It all started after a satirical obituary published in a British newspaper, The Sporting Times, in 1882 after a match at The Oval in which Australia beat England on an English ground for the first time and has grown into the cricketing phenomenon that is the Ashes.
Sub-editors at the London newspaper could never have imagined the impact their satirical death notice would have, which read
“In Affectionate Remembrance of English cricket, which died at the Oval on 29th August, 1882...the body will be cremated and the ashes taken back to Australia.”
The message prompted a group of Australian women to present the Honourable Ivo Bligh, the England tour captain, with an urn the following winter, which is reputed to contain either the ashes of a ball, a bail or a veil, depending on which legend you believe.
The urn is erroneously believed by some to be the trophy of the Ashes series, but it has never been formally adopted as such and Bligh always considered it to be a personal gift.
Replicas of the urn are often held aloft by victorious teams as a symbol of their victory in an Ashes series, but the actual urn has never been presented or displayed as a trophy in this way. Whichever side holds the Ashes, the urn normally remains in the Marylebone Cricket Club Museum at Lord's since being presented to the MCC by Bligh's widow upon his death.
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.
The first Test match between England and Australia was played in 1877, though the Ashes legend started later, after the ninth Test, played in 1882.
The Australians were greatly demoralised by the manner of their second-innings collapse, but fast bowler Fred Spofforth, spurred on by some gamesmanship by his opponents, refused to give in. "This thing can be done," he declared. Spofforth went on to devastate the English batting, taking his final four wickets for only two runs to leave England just eight runs short of victory in one of the closest finishes in the history of cricket.
When Ted Peate, England's last batsman, came to the crease, his side needed just ten runs to win, but Peate managed only two before he was bowled by Harry Boyle. An astonished Oval crowd fell silent, struggling to believe that England could possibly have lost to a colony. When it finally sank in, the crowd swarmed onto the field, cheering loudly and chairing Boyle and Spofforth to the pavilion.
The momentous defeat was widely recorded in the British press, which praised the Australians for their plentiful "pluck" and berated the Englishmen for their lack thereof.
The Start of Ashes.
On 2 September a more celebrated mock obituary, written by Reginald Brooks under the pseudonym "Bloobs", appeared in The Sporting Times. It read:
Bligh promised that on the tour to Australia in 1882–83, which he was to captain, he would regain "the ashes". He spoke of them several times over the course of the tour, and the Australian media quickly caught on. The three-match series resulted in a two-one win to England, notwithstanding a fourth match, won by the Australians, whose status remains a matter of ardent dispute.
In the 20 years following Bligh's campaign the term "The Ashes" largely disappeared from public use. There is no indication that this was the accepted name for the series, at least not in England. The term became popular again in Australia first, when George Giffen, in his memoirs (With Bat and Ball, 1899), used the term as if it were well known.