty of interest, whether it’s hosted in England or Australia, and the event plays a major role in inspiring the next generation of cricketers.

It’s every player’s dream to play a starring role in the Ashes, and the event’s rich history is the main reason for that.

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