Learn about the Ashes Test cricket series played between England and Australia.

The Ashes are the oldest and – despite Australia’s world dominance in recent years – most venerated contest in cricket. The match now accepted as the first Test ever played was in Melbourne in 1877. Australia beat England by 45 runs, a margin coincidentally repeated when the two sides met on the same ground 100 years later. But the idea of the Ashes was not born until 1882, when England lost a low-scoring classic at The Oval amid such tension that one spectator allegedly chewed through the handle of his umbrella.

Who knows whether the famous urn would have eventually come into being had not Dr WG Grace, England’s Champion, been called to a case when he should have been padding u.p, precipitating a ten-minute delay. According to contemporary lore, George Eber Spendlove died of a haemorrhage despite Grace’s ministrations, no doubt upsetting the Doctor’s equilibrium. Although he top-scored with 32 in England’s second innings, “The Demon” Frederick Spofforth took the honours for Australia with 14 wickets in the match.

A few days later the following obituary notice appeared in “The Sporting Times”.

So they became a subliminal notion, and reality soon followed. Amid general recrimination following England’s defeat, the Honourable Ivo Bligh offered to take a team to Australia for three matches the following winter. At a dinner in Melbourne, which preceded the series, Bligh rose to reveal the nature of his quest. “We have come to beard the kangaroo in his den, and try to recover those Ashes.”

Although the reference met with general mystification, Bligh was as good as his word. England came back from a nine-wicket defeat in the opener to win the series two-one, but it was a legendary encounter at Rupertswood – the country home in Sunbury of milliona1re rancher Sir William Clarke -which proved to have far-reaching consequences both for Anglo-Australian rivalry and for Bligh himself. He was introduced to Miss Florence Rose Morphy, a music teacher to Sir William’s family, who was sufficiently interested in the game to f allow the fortunes of Bligh and England in the ensuing series.

What perplexed her and other ladies of the household was -how England could be in Australia playing for a trophy that did not actually exist. So after the third Test they burnt a bail, or perhaps a ball, or possibly Florence’s veil, as stated by her 82-year-old daughter-in-law in 1998. They placed the ashes in a tiny urn, which they duly presented to Bligh. As a romantic footnote, he later married Florence and the two lived as the Earl and Countess of Darnley at Cobham Hall in England, where Bligh took the urn. Two years after his death in 1927, the Countess bequeathed it to the MCC. But the fame of its contents might be said to have flickered only gradually into life, while the unending struggle for supremacy between England and Australia was already assuming Herculean proportions. England were to retain the Ashes over another seven series and almost a decade after 1882/3, but since then Australia have had much the better of successive contests. They held them for a record 19 years (admittedly including the Second World War) from 1934, another 12 from 1953, and after regular exchanges in the 1970s and 80s, they have retained them since 1989.

Records abound, both collective and individual. There was England’s monumental 903 for seven at The Oval in 1938, built around Len Hutton’s 364, which eclipsed even Don Bradman’s 334 made at Headingley eight years earlier. Bradman’s genius is reflected in the fact that he still features in the most prolific Ashes partnerships (with Ponsford, Fingleton, Hassett and Barnes) for the second, third, fourth, fifth and sixth wickets. And England’s incomparable

The passion generated by the contest has at times exceeded what many would term reasonable limits, most infamously in the Bodyline series of 1932/3, when Douglas Jardine’s adoption “leg theory” fast bowling injured diplomatic relations as well as Australian batsmen. A 1110 re recent encounter degenerated into near farce when Dennis Lillee, already established as one of the game’s greatest fast bowlers, elected to showcase an aluminium bat in a Test match at Perth. The England captain, Mike Brearley, was not amused, and the bat’s useful life proved strictly limited. The remarkable history of the urn itself has not been without incident in the past decade. Amid gathering calls for whoever holds the Ashes to hold the urn as well, MCC commissioned a Waterford glass trophy of greater size but identical shape, which was first presented to the Australian captain Mark Taylor after the 1998-99 series. It has been presented to the winning captain at the end of each series since. The original urn has undergone extensive restoration after damage was caused to the stem by adhesive from a previous repair, and although there are plans for it to be displayed in Australia, it is now reinstated in the MCC Museum at Lord’s, its home for over 75 years.