The Ashes is a test cricket series played between England and Australia. It is one of international cricket’s most celebrated rivalries and dates back to 1882. It is currently played biennially, alternately in the United Kingdom 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, possibly a bail, ball or stump. The Dowager Countess of Darnley claimed recently that her mother-in-law, Bligh’s wife Florence Morphy, said that they were the remains of a lady’s veil.
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.
As of December 2013, Australia is the holder—having won all of the five tests, reclaiming the Ashes with a victory in the third test. The 2013–14 series played in Australia was a rare “back-to-back” follow-up to the 2013 series played in England. Overall, Australia has won 32 series, England 31 and five series have been drawn.