The Ashes is one of the most renowned competitions in international cricket. The Test match series is played between England and Australia every year for the prestigious Ashes trophy.
The first-ever Test match was played between the two teams in the year 1877, although the Ashes legend was born in the year 1882. That year, the Australian team played only a single Test match at The Oval, London. The wicket was difficult and it was a low-scoring match. Australia made just 63 runs in the first innings, while England scored 101 runs in theirs, taking a 38-run lead. In the second innings, Australia managed to get to 122 runs, so England just needed 85 runs to win the match.
It was almost assured that the Englishmen would dominate the second innings, but the Australian team was determined to turn things around because of an unsporting incident that happened in the previous innings. It was a moment of controversy when England champion William Gilbert Grace had run out Australian batsman Samuel Percy Jones even though he was not trying to complete a run. This infuriated the Australians, especially Fred Spofforth, who was their finest pace bowler at the time. “The Demon Bowler” Spofforth assured his teammates that, “this thing can be done”.
After an hour of the final innings, England were still the favorites to win the match, needing just 34 runs with 7 wickets in hand. Grace was still at the crease and it seemed certain to go their way. However, things took an interesting turn when Grace’s wicket fell, which led to the collapse of the rest of the batsmen. Eventually, the English team fell short of the target by just 7 runs. This was one of the most infamous defeats of the English team, which eventually led to one of the biggest rivalries in cricketing history.
After seeing how the Australian team emerged as champions on English soil for the first time, a young London journalist named Reginald Shirley Brooks wrote a mock obituary in the Sporting Times. It said, “In affectionate remembrance of English cricket which died at The Oval, 29th August 1882. Deeply lamented by a large circle of sorrowing friends and acquaintances, RIP. NB The body will be cremated and the Ashes were taken to Australia.” This sparked the initial flame to have a bilateral Test series, although it is said that arrangements were already made for the English team to play in Australia, even before the historic defeat at The Oval.
Led by Hon. Ivo Bligh, 8th Earl of Darnley, the England team came back with a bang after losing the first match in Australia. As they won the Test series, it became generally accepted that the Englishmen brought the Ashes back home. This led to the inception of the highly esteemed Ashes trophy.
For a long time, it was believed that the Ashes trophy, a small urn that contained the ashes of a bail that was used in the final match between England and Australia in Melbourne, was presented to Ivo Bligh after they won the series. However, recent reports suggest that the urn was gifted to him even before the Test series had begun. Australian socialite and philanthropist, Lady Clarke, presented the small urn containing ashes to Bligh after the conclusion of a social match that he played at Sir William Clarke’s Rupertswood estate in Sunbury, Victoria.
There have been several theories regarding what was burned to create the ashes in the urn – a stump, a bail, a ball’s cover, and even the Lady’s veil. No matter what it was, the modest gift became one of the most iconic cricketing trophies ever created. The Ashes urn was in Ivo Bligh’s possession until his death in the year 1927. After his demise, his wife Florence Morphy donated it to the Marylebone Cricket Club (MCC).
The Ashes urn, although not officially recognized as a cricket trophy, is one of the most celebrated artifacts in sports. The original urn is kept at the Lord’s Cricket Ground, which attracts more than 50,000 visitors each year to the MCC museum. The text on the Ashes urn reads, “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.”
Although it initially started as a joke by the media and involved opposing players, the Ashes legend eventually became one of the most renowned icons of cricketing history. A replica of the urn was made in the year 1998-99 in order to preserve the original Ashes urn. It now serves as the Ashes trophy, which is given to the winning team of the cricket Test series between Australia and England.
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