~~The holy grail of cricket~~ returns to Australia

Published: Tuesday, October 17, 2006, 23:53 [IST]
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Sydney:The coveted Ashes urn, has arrived in Australia for only the second time in 123 years under tight security ahead of this year's battle for its ownership.

The antique and fragile symbol of cricketing enmity between England and Australia arrived in Sydney in a special carrying case, strapped into a business class airline seat and handcuffed to the wrist of its curator.

"It's just the symbol of what cricket's all about, the great rivalry between Australia and England," said former Australian cricket captain Allan Border, who was on hand to meet the special visitor from London.

The diminutive 10-centimeter (four-inch) wooden trophy is kept at London's Marylebone Cricket Club (MCC) and has only returned to Australia twice since it was given to a visiting English team captain as a joke during an 1882-83 tour here.

"This is an extremely rare opportunity to see the original urn," said Beth Hise, of the Museum of Sydney, where the urn will go on display at the start of a 14-week tour timed to coincide with this year's Ashes competition.

"I can't see it ever coming back... not in the foreseeable future," Hise said of the urn that is reportedly insured for a "seven-figure sum."

The urn flew in on a Virgin Atlantic flight from London, reportedly with its own ticket made out in the name of "Urn, Ashes, Mr," guarded by a coterie of security guards and curators who will take care of its every need during its Antipodean adventure.

It is only the second time in Australia's history that the increasingly delicate urn, which rarely leaves the London club, will be displayed in this country, the last occasion being in 1988.

The urn, possibly an old perfume bottle, was given to England captain Ivo Bligh in 1882 by a Lady Clark after England's defeat to Australia in a match that prompted a mock obituary of English cricket.

The urn was filled with what is reputed to be the ashes of a burned set of bails, but its contents are still the subject of debate.

The Ashes kick off next month with thousands of English fans heading for Australia to watch their team's bid to hang onto the trophy which it won back in 2005 for the first time in 18 years.


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