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The Ashes: How a Small Urn Became the Symbol of Cricket Rivalry

The story of two continents, separated by sea, continues to inspire the generations of cricketers and cricket lovers

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Niloy Chattaraj
Niloy Chattaraj
COO of Transcontinental Times, A double gold medalist engineer who covers social issues, science, and Indian history.

AUSTRALIA/UNITED KINGDOM: With Ashes between Australia and England have already begun, it will be quite nostalgic to visit the history of the ‘Ashes’, the oldest cricketing rivalry between the two oldest countries to play cricket.

How a ‘small but special’ urn became the symbol of cricket rivalry between England and Australia, how a love – affair was also the part of the story of ‘Urn’.

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The story of two continents, separated by sea, continues to inspire the generations of cricketers and cricket lovers.

The Beginning 

The term ‘ASHES’ was first used after England lost to Australia – for the first time on home soil – at the oval on 29th august 1882. It was on this day at London’s famous Kennington Oval that an Australian fast bowler Frederick Spofforth ran through the English batting line-up and earned the first win for Australia on English soil.

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His 14 wickets haul was a fantastic effort to beat the Englishmen by seven runs. The Englishmen, including the hulking form of WG Grace, had been skittled out while chasing a paltry target of 85 and Australia had won the Test by seven runs.

The defeat inspired  ‘The Sporting Times’ to denounce the National team with a mock obituary ” In affectionate remembrance of English cricket which died at the Oval on 29th August 1882.”

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It also added, “Deeply lamented by a large circle of sorrowing friends and acquaintances. R.I.P.” Then, crucially, a footnote was added that reads, “The body will be cremated and the ashes taken to Australia”. The concept caught the imagination of the sporting public.

Photo Credit: ECB

A few weeks later, an English team, captained by the Hon Ivo Bligh [later Lord Darnley], set off to tour Australia. During the tour, Bligh vowed to return with “the ashes”. His Australian counterpart, WL Murdoch, similarly vowed to defend them.

‘Ashes’ and a ‘Cupid Tale’

The much-hyped Ashes tour began with a loss for England. They lost the first Test, coming up against the might of big-hitting George Bonnor with the bat and the guile of Joey Palmer with the ball. The skipper Bligh, perhaps still suffering from lethargy, could manage a duck and three.

But, England came back strongly to win the next two Tests. In the third test, Dick Barlow bowled Australia out for 83 in the final innings, ensuring a 69-run win for England. After winning the series 2-1, bails from the final Test were burnt and presented in a small terracotta urn to the captain by a group of Melbourne women.

In this group of women, there was a woman who captured the heart of young Bligh. Bligh soon fell in love with this charming and beautiful, Florence Murphy.

Bligh- Florence cupid tie became the folklore in the parlance of Ashes. For her, Bligh had to convince his parents. The father, mother, and son altercation lasted for more than seven weeks. Finally, parents yielded to their son for the marriage. In between, the English Captain had to travel Australia and back to England twice! Remember those were the days of the sea voyage and it took more than three months.

A ship sailing from Plymouth to Sydney, for example, would cover around 13,750 miles (22,130 km); a fast time for this passage would be around 100 days. 

In February 1884, Bligh married Florence. Shortly afterward, they returned to England, taking the urn – which Bligh always regarded as a personal gift – with them. It stayed on the mantelpiece at the Bligh family home – Cobham Hall, near Rochester in Kent – until Bligh died, 43 years later.

At his request, Florence bequeathed the urn to MCC. It was first displayed in the Long Room before it was moved to the Museum in 1953. This story etched to the history of Ashes and encouraged the future cricketers for the marquee clash.  

Hon Ivo Bligh (left) and right Florence Murphy (right). Photo Credit: ECB

The matter of The Ashes was largely forgotten for two decades after the tour of Australia by Bligh’s side in 1882/83.  It was revived after the 1903/04 series when Pelham Warner, who captained the England side, wrote a book on the tour called ‘How we recovered The Ashes’.

From that day forward, the series between Australia and England would be famously, lovingly known as The Ashes. 

The 72nd series begins at The Gabba in Brisbane on Wednesday, 8 December. there have been 71 Ashes series, Starting in 1882-83. Australia has won 33 times, England has won 32 times with six draws. The last series, in England in 2019, was drawn 2-2. 

Also Read: Melbourne Renegades Defeats Adelaide Strikers by 2 Runs in a Last Over Thriller


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