Ashes to Ashes: All you need to know about The Ashes Cricket Series
Given the size of the prize handed over to the winning captain, you could be forgiven for thinking The Ashes isn’t a very big deal, but you’d be wrong. In fact, you’d be miles wide of the mark. True, the urn that’s held aloft at the end of the series might be difficult to identify from a long distance but, make no mistake, the five-test series between old rivals England and Australia really matters.
The latest instalment of a series which has been running since 1882 gets underway at Edgbaston on Thursday August 1, with the final Test set for The Oval in September. As always when these two foes meet, there’s plenty at stake.
Only a matter of weeks ago, England fans were jumping into the fountains at Trafalgar Square after watching their team become world champions for the first time in history. The final, against New Zealand, couldn’t have been any more dramatic, with many labelling the contest as the greatest cricket match of all-time.
Australia were sent packing by England at the semi-final stage of that tournament as the hosts produced a devastating performance, and the visitors will be eager to avoid further humiliation, although they go into this series as Ashes holders having romped to a 4-1 victory in 2017/18 Down Under.
On the last occasion the event was played in England, in 2015, the home side edged a tight series by three matches to two, and this one could prove to be just as close, with very little to choose between the teams. The series as a whole could potentially be decided by the finest of margins.
There is a deep-rooted history to the contest, and it’s the competition both sets of players – and fans – really want to win. In truth, for England and Australia, The Ashes arguably holds more significance than even the World Cup, strange when you consider that to win The Ashes you only have to get the better of one team, whereas to come out on top in the World Cup, numerous opponents must be taken care of. However, speak to any genuine England fan, or one of their Aussie counterparts, and you will be left in little doubt as to where their priorities lie in terms of the big cricket events.
The term “Ashes” was first used following Australia’s maiden victory on English soil, at The Oval, in August 1882. A day later, the Sporting Times carried a mock obituary of English cricket, stating: "The body will be cremated and the ashes taken to Australia". Just weeks later an England team, skippered by the Hon Ivo Bligh, headed Down Under, with Bligh expressing his desire to bring the ashes back home, while Australian captain WL Murdoch vowed to defend them. The fact England won two Tests, after losing the first, meant it became generally accepted that they had achieved their aim. From that moment, one of the great sporting rivalries , and The Ashes series, was formed.
The contest is played biennially (every two years) and alternates between the two countries. When England are hosts, it generally takes place during August and September, and when it’s held in Australia, the matches are usually throughout November and December, their summer months.
Results-wise, it’s been pretty evenly balanced in recent years. Of the last four series’, both sides have won two each. Between 2009 and 2013, England won three in a row, but it was Australia who enjoyed a sustained period of dominance from the late 1980s right through to the early part of the 2000s.
The Aussies came out on top in 1989 with what proved to be the first of eight consecutive victories. That period of success was only brought to a halt in 2005 when England, on home soil, secured victory in one of the most dramatic series’ of them all. It was the year when the likes of Freddie Flintoff and Kevin Pietersen rose to prominence, and a series that ended with the victorious England players embarking on an open-top bus parade through the streets of London, before being invited to 10 Downing Street, where Flintoff, famously mistook the garden for a toilet. Not good.
To say the Aussies got their own back in the following series would be something of an understatement as they ruthlessly crushed England 5-0. The British Prime Minister had no troublesome guests to worry about in the wake of that particular mauling.
Down the years some of the game’s all-time greats have showcased their talents during The Ashes. Don Bradman is arguably the greatest cricketer in history, and the iconic Australian figure helped his team overcome England on five separate occasions in the series, while Ian Botham’s Ashes legacy is so significant the former English all-rounder has the entire 1981 series named in his honour after dragging his team back into it when they appeared almost certain to go 2-0 down.
Of course, it’s not just those two, there are countless others. For the Aussies, the likes of Allan Border, Steve Waugh, Shane Warne and Glen McGrath have provided their fans with countless memorable moments, while England supporters will recall with much fondness the contributions of players such as Geoffrey Boycott, Flintoff, Pietersen and James Anderson.
But who are the players, on both sides, expected to shine in the upcoming series? England, as they did in the World Cup, will be looking to Ben Stokes for inspiration. A controversial figure at times, there is no doubting the all-rounder’s ability, and it’s no coincidence he was named Man of the Match in the World Cup final after virtually single-handedly pulling them back into the game when they appeared down and out. Stokes has come a long way in a short space of time. It seems hard to believe that less than a year ago he was fighting to save his career having been caught up in an ugly brawl outside a nightclub in Bristol. It was the latest in a long line of controversial incidents, but the player was cleared of affray, providing him with the platform to get back on the straight and narrow and focus fully on his game. He’s undoubtedly done that and right now himself and his team are reaping the rewards. Having missed the last Ashes series due to those legal issues, he will want to make a positive statement this time around.
Expected to be equally integral to the England team is captain Joe Root, who was also part of the team that won the World Cup. As one of the most talented batsmen in the world, the combination of his ability and experience will be vital if England are to prevail over the course of the series. The prospect of winning both the World Cup and Ashes in the same year is what is driving the team on, according to Root himself: “It would be the pinnacle,” he says. “It’s what we set out to do at the start of the year. And we’re halfway there. There’s a lot of hard work to go but hopefully we can do that. I’m really looking forward to it. It’ll be massive. Especially on the back of the World Cup. It will make it even bigger.”
An interesting strand to the narrative from an Australian perspective is the return to the Test team of disgraced trio Steve Smith, David Warner and Cameron Bancroft, who were all suspended from the game following the infamous ball-tampering scandal in the early part of 2018.
Former skipper Smith and vice-captain Warner served year-long bans, while Bancroft was suspended for nine months following the incident during Australia's tour of South Africa. Both Smith and Warner featured for Australia’s One Day International side during the World Cup, where they received a hostile reception from the England supporters, something which is likely to be repeated during the five-match series, although neither of the trio have appeared in Test matches since they were banned.
All eyes will be on them, and the series is likely to be a serious test of their mental strength as well as physical prowess. However, both Smith and Warner performed well during the World Cup and there are certainly no questions surrounding their all-round ability. If they can be integrated back into the Aussies’ Test side with minimal fuss, and produce the type of form which they are undoubtedly capable of, they could cause England all manner of problems.
Of the rest, Jimmy Anderson, England’s all-time highest wicket taker, could miss the first Test due to injury in what would be a massive blow for the hosts, although the emergence of 24-year-old Jofra Archer, who bowled the decisive super-over in the World Cup final, could soften the blow. Anderson, at 36, could potentially be playing in his last Ashes series.
So, where will the action be taking place? England will be backed by the renowned “Barmy Army”, a hugely vocal supporters’ club who, ironically, were formed during the 1994/95 Ashes series in Australia, who are also likely to boast a strong following given the fact there is estimated to be around 200,000 Aussies living in the UK.
The opening Test takes place at Edgbaston, in Birmingham, the scene of what many believe was Flintoff’s best-ever over, which came during the 2005 series. The Englishman, struggling with a serious shoulder injury at the time, saw off Justin Langer with only his second ball before going on to send the wicket of Ricky Ponting tumbling with a great delivery.
From there, the action moves on to Lord’s, where Bradman scored 254 in 1930 with what he described as the best innings of his career. And there was plenty of competition, let’s be honest.
The third test takes place at Headingley where England, inspired by Botham and Bob Willis, produced the greatest comeback in Ashes history in 1981, before the teams make the short trip to Old Trafford, where in 1993 Warne announced himself to Ashes cricket in unbelievable fashion, dispatching England captain Mike Gatting with his first ball, a truly stunning delivery.
The final, and potentially decisive series, will be held at The Oval, the scene of so many memorable moments in Ashes history, including Bradman’s final Test innings in 1948, when he lasted just two balls, and a brilliant batting performance from Pietersen in 2005. If the scores are level at that point, there will be no more fitting venue in which to see the series out.
Regardless of where your allegiances lie, it appears that what has already been a wonderful summer of cricket is just getting started.
Five of the most memorable Ashes moments
To whet the appetite ahead of the series, we look back at some of the highlights from years gone by…
Australian whitewash - 2006/07
The 2006/07 series began with Steve Harmison bowling a terrible delivery and, for England, it never got any better. Australia crushed the visitors 5-0 Down Under. Humiliation.
Comeback kings - 1981
England looked dead and buried during their second innings and nobody gave them a prayer, but Ian Botham struck 149 not out while Bob Willis bowled eight for 43 to seal the win and cap the greatest comeback in Ashes history.
England’s joy - 2005
England’s victory in 2005 brought an end to a sustained period of Australian dominance after they had come out on top in the previous eight series’. It also propelled the likes of Flintoff, Pietersen and co. into the public spotlight for the first time.
Warne bowls Gatting – 1993
Shane Warne’s first delivery in Ashes cricket was described as the “Ball of the Century” having claimed the scalp of England captain Mike Gatting. The Australian said it changed his life, and it’s easy to see why. Stunning.
Waugh’s perfect century – 2003
In his final Ashes Test match, Australian Steve Waugh answered his critics by scoring a superb century to spark delirious scenes at the SCG.
The Ashes: Where to watch
A sports bar in the traditional mould, this Palm Jumeirah location is spacious, bright and very welcoming. With so many screens to choose from – as well as a great choice of food and drink – you will have every angle covered.
Where: Palm Jumeirah
Contact: +971 4 552 4000
garden on 8
The covers are up due to the heat, but the place was busy for the recent Cricket World Cup and is likely to be once more during The Ashes. With a decent happy hour and enjoyable pub grub, it’s the perfect location.
Where: Media One Hotel
Contact: +971 4 427 1000
A typical British boozer, The Underground boasts plenty of screens, a great selection of drinks and a decent food menu. Watch the games here and you will feel right at home.
Where: Habtoor Grand Resort, Autograph Collection
Contact: +971 4 399 5000
Trophy Room at Fairmont Dubai
A 75-seater sports bar that plays host to 11 screens, you can’t go too far wrong if you watch the action here. Serving up classic British, European and international grub, you won’t want to leave.
Where: Sheikh Zayed Road
Contact: +971 4 311 8316