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The Ashes … one of the greatest sporting rivalries of all time gets underway in Australia

In Test cricket, nothing comes bigger than the Ashes.  Indeed, it is one of the iconic sporting events in the world, rivalled only by the football World Cup, the Olympics and the British and Irish Lions rugby union tours.  The Ashes, contested between England and Australia, dates back to the late 1800s but is still as relevant as ever.  The latest series started overnight in Brisbane.

The history of the Ashes is rich with incident and controversy.  The bodyline series in the 1920s, when England bowled ultra-aggressively at Australia’s batsmen, almost caused a diplomatic row between the two countries.  In 1971, England’s fast bowler John Snow was manhandled by an Australian supporter who grabbed him on the pitch.  Sir Ian Botham almost won the Ashes single handedly in 1981 and in 2005, Andrew Flintoff inspired England to their first Ashes win for 16 years, a result which led to an open top bus parade through London, in the best Test series ever played.

The women’s Ashes is a more recent development – the first one was played in 1934 although there has been just 22 series since then – and it has produced some excellent cricket in recent times.  The latest series has just finished down under with the multi-format competition finishing all square at 8 points each.  Australia, as previous holders of the Ashes, therefore keep the trophy but England, the current World Champions who are led by Heather Knight, fought back well after a slow start.

In the men’s Ashes, England have won four of the last five series although the one they lost was a shellacking.  In 2013/14, Australia won 5-0 at home, winning all the matches as the lightening quick Mitchell Johnson terrorised England’s batsmen.  A series whitewash has only been achieved three times in the history of the Ashes – all of them have been won by Australia – which shows how rare it is.

Generally, Australia beat England at home and they have lost just five series at home since the second world war.  This winter, England, captained by Joe Root, are attempting to make that six series losses at home for Australia since 1945.  The five Tests, to be played in Brisbane, Adelaide, Perth, Melbourne and Sydney, are sure to be keenly contested but the Australians are favourites given their home conditions.

The build-up to the series has been full of the usual verbals, mainly from the Aussies.  Nathan Lyon, their spinner, said he wanted to end the careers of some of the English players and the home side has not been slow in bringing up star England all-rounder Ben Stokes who is currently suspended while the police investigate an alleged brawl outside a nightclub in September.

Whatever the result, one thing is for sure:  this Ashes series will create yet more history and special moments to add to the rich tapestry of a competition which has been full of them for over a century.

Rob Johnston – Cricket Writer

Twitter: @RobJ_Cricket