The legend behind The Ashes
May 5, 1993 -- The Ashes – a small terracotta urn less than five inches high containing the burnt remains of just one wooden bail – enjoys a unique importance in the cricketing world as the traditional symbol of the rivalry between England and Australia.
In the late nineteenth century England was used to cricketing pre-eminence. It was, after all, the English national game, introduced to and played throughout the British Empire. The countries of the Empire might occasionally beat the masters but superiority was unthinkable.
The first test matches between England and Australia took place in 1877 in Melbourne. Honours were even, both teams winning one match apiece. Buoyed by this success, the first official Australian team visited England the following year, the first of a series of biennial visits. There was no official ‘test’ match in 1878 but England duly beat the visitors by five wickets in 1880. Two years later, on a rain-sodden pitch at the Oval, an English victory again appeared a formality – the team requiring only 85 runs in their second innings to maintain their unbeaten home record. It may be difficult to appreciate today but the shock and dismay in 1882 when the team was bowled out 7 runs short of the target can hardly be overestimated.
The following day a mock obituary notice appeared in the Sporting Times proclaiming the death of English cricket. The ‘body’ was to be cremated and the ashes taken to Australia. That winter, an English team captained by the Hon. Ivo Bligh, later the 8th Earl of Darnley, toured Australia determined to restore national pride by recovering these imaginary ashes. Australia won the first match but England took the following two. At the conclusion of the third match, a group of Melbourne ladies, including a Miss Florence Rose Morphy, burnt one of the match bails, put the ashes into a small brown pottery urn and presented it to Ivo Bligh.
Bligh subsequently married Florence and it was she who, following her husband’s death in 1927, presented The Ashes to the Marylebone Cricket Club at Lord’s. They are kept in the Memorial Gallery regardless of which country is the current holder – a permanent reminder of a piece of cricketing history. (Story: Julie Mullins)