The Ashes - a history
The World Cup has been run and won, with the most memorable, controversial and overall extraordinary final imaginable concluding what is often regarded as the world's biggest tournament. Talk to cricket traditionalists, however, and they'll refuse to place a 50-over tournament, no matter how big the stakes, over the biggest series' in the longer format of the game - and so it's only appropriate that we move straight onto what is typically regarded as the most important of all Test series in world cricket, at least by the English and Australians. It's time for The Ashes.
England and Australia have competed for The Ashes for almost as long as international cricket itself, with the series between the two sides being dubbed as such in 1882, just five years and nine matches after the first Test they played against one another. The name came when England failed to chase down a fourth innings total of just 85 on a difficult pitch, after which a obituary for English cricket was written by Reginald Shirley Brooks and published in The Sporting Times to celebrate the 'death' of English cricket. A little dramatic, perhaps, but regardless it gave rise to what has, over the course of nearly a century and a half, become the most celebrated and competitive cricket series in the world.
Since 1882, the two sides have competed for The Ashes virtually every year and a half, alternating between Australian and English summer's - with a couple of breaks during notable periods of war, namely in the 1910's and the early 1940's. And remarkably, with 70 series' and well over 300 matches played since, the history of the series is almost locked in a tie, Australia having won 33 times compared to England's 32, and with five drawn series. Australia's match winning percentage is significantly higher - they have won 134 individual games to England's 106, with 90 draws - but at the end of the day, it's the series results which matter.
Following the declaration of the death of English cricket, the Poms responded in kind to win the first eight incarnations of The Ashes. Australia at last recorded its first victory in 1891-92, but the urn returned immediately to England, who won the next three series' to take an overall 11-1 lead. If you're a mathematician, and even if you're not, you'll no doubt be aware that Australia have, since then, been teh dominant side, winning The Ashes 32 times to England's meagre total of 21.
That record has been helped by a couple of period's of particular dominance, initially during the presence of a relatively well-known Australian batsman by the name of Don Bradman, who was a major contributor to the six consecutive series' during which Australia held the Ashes between 1934 and 1950 - five times as a result of a series win, and once a result of a series draw, after which the urn is returned to the previous holder. There was an eight year hiatus during this period as the second World War took place across the globe, which likely limited the damage to England's overall record.
Fast forward to 1989, and Australia came out of a difficult period which saw England win the series five out of six times to go on an eight-series streak which ran through until the famous 2005 series. Australia's dominant team, which boasted the likes of Ricky Ponting, Matthew Hayden, Glenn McGrath and Shane Warne amongst plenty of others during this incredible period, were rarely challenged, winning 28 games in this 15 year span compared to England's seven, and eight draws.
Things have tightened up since, and the last four series have been won by the home side. Heading into this one, the bookies will tell you that that is likely to repeat, with England's home ground advantage the major reason. The two sides are relatively close, theoretically. Both boast significant top end talent, with the likes of Joe Root, Ben Stokes and Jos Buttler headlining England's batting lineup and Stuart Broad and Jimmy Anderson still wreaking some - albeit a little less - havoc with the ball, and Australia significantly bolstered by the return of Steve Smith and David Warner to their batting lineup, and boasting a plethora of world class pace bowlers headlined by Pat Cummins. At the same time, however, the sides both have plenty of issues, with each of their respective batting lineup's appearing vulnerable in certain spots, particularly against the swinging ball and dangerous pace bowling attacks they will face on English wickets against the Duke.
With five matches scheduled over a month and a half, England has the chance to, incredibly, square the ledger at 33 series apiece almost 150 years after the rivalry properly began. What began as a bit of mock journalism turned into cricket folklore, and it's hard to imagine Reginald Shirley Brooks had any idea that after all this time, the series would be as competitively fought as it is, or moreover, that results could be all square heading into the 2020's.