The Ashes History

From the beginning of Test cricket to the present, an intense cricketing rivalry between Australia and England came to be embodied in the Ashes.

By Bradman Museum & International Cricket Hall of Fame

Sport and Australian Identity - Bradman Museum

Original Ashes Obituary (1882-08-29) by The Sporting Times, LondonBradman Museum & International Cricket Hall of Fame

Although Test cricket officially began in 1877, the term 'The Ashes' was not used until Australia defeated England at The Oval (London) in 1882. England's indignity of losing to Australia on home soil inspired English journalist Reginald Shirley Brooks to pen his now famous mock obituary.

England, beaten at their own game on home soil and by a colonial outpost, created a desperation for England to redeem 'The Ashes' - and established a fierce rivalry in world sport which remains one of the greatest up to the present day.

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Upon winning the next Test series, held in Australia in 1882/83, the captain of England, the Hon. Ivo Bligh, was presented with the an urn, bringing physical form to the mock obituary published in ‘The Sporting Times’ the previous year. Amongst the three Australian ladies who presented the famous Urn, was Lord Darnley's (Ivo Bligh) future wife, Florence Morphy (later Lady Darnley). The famous Urn is housed today at Lord's in England.

Sir Pelham Warner, Bradman Museum Collection, Photograph by E. Hawkins, 1895, From the collection of: Bradman Museum & International Cricket Hall of Fame
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Prior to leaving for the 1882-83 tour of Australia, England’s captain the Hon. Ivo Bligh, promised to “recover those Ashes”. Although Bligh used the term ‘Ashes’ several times during that tour, there is little evidence of the term being used subsequently over the next 20 years until Pelham Warner rejuvenated the term in 1903.

How we recovered the Ashes, Pelham Warner, 1904, From the collection of: Bradman Museum & International Cricket Hall of Fame
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Australian Cricket Team portrait (1902) by Reinhold Theile & Co. 66 Chancery Lane, England - Bradman Museum CollectionBradman Museum & International Cricket Hall of Fame

Intense Rivalry

Some of the most thrilling and intense cricket has been played in 'battles for the Ashes'. The 1902 series is remembered for extremely tight victories and Australia's Victor Trumper’s famous century before lunch; In 1981, England's Ian Botham’s 149 that turned the Test and the series; and the 5-0 whitewash by the Australians in 2006-7 after losing the Ashes in 2005 are potent examples of the exhilarating nature of Ashes cricket.

Don Bradman (1930) by Ken Kelly, Birmingham, EnglandBradman Museum & International Cricket Hall of Fame

The history of the Ashes is centred on an intense rivalry that has championed the strong and exposed the weak, identified heroes and condemned villains, excited the masses and exhibited some of the greatest cricket ever played. This was no more evident than in the 2½ year span from the 1930 series in England to the 1932-33 series in Australia.

The 1930 series revealed the greatness of Don Bradman. His 974 runs at an average of 139.14 was the difference between the two sides that provided victory for his team and installed Bradman as a genuine hero to the Australian people.

Bradman's Amazing Treble Century Billboard (1930-07-12) by Daily Mirror UKBradman Museum & International Cricket Hall of Fame

The image depicts the Daily Mirror front page from 12 July, 1930, highlighting Bradman’s Test World Record 334 at Headingly, Leeds. Charlie Macartney, writing here about ‘The Test Match Sensations’, was Don Bradman’s childhood inspiration. Bradman Museum Collection.

Douglas Jardine. England Cricket Captain, Bodyline. (1932) by Harold Larwood Collection. Bradman Museum. Photographer UnknownBradman Museum & International Cricket Hall of Fame

Bodyline

Enter the villain! The 1932-33 series saw the introduction of an English tactic called Leg Theory to combat Bradman’s run scoring prowess. The Australian press called it 'Bodyline'.

The strategy was devised and implemented by England’s captain, Douglas Jardine (pictured). It called for short, fast bowling directed at the batsman, to a packed leg-side field, often resulting in players being struck in the head or body, causing injury.

The tactic was called 'unsportsmanlike' by the Australian Cricket Board, an accusation energetically refuted by the MCC. However, within a few years the number of fieldsmen permitted between the wicket keeper and square leg were reduced, making Bodyline bowling ineffectual.

Invincibles Team (1948) by The Sport & General Press Agency Racquet Court Fleet Street, London.Bradman Museum & International Cricket Hall of Fame

The Invincibles

In some cases, The Ashes have allowed teams to transcend parochialism. No Test cricket had been played between Australia and England, during the Second World War's six years. When Australia toured the British Isles in 1948, the post-war and cricket-starved public eagerly anticipated the Australian team arriving on their shores, especially considering Don Bradman had announced it would be his final tour.

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(L-R) Standing: Neil Harvey, Sid Barnes, Ray Lindwall, Ron Saggers, Doug Ring, Bill Johnston, Ernie Toshack, Keith Miller, Don Tallon, Sam Loxton. Seated: Keith Johnson (Team Manager), Ron Hamence, Ian Johnson, Lindsay Hassett (Vice Captain), Don Bradman (Captain), Bill Brown, Arthur Morris, Colin McCool, Bill Ferguson (Scorer)

British Royal Family and Invincibles, Keith Johnson Collection - Bradman Museum, 1948, From the collection of: Bradman Museum & International Cricket Hall of Fame
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Australia's Bill Brown presenting England's King George VI and Royal family with a signed bat from the Australian team. 1948.

Don Bradman at team farewell, Savoy Hotel London., Donation Graham Cole, Bradman Museum Collection, 1948, From the collection of: Bradman Museum & International Cricket Hall of Fame
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Don Bradman showing boys how to hold the cricket ball at Australian team farewell lunch, Savoy Hotel London, 20 September 1948. Donation Graham Cole, Bradman Museum Collection.

Bill Brown. Batting in the nets., Keith Johnson Collection - Bradman Museum, 1948, From the collection of: Bradman Museum & International Cricket Hall of Fame
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Australia's Bill Brown batting in the nets in 1948. The popularity of the Invincibles was such that large crowds attended practice sessions.

Headingly Leeds crowd, watching Invincibles (1948-07-22/1948-07-27) by Keith Johnson Collection - Bradman MuseumBradman Museum & International Cricket Hall of Fame

Between April and September, 1948 the Australian team played 32 matches including the 5 Test series won by Australia 4-0 in England. The Australian team remained undefeated throughout the entire tour, an achievement that has never been matched or bettered. It led the famous side being dubbed the ‘Invincibles’.

Regardless of the numerous defeats inflicted by the Australians, many English people look back with great fondness at the 1948 series when Ashes cricket once again returned to their shores.


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Image of crowds watching the 4th Ashes Test at Headingley Leeds UK. July 22 - 27, 1948.

Ashes England Team, MCC Australian Tour (1965/1966) by Frank Boase, photographer.Bradman Museum & International Cricket Hall of Fame

Bringing Out Greatness in Great Players

The Ashes has always been the arena for Australian and English cricketers to prove their greatness and often took on greater importance than playing Tests against other nations.

Players like Herbert Sutcliffe, John Snow and Allan Border, all great players in their own right, performed better in Ashes Test matches compared to their exceptional overall career performances. The Ashes brought out greatness in great players.

The ultimate example of the Ashes bringing out the best in players is the English batsman Ken Barrington, who had a first class batting average of 45, a Test average of 58 and an Ashes average of 64.

Dennis Lillee bowling in the Ashes, Holman Fairfax Collection, Bradman Museum., Russell McPhedran, 1972, From the collection of: Bradman Museum & International Cricket Hall of Fame
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Fast bowler Dennis Lillee was a major contributor to Australia regaining the Ashes in the 1974/75 series. Holman Fairfax Collection, Bradman Museum.

England's Ian Botham batting, Viv Jenkins, Bradman Museum Collection, From the collection of: Bradman Museum & International Cricket Hall of Fame
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With Australia leading the 1981 Ashes series 1-0 after two Tests, England's Ian Botham’s performance in the 3rd Test not only won the Test for England, but turned the series in their favour. Viv Jenkins Collection, Bradman Museum.

Ashes Victory Australian Cricket Team, Philip Brown, 2006/2007, From the collection of: Bradman Museum & International Cricket Hall of Fame
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A jubilant Australian side celebrates after reclaiming the Ashes in 5-0, in the 2006-07 Ashes. Perth, Australia. Image Philip Brown.

Ashes: Brett Lee, Andrew Flintoff (2005) by Tom JenkinsBradman Museum & International Cricket Hall of Fame

The Spirit of Cricket

"Test Cricket is not a light-hearted business, especially that between England and Australia."
Sir Donald Bradman AC

From its inception to the modern day, the Ashes have been the catalyst for the development of cricket. As a tangible representation of tradition and rivalry, the Ashes have established a template for the understanding of the 'spirit of cricket' for all nations, in all forms of the game. The significance of contemporary international Test cricket stands on the shoulders of the Ashes, its legacy and its history.


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Andrew Flintoff (Eng) consoles Brett Lee (Aus) after England narrowly reclaim the Ashes at Edgbaston Test, 2005, breaking Australian dominance in the series. So significant was the win for England that each of their players were honoured with Member of the British Empire (MBE). Image Tom Jenkins.

Bradman Commemorative Ashes Urn (1988) by Mark Kelly Photography. Bradman Museum CollectionBradman Museum & International Cricket Hall of Fame

The Bradman Museum holds what is believed to be the first replica Ashes urn produced by Lords, which was presented to Sir Donald Bradman. He received the urn when the original returned to Australia for the first time in 1988 to coincide with the Bicentenary celebrations.

Sir Donald Bradman ensured that his urn was donated to the Bradman Museum for the benefit of its visitors and appreciation of cricket history.

The Bradman Museum also exhibits many artefacts from the Bodyline series, the Invincibles and the Ashes as a whole, dating back to the 1870s, through to contemporary objects from the most recent Test battles.

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1988 Official Lord's Replica Urn. Donation Sir Donald Bradman, Bradman Museum Collection. Image Mark Kelly.

Credits: Story

Author: Andrew Summerell, Bradman Museum
Art Direction: Monica Donoso, Bradman Museum

© Bradman Museum 2019.

Objects:
Sir Donald Bradman replica Ashes urn, Donation Sir Donald Bradman. Bradman Museum Collection. Photograph Mark Kelly. BM 1995.138
Book: 'How we recovered the Ashes' by PF Warner. Bradman Museum Library Collection.
1902 Australian Cricket Team portrait. Photographer unknown. Bradman Museum Collection. BM 1989.081
Billboard: Daily Mirror UK 1930.
Photograph: Douglas Jardine 1932.Harold Larwood Collection. Bradman Museum Collection.
1948 Invincibles Team Portrait. Sport * General Press Agency London. Bradman Museum Collection.
Photograph: Don Bradman, in 1930 Australian Blazer. Photography Ken Kelly. Bradman Museum Collection. BM 1996.156
Photograph: Australians with King George VI. Keith Johnson Collection. Bradman Museum Collection. BM 1995.083.46
Photograph: Don Bradman at Savoy Hotel 1948. Keith Johnson Collection. Bradman Museum Collection. BM 2002.006
Photograph: Bill Brown batting in nets. Keith Johnson Collection. Bradman Museum Collection. BM 1995.083
Photograph: Headingley crowd 1948. Keith Johnson Collection. Bradman Museum Collection. BM 1995.083.48
Photograph: M.C.C 1965-66 Team portrait. Frank Boase photography. Bradman Museum Collection. BM 1996.210
Photograph: Dennis Lillee 1974/75. Holman Fairfax Collection. Bradman Museum Collection. BM 2002.006
Photograph: Ian Botham. Viv Jenkins Collection. Bradman Museum Collection. BM 2002.006
Photograph: 2006/07 Australian Ashes team. Photograph Philip Brown.
Photograph: 2005 Brett Lee, Andrew Flintoff. Photograph Tom Jenkins.
Image: Original Ashes 'Obituary' 1882. The Sporting Times, London.

Videos:
Bodyline 1932/32 Series: Footage :: Bradman Museum Collection
Australian Ashes Test team meet Royal family :: Leeds 1948. Bradman Museum Collection
Don Bradman :: Last Innings, 1948. Bradman Museum Collection

Archive footage authorised for use by Bradman Museum for non-commercial gain.

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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