This, in case you weren’t paying attention, is an Ashes summer – the Test match tussle between England and Australia that dates back to 1882 when the visitors won their first Test on English soil.
After that great victory, a newspaper obituary declared English cricket dead, and assured readers that “the body will be cremated and the ashes taken to Australia”.
The ashes of a bail played in that first match was placed in a small (15cm high) terracotta urn and presented to defeated England captain Ivo Bligh.
On the following cricket tour in to Australia, Bligh declared the team was going to reclaim the ashes – starting the contest.
He managed it, winning the following series 2-1.
Since then, England’s fortunes have fluctuated, with the Aussies having the edge on England over the years – winning 128 of the 320 matches, compared to England’s 103 victories.
But what are the most unusual facts about the age-old sporting contest that may have escaped your attention?
Here are our favourites…
When did it all start REALLY?
1882 may have been the first official match but that Australia team wasn’t the first to tour the UK. An 1868 tour composed entirely of Aboriginal players visited these Isles and acquitted themselves admirably, even if The Times snootily dismissed the tour as “a travesty upon cricketing at Lord’s”. The matches drew in the crowds and the visitors won as many matches as they lost – 14 wins, 14 defeats and 19 draws.
The 1882 series was remarkable for the fact that the captains agreed to play on separate pitches for each innings of the game, which as any cricket fan will tell you rather defeats the point of the game. It hasn’t happened since.
England may have been less successful than Australia but we hold the record winning margin in a match: an innings and 579 runs at the Oval in 1938 (though injury robbed the Australians of the great Sir Donald Bradman and opener Jack Fingleton in both innings). Australia’s record win is by an innings and 332 runs came in Brisbane in 1946, with Bradman making 187 and Keith Miller and Ernie Toshack nabbing nine wickets apiece.
The Aussies are fond of dismissing the English as “whingeing Poms”. But England fans can always retaliate to that accusation with the story of Ian Johnson, Australia’s captain in 1956 who tried to get the umpires to suspend play at the Old Trafford Test because of the sawdust on the damp pitch which he claimed blew into his eyes while he batted. Diddums. England’s Jim Laker went on to pulverise the Australians by getting 19-90.
Perhaps the most controversial Ashes series was the infamous 1932-3 bodyline tour of Australia when the England captain Douglas Jardine perfected the art of packing the leg-side field and getting his fastest bowlers – Bill Voce and Harold Larwood – to aim at the upper bodies (and sometimes the heads) of the Australian batsmen. This caused a diplomatic incident – the Australian cricket authorities cabled the Marylebone Cricket Club (or MCC, the bosses of the game) using the dread word “unsportsmanlike”, which ruffled feathers somewhat. The tactic was eventually outlawed. Still, England won the series 4-1 and the threat from the dangerous Don Bradman was neutralised. So we won.
The Bodyline aftermath
What is less known is that former Nottinghamshire miner and Bodyline supremo Larwood never played for England again after the tour and actually moved to Australia with his wife and five children where he got on famously with the locals. Also, the West Indies used a version of the bodyline tactic against Jardine (who was retained as captain – he was posh after all) the following year and he rose to the challenge, scoring his highest ever score against them (127).
Get the beers in
Don Bradman is still regarded as the finest player of the Ashes – and without doubt probably the finest batsman to ever grace the game. But there is another Ashes record won by David Boon – the 1980s tubby, mustachioed Tasmanian batsman who liked a beer. He reputedly sank 52 “tinnies” on the flight to England in 1989. The previous record holder was wicketkeeper Rod Marsh – another ‘tache-sporting hardman who sank a mere 45 cans in 1945. These Aussies, eh? Tut tut.
England will l ALWAYS have the Ashes
Despite frequent complaints from the Aussies the urn has always stayed in England – at Lord’s cricket ground, home of the MCC and indeed cricket. Although it has visited Australia twice – once when it was brought to Sydney for the Bicentenary Test Match in 1988 and secondly in 2006 for the tour of the Ashes Exhibition to each state capital of Australia.
So that was nice for them.
The Ashes is live on Sky Sports throughout the summer with highlights of each day’s play on Channel 5