The Ashes: Alll You Need to Know

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What You Need to Know

  1. The Ashes is the oldest rivalry in international cricket. Every four years (give or take), Australia and England face off against one another over the course of five Test matches
  2. The competition alternates between the two countries and the five Tests are always held in different locations. In England, matches are always held at The Oval (the 'home of cricket) and Lord's, while Nottingham, Birmingham, Manchester and Durham are among the other regular host cities
  3. In 2015, England once again host the Ashes. The series takes place from 8 July to 24 August. For the second time, Wales will host some of the action, with the opening Test to be played in Cardiff
  4. Since the first contest was held in 1882, England have won 31 times to Australia's 32 victories. The series has been drawn on five occasions
  5. Over the decades, the Ashes has produced more than its fair share of heroes, villains and memorable moments. Aussie sporting legend Donald (Don) Bradman is by some distance the most successful Ashes batsman, hitting more than 5,000 runs in the contest
  6. Another Aussie legend has the honour of being the most successful Ashes bowler. Shane Warne claimed 195 wickets in the competition, a figure that is unlikely to be matched any time soon
  7. As well as drawing sell-out crowds and a huge global TV audience, the Ashes is also hugely popular with sports betting enthusiasts. The contest is exciting, dramatic and tense, and makes for great betting. And, thanks to online betting, you can bet in-play and even from the comfort of your own home or place of work

What Are the Ashes?

The Ashes pits cricket’s longest standing rivals against each other in a series of five test matches that are invariably full of twists, turns, heroes, villains, plenty of drama and the odd bit of exceptional prowess too. If you’re English or Australian, then the ashes is the single bigges0t event on the cricket calendar.

In this guide we talk you through the history of the contest, it’s modern format and look at some of the outstanding achievements that have occurred in Ashes tests.


The Ashes owes its distinctive name to some rather flowery and morbid reporting. After Australia won their first ever match on English soil at The Oval in 1882, The Sporting Times wrote a tongue in cheek obituary mourning the death of English Cricket. It went as follows:

“In Affectionate Remembrance of English cricket which died at the Oval on 29th August 1882, Deeply lamented by a large circle of sorrowing friends and acquaintances R.I.P. N.B. The body will be cremated and the ashes taken to Australia.”

It was a dramatic defeat, not just because it was the first time England had lost at home to Australia, but because it was the result of a remarkable comeback. Australia, had collapsed in their second winnings and England needed only 85 to win, but, thanks to a heroic performance by bowler, Fred Spoffroth, they ended up falling 10 short of the total required.

The England captain, Bligh, vowed he would win back the Ashes when he took his team to the southern hemisphere the next year. After he successfully won the series he was presented with a small urn by an Australian fan named Florence Morphy, who joked it contained ‘the ashes of Australian cricket’. (She later married Bligh.)

The phrase ‘the ashes’ was then forgotten about until 1903 when Pelham Warner, who was leading England on a tour of Australia, promised to win back the ashes, calling on the spirit of Bligh’s earlier tour. After winning the series he released a book titled ‘How We Regained The Ashes’ and from that point on the name stuck.

No one is completely sure exactly which was the original urn, of if the details of the story are completely accurate, but a terracotta urn was given by Florence Bligh to the MCC museum in Lord’s, where it is kept today. In the modern era, winning sides have been presented with a replica urn by way of a trophy. The urn itself and the replicas are very small, making the ashes the most diminutive trophy of any major sporting contest. It is said to contain the ashes of a cricket bail, but again, this something no one is entirely sure of.

Format of The Ashes

The series consist of five Test matches, all of which are played in a different venue in the host country, with rest breaks in between. Usually the matches start on a Thursday and finish on a Monday, but this can vary. Of course, though all tests are scheduled for five days of play, many are shorter. Sometimes weather will stop play for a day or more (especially in England, with its unpredictable summers) and other times things don’t go all the way due to a team securing victory early.

Each country hosts the Ashes every four years, but with cricket being a game that requires fair weather and the two nations in question being in different hemispheres, it’s impossible to have the series evenly spaced apart. So, England host it in odd numbered summers (2005, 2009 and 2013 being the most recent three – all of which were home victories) whilst Australia will host it in the winter of the following year. As the contest is a drawn out affair, when it’s played in Australia, it spans across the calendar, running through the festive period into the new year. 2006-2007, 2009-2010 were played in Australia.

As the Cricket World Cup is also staged on a four year cycle, it is sometimes necessary to bring the Ashes forward a year. For example, the last series took place in Australia over the winter of 2013-2014, less than six months after the last series had finished in England.

Individual Battles and National Pride

Part of the glory of the Ashes format is that it takes the best part of a summer (or winter when it’s being hosted down under) to play out. Test cricket is all about running battles anyway; the individual contests between particular bowlers and batters ; the psychological war between captains trying to second guess each other’s moves with regards to things like declaring, setting a field and bringing different bowlers into the attack – when the contest is stretched out over five Tests, these battles really have time to develop and become deeply nuanced.

For instance, a batter may come out and knock a bowler all around the ground in one of the early Tests, only to find that weaknesses in his technique have been discovered in the next couple of matches. By the same token, individual spells of brilliance can change the course of a test, or even a series. (Monty Panesar and Jimmy Anderson’s heroic last wicket stand at Cardiff in 2009, or Ian Botham’s 149 not out followed by Bob Willis’ eight wickets for 43 runs at Headingley in 1981 spring to mind as great examples.)

Another important facet of the Ashes format is that, though the winner is determined by who claims the best of five tests, it doesn’t stop once one team has secured victory. If it is 3-0 after the first three tests the last two are still played. Given the rivalry between teams, pride is a big factor, meaning each test is hard fought regardless of the wider campaign. For example, no side wants to suffer the indignity of a whitewash (the term for a 5-0 loss) so even if a side has fallen 4-0 behind, they will keep fighting (unless their spirit has been totally broken, in which case heads will roll).

In terms of scoring the series, in the result of a draw neither team takes a point. So, if all the matches ended in a draw (which would be a bit of disaster in terms of entertainment) the score would be 0-0, rather than 5-5. If the series ends up tied, then there is no extra decider, and there is no metric for measuring a winner based on the matches played. The Ashes are simply retained by whoever won them last. This gives a theoretical advantage to the holders, however, though keeping hold of the urn is important, it is still always a priority to win the series outright regardless.

Home advantage, does tend to make a difference. Given that the specific ground being played on and the climate during a match make more difference in cricket more than any other sport, things are generally tougher for the tourists. It also has to be remembered that playing away in an Ashes series (for most players) entails spending months away from home on the other side of the world, camped in a country hoping very much that they’ll lose.

Venues in England and Australia

The same grounds are not always used in each series, and things can change year on year. However, certain grounds are mainstays and it is traditional to hold certain Tests at certain grounds.

When the series takes place in England, the grounds used are; The Oval, Lord’s, Old Trafford, Edgbaston, Old Trafford, The Riverside and Headingley. In 2009 Sophia Gardens in Cardiff was used, the first time an Ashes match has been played outside of either of the competing countries.

Lord’s, which is often referred to as the spiritual home of cricket, is almost always used for the Second Test of the series. When they play a part Trent Bridge and Headingley tend to stage the Third and Fourth Tests respectively, whilst The Oval, overlooked by those iconic gas holders, is usually the venue for the final Test.

In Australia, the grounds are the The Gabba, The Adelaide Oval, The WACA, The MCG and The SCG. The MCG is used for the Fourth Test, known as the 'Boxing Day Test' because it starts immediately after Christmas and the SCG hosts the Fifth and final 'New Year Test’ in January.

The 2015 Ashes

In the summer of 2015 the Ashes will be played in England and, for the second time in history, in Wales, as well. The series will take place over the course of seven weeks, following the standard format. The dates and venues for the 2015 Ashes are as follows:

  • First Test: 8-12 July, Sophia Gardens, Cardiff
  • Second Test: 16-20 July, Lord's Cricket Club, London
  • Third Test: 29 July-2 August, Edgbaston, Birmingham
  • Fourth Test: 6-10 August, Trent Bridge, Nottingham
  • Fifth Test: 20-24 August, The Oval, London

Given the manner in which Australia won the 2013/14 Ashes (a 5-0 whitewash in front of their home fans), they are the big favourites to win the 2015 series. Whether they will manage another 5-0 win, or whether England's players can win back a bit of respect and give their own fans something to cheer about remains to be seen.

For more on the latest meeting between the two old foes, as well as information on how you can watch the action and also how you can maybe win some money by betting on it, check out this comprehensive guide to the Ashes 2015.

Facts and Records

With more than 125 years' of history, the Ashes has produced some memorable occasions, not least when it comes to turning players into heroes. Over the decades, a number of big and not-so-big name players have written their names into Ashes history, while a number of whole teams have also added their names to the history book. Here are just a few facts and records from the long, colourful history of the biggest rivalry in world cricket:

  • At present, since the first time the series was played in 1882, the Ashes have been won 31 times by England and 32 times by Australia. The series has been drawn five times.
  • England hold the record for the highest ever score in an Ashes innings. They put up 903 runs for seven wickets before declaring first time out at The Oval in 1938. Unsurprisingly, this match also saw the biggest ever margin of victory, with England winning by a colossal innings and 579 runs.
  • In 1902 Australia collapsed, losing all their wickets for 36 runs during their second innings at Birmingham, the lowest scoring of all time.
  • The narrowest victory in Ashes history was fairly recently, coming in the 2005 series (widely regarded as one of the best ever, and certainly the most exciting of modern times). England claimed the last wicket they needed with a lead of just two runs remaining. No Ashes test has ever been tied.
  • Donald Bradman who, in various comparative studies has been hailed not only as the most successful batsman of all time, but also the most successful sportsman to play any game, holds the record for most runs in the competition with 5,028. To put that in context, the second closest is JB Hobbs who trails him by almost 1,400 runs having played 8 more innings. Bradman’s average in Ashes tests is 90, another record.
  • With 19 centuries, Bradman holds yet another Ashes record. In the 1930 series he put up 974, one more unmatched achievement.
  • You don’t have to go as far back in history to find the most successful bowler. Shane Warne took 195 wickets between 1993 and 2007, one of which was hailed as ‘the ball of the century’. It was his first ever Ashes delivery.
  • Over the course of a single innings the best statistics for a bowler belong to JC Laker. In 1956 match he bowled 51 overs, conceded just 53 runs and took all of the wickets. In the other innings in the same match he took 9 for 37, giving him 19 for 90 overall. The match, which took place at Old Trafford is remembered as ‘Laker’s Match’. He took 46 wickets in that series, a record that stands today. In recognition of this achievement he became the first cricketer to win the BBC sports personality of the year. Only one other bowler has ever taken 10 in an innings and no one else has ever taken more than 17 in a match.
  • The 1981 series is known as ‘Botham’s Ashes’, due to his exceptional all round performance which brought England victory (in the middle of the 3rd Test bookies were offering odds of 500-1 on England to win, something they regretted once Botham took it by the scruff of the neck). However, despite excellent performances with both the bat and the ball, the only record he actually holds is in the field. With 54 catches in Ashes test, nobody else has had such prolific or safe hands.
  • SE Gregory gets the Ashes attendance award. Having played in 52 matches, he’s the record holder in terms of experience. He also holds the record for the most runs scored in a lost test, with 201.

Further Reading


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