The history of the Ashes cricket matches, one of the great sporting rivalries
Cricket is, perhaps, one of those sports you either understand, or you are mystified by. The Ashes test series is the biggest event in the English cricket calendar, and one of the most fiercely-contested international cricket events.
Even people who don’t follow cricket much as a general rule, pay serious attention when the test matches come along, every other year.
The series started from a sarcastic newspaper comment in 1882, when Australia beat England for the first time on English soil, at The Oval, a cricket ground in London, just south of the Thames.
The Sporting Times published an obituary about the death of English cricket, stating that “the body will be cremated and the ashes taken to Australia”. When the English test team toured Australia in the next-but-one Australian summer, the English papers talked about “the quest to regain The Ashes”.
Taking the joke to extreme lengths, some Australian women presented the then-English cricket captain with an urn, containing ashes, variously said to be the ashes of wickets, bats, or bails. The captain’s widow later gave the urn and ashes to the Marylebone Cricket Club at Lord’s test cricket ground, where it remains to this day.
Since 1882, the English and Australian cricket teams have played each other on their home ground every other year, taking it in terms to host the series of test matches. Thus it was last held in England in the summer of 2005, and again this summer, 2009.
What is a test match?
There are currently ten test match teams. They are England, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, Zimbabwe (suspended for political reasons), Pakistan, India, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, and the West Indies. Kenya is a future test country, and has been so since 2003. It has yet to become one, though.
A test match lasts for a maximum of 5 days, and it’s quite possible, after that time, to have a draw. If one side wins, it can finish earlier. For example, the concluding and decisive test in the 2009 Ashes series ended late on Day Four, when England won both the test and the series.
Each side, consisting of 11 people, has 2 innings. An innings does not last for a determined time, but until 10 players are declared “out”, or the team “declares”, which means they think they have a high enough score and let the other side have a turn, so that they can try to get that side out, and win.
The team who is batting sends 2 players onto the ground, one at each end of the wicket. The fielding team has all 11 players on the ground, bowling, fielding, and wicket-keeping. 6 balls are bowled from one end of the wicket, which makes an over. After the over, the players switch sides and the next over is bowled from the other end.
A player can be out if he is bowled (the ball hits the wickets, the sticks with bails on top which he is defending), if he is caught, meaning he hits it and someone catches it before it touches the ground, if he is run out, or if he is leg-before-wicket (LBW) meaning that the ball hits his leg when it would otherwise have hit the wicket, had the leg not been in the way.
The batsmen score runs. If one of them hits the ball, they both run between the wickets, swapping ends, and that is one run. If they have time before the ball is fielded, they can run up to 6 times and score 6 runs.
The batsmen can also score runs without having to run, if they hit the ball hard and far enough. If it goes over the boundary without having touched the ground since it left the bat, that’s 6 runs. If it touches the ground first, that’s 4.
If the wicket is knocked over by the ball, either thrown by a fielder or held by one, while the batsman is not close enough, he is run out.
In order to win a test match, the team has to both score more runs that the other team, and also bowl them all out twice.
So, for example, in the Oval test which finished today, the match score was “England 332 & 373-9 d bt Australia 160 & 348 by 197 runs”. That means that England, who batted first, got 332 runs in their first innings, all out. They carried on batting until 10 of the 11 players were out, which is the end of the innings, as you need 2 batsmen, one at each end. Australia were 160 runs all out in their first innings.
In the second innings, England got 373 runs, and 9 batsmen were out. They then “declared”, meaning that they thought they had enough runs to win, and therefore wanted a chance to bowl the Aussies out and win the test match. In their second innings, Australia were all out for 348, and therefore lost by 197 runs.
A test match is usually played for 6 hours a day, in sessions of 2 hours each. The morning session is followed by lunch, then another 2 hour session follows, with the third taking place after tea. If it is raining, play stops, and if time’s been lost because of bad weather, they might play longer on other days.
So what is the Ashes series, today?
The Ashes series has involved, over the last 130-odd years, a varying number of matches. It has been fixed for some time at 5 test matches, which each last a maximum of 5 days.
The 5 test matches are held in 5 different places. In England, one is always at Lord’s, and the last at the Oval. Other commonly-used grounds are Edgbaston (Birmingham), Headingly (Leeds) Old Trafford (Manchester) and Trent Bridge (Nottinghamshire). This year, the first test was played in Cardiff, the first time the ground has been used for an Ashes test.
The 2009 Ashes series
ENGLAND WON! That’s the important thing, anyway. They regained the Ashes after having been frankly thrashed in Australia, in the 2006-2007 series.
Two tests ended in a draw, one in an Australian win, and two, including the final, with an English win.