Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Ashes Countdown 99

The first test series that was played between Australia and England in 1882-83, after the 1882 England’s debacle and the The Sporting Life’s obituary which gave birth to the Ashes legend, basically was a contest for the imaginary Ashes. The English fourth estate referred the three test matches tour by England as “ the quest to regain Ashes of English Cricket”. England was led by Hon. Ivo Bligh , who later became Lord Darnley.

Australia, captained by Billy Murdoch, won the 1st test at Melbourne very easily by 9 wickets after enforcing a follow on. England came back with vengeance and won the next test at the same venue by an Innings and 27 runs. England’s Willie Bates putting up an excellent all-round perfromance by making a half century (55) and then claiming 7 wickets in each of Austalia’s two innings including a Hat-trick in the 1st. In the 3rd test of the series played at Sydney, after being set an easy target of 153 runs for victory Australia collapsed to Richard Barlow’s medium pace bowling for 83 there by losing the test by 69 runs. Barlow took 7 for 40. Thus England registered a series victory and regained the imaginary Ashes. That’s exactly where the story of Ashes Urn began.

The English captain, Ivo Bligh, who stayed at the home of one Mr. Fletcher’s family was presented with a velvet bag by Anne Fletcher to keep the imaginary Ashes. Bligh later met some victorian ladies who included his future wife Florence Morphy . They thought the velvet bag alone was not an award enough for the England’s victory over Aussies. Florence and her friends burnt either a bail or a stump and kept the ashes in a silver urn and presented it to Bligh. Bligh handed over the souvneir to the cricketing authorities at Lord’s to be seen by other members. They later returned the urn & the velvet bag back to Bligh. The urn which was supposed to have been kept in the velvet bag remained with Bligh and Florence who got married during Bligh’s next trip to Australia.

No one knew the wherabouts of the urn till 1927, when it resurfaced again with Florence presenting it to MCC after the death of her husband as per his will. The urn and the velvet bag are ever since kept under the safeguard of MCC permanetly in the Long Room at Lord’s in a display cabinet.

The original Ashes urn was never really handed over to the winning captain and did not move from its display since 1927, except for a brief period during 1988 to be displayed in Australia as part of it’s bicentennial celebrations. So with all the hype that is surrounding Ashes, Australia and England have in fact been fighting hard for an imaginary and virtual trophy for more than 124 years.

As weird as it may sound the goblet shaped 4-inch (10 cm) high urn which was supposed to have made its second appearance in Australia during the Ashes tour of 2002/03 was dropped from the squad at the the last mintue because of an injury to its stem between the main body and the foot. X-Rays revealed that there was a 75 year old crack in that area and as per the advice by the experts there was a real risk of the urn breaking down in that condition when subjected to unnecessary movement and changes in humidity and pressure.

The repair work was carried out by Plowden and Smith Ltd as number of cracks on this most valuable cricketing artifact were fixed with surgical precision. Now the urn is all set to tour Australia during the coming Ashes tour. The urn along with its sibling Velvet bag will be displayed in all five major test cricket centers Sydney, Brisbane, Adelaide, Perth and Melbourne as part of an Ashes exhibition.

Though every test series that were played between Australia and England were cricketing battles to hold the Ashes Urn, no trophy was ever awarded to the winner of the series. Only since 1998/99 Ashes series a Waterford crystal trophy, a much bigger replica of the Ashes urn is being awarded to winner of each of the Ashes test series. England won their first trophy last year when they beat Australia by 2-0 margin in one of the most closely contested and extremely entertaining test series of all-time.

If England keeps the original urn which was bequeathed to MCC by Hon. Ivo Bligh permanently with them Australia does have their own precious 24cm replica which was presented to Bradman after his last test series in England which he led them to a 4-0 series win, though he was out for that famous duck in his final innings he did carry back the Ashes urn replica which is currently showcased in Australian Cricket Board’s offices in Jolimont, Melbourne.

Ashes Countdown Factoid 99:

None of the series played before the 1882/83 were considered as Ashes Tests. This includes the 1882 Test at The Oval which started the legend of Ashes. This could be because the Ashes term came in to vogue only after the test match was played and was lost by England in that manner.

A fourth test match was arranged and played at Sydney after England regained the imaginary Ashes by winning the 1882/83 test series which brought the Ashes urn in to its existence. This test may have been arranged to field a much stronger Australian side to beat England which they eventually did by 4 wickets.

The centenary test played at Melbourne during 1976/77 tour which produced exactly the same result as the first ever test match played at the same venue in 1876/77 (A victory for Australia by 45 runs) is not considered as an Ashes Test so is the centenary test played at Lord’s in England in 1980. Also the 1987-88 Sydney test which was played as part of Australia’s Bi-centenary celebrations is not considered as an Ashes Test.

The only test series during which England played 3 or more tests but still not considered as Ashes series was the 1979-80 test series when Australia played both England and West Indies in tandem. England agreed to play that series as part of a deal between ACB and Kerry Packer to end the World Series Cricket under the condition that those tests did not have Ashes status. After all they were holding the Ashes which they won the previous season by beating a very weak Australian side by 5-1 margin and did not want to take the risk of handing it back as the Australian team now included the likes of Chappell brothers, Rodney Marsh, Doug Walters and the terror twins Lillee & Thomson were expected to thrash England in a clean sweep. Their fears were found true as England lost that series by 3-0 margin.

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