The Ashes is a Test cricket series dating back to 1882. It is played between England and Australia and is one of the most fiercely contested tournaments in cricket. It is played biennially, with the venue alternating between the United Kingdom and Australia. Cricket is a summer sport and with the settings being on the opposite sides of the globe, the break between series alternates between 18 and 30 months.
A series of The Ashes is made up of five Test matches, two innings per match, under the regular rules for international Test-match cricket. If a series is drawn then the country already holding the Ashes retains them.
The term 'Ashes' was first used after England first lost to Australia on home soil at The Oval on 29th August 1882. The following day, the Sporting Times carried a mock obituary stating that English cricket had died, and the body will be cremated and the ashes taken to Australia. The English media dubbed the next English tour to Australia (1882?83) as the quest to regain The Ashes. The English team, captained by The Hon. Ivo Bligh, who went on to become the 8th Earl of Darnley, set off to tour Australia, with Bligh vowing to return with "the ashes". Meanwhile his Australian counterpart, WL Murdoch, similarly vowed to defend them. It was on this tour that Bligh met his future wife Florence Morphy, who he married in February 1884.
Publicity surrounding the series was intense. Australia won the First Test by nine wickets, but in the next two England was victorious. At the end of the Third Test, England was generally considered to have "won back the Ashes" 2?1. A fourth match was played, against a "United Australian XI", which was arguably stronger than the Australian sides that had competed in the previous three matches; this game, however, is not generally considered part of the 1882-83 series. It was counted as a Test, but as a standalone.
During that tour a tiny terracotta urn was presented to Ivo Bligh by a group of Melbourne women. The contents of the urn are reputed to be the ashes of an item of cricket equipment, possibly a bail, ball or stump. However, recently The Dowager Countess of Darnley claimed that her mother-in-law, Florence Morphy, said that they were the remains of a lady's veil.
The urn is believed by some to be the trophy of the Ashes series, but it has never been formally recognised as such. Bligh always considered it to be a personal gift and it stayed on the mantelpiece at the Bligh family home until Bligh died, 43 years later. Upon his death, his widow presented the urn to the MCC. The tiny urn now resides in the MCC Museum at Lord's
Since the 1998-99 Ashes series, a Waterford Crystal representation of the Ashes urn has been presented to the winners of an Ashes series as the official trophy of that series. Mark Taylor was first to be presented with the trophy after his Australian side emerged triumphant in the 1998-99 Test series.
England currently holds The Ashes, after defeating Australia 2-1 to regain them in the 2009 Ashes series which began in Cardiff and finished in London.