'The Ashes' Q&A with Tim

While we are all hanging up our festive decorations, frantically seeking last-minute gifts and collectively dreaming of a White Christmas, there is a huge, age-old and world-famous sporting contest taking place on the other side of the globe. A contest that is being played out, for contrast, in an oven-like 40oC for days on end. A contest that has taken place 67 times over 131 years, yet always between the same two nations. A contest to win a terracotta urn 11.2 cm high, inscribed with a short stanza of poetry and containing nothing but charred remains of a cylinder of wood. That which your correspondent so mysteriously refers to is, of course, nothing but cricket’s Ashes Series. 


Your correspondent, being very interested in cricket, has come under his fair share of criticism for his sporting preferences. “How can you play a game for five days but still draw?” is a question commonly thrust in his direction, while “I would rather die than watch it” is a phrase greatly popular with his detractors. In this article, however, he will seek to answer a few commonly asked questions about the Ashes Series, and thus win some readers over to his cause.


What is the Ashes Series?

The Ashes Series (or as most call it, just “the Ashes”) is a set of 5 cricket matches between England and Australia that is held in one of the two countries (on an alternating basis) roughly every one-and-a-half years.


Why is it called “the Ashes”?

On 29th August 1882, Australia defeated England in a match at the Oval cricket ground in London. This was seen as a major humiliation for the English team; in particular, they were lampooned by the newspaper The Sporting Times, who published a mock obituary to the “death of English Cricket”, also its “cremation” and how “the ashes will be taken to Australia”. That winter, England captain Ivo Bligh, declared that he and his team would go to Australia to “take back the Ashes” (causing much confusion in the press, as The Sporting Times was rather obscure, and very few of them were actually aware of the article).


England did indeed go and triumph in Australia, which caused Bligh’s fiancée to present him with a small terracotta urn (many, including your correspondent, believe that this was a former perfume bottle) filled with the ashes of a cricket bail. More than a century later, it is the idea of this legendary urn that is still fought over to this day, with the real urn crumbling into dust in the archives of Lord’s cricket ground.


When would I be able to get in on all this cricket action?

Unfortunately, due to the UK and Australia’s literally polarised nature on the globe, 11 o’clock in the morning in Australia (the host of this winter’s event), normal cricket kick-off time, is the middle of the night over here.  Thus, if you would like to join the cricket club with your correspondent, you will be forced like he to adopt a nocturnal lifestyle, waking at midnight and using matches and copious amounts of strong coffee to listen through the night until about 9 o’clock, when the sane portion of humanity elects to wake.


Who has had dominance over the years?

Interestingly enough, the 67 series between the two nations have been shared exactly equally: there have been 31 series victories each, with 5 draws. Special mention, however, must go to England winning the first 8 series played between the teams before Australia finally got on the scoreboard in 1892, and also Australia’s 16 year period of dominance in from 1989 to 2005, losing only 9 matches while winning 28. 


How is the current series going?

Extremely poorly. The English cricket team, who are on a 3-series winning streak, arrived Down Under with high hopes, but have been completely dismantled by an aggressive and inspired Australian team. The first test (in cricket, matches are called “test matches” or “tests” for short) was held at Brisbane, where England collapsed from a strong position to be crushed by 218 runs, which your correspondent estimates would be the equivalent of a 5-0 defeat in football. They then confidently dismissed all hopes of a comeback in the second test at Adelaide by collapsing even more dramatically from an even stronger position to be utterly crushed by 381 runs, which your correspondent would estimate would be roughly equivalent to the result of a marathon between Mo Farah and a dead snail with cramp.


Admittedly, England’s performance in the third test at Perth is an improvement upon the others (i.e. two days in, they haven’t lost) but, being already 2-0 down, they will have to somehow against all the formbooks win every remaining match in the series to prevent the urn falling into Antipodean hands for the first time since 2007.

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