The saga of the ~~holy grail of cricket~~

Published: Tuesday, November 7, 2006, 23:53 [IST]
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London:As England get set for the defence of the Ashes in Australia later this month, it's worth recalling that one of the oldest prizes in sport was actually born out of a satirical newspaper article.

Cricket's oldest rivals had been playing one another for five years before there was any mention of the word 'Ashes' in relation to their contests.

All that changed in 1882 when, in a one-off Test at The Oval, Australia inspired by figures of 14 for 90 from Fred Spofforth, 'The Demon', fought back to win a thrilling match by seven runs.

Britain's now defunct Sporting Times reacted to Australia's first win on English soil with a mock obituary written by Reginald Shirley Brooks.

It read: "In affectionate remembrance of English cricket which died at The Oval, 29th August 1882. Deeply lamented by a large circle of sorrowing friends and acquaintances. R.I.P. N.B. The body will be cremated and the Ashes taken to Australia."

Ivo Bligh, later Lord Darnley, captained England to a 2-1 victory in the subsequent series in Australia and according to most cricket histories he was presented with an urn containing the Ashes of a bail used in the third test by a group of Melbourne women.

However, it was subsequently suggested that the Ashes were those of a ball and in 1998 Lord Darnley's daughter-in-law said they were the remains of her mother-in-law's veil.

The urn itself was bequeathed to Marylebone Cricket Club (MCC), the owners of Lord's, on Darnley's death in 1927 and became an exhibit in the London cricket ground's museum.

Regardless of the result of the Ashes, the urn - which stands just four inches high - has always remained at Lord's.

The justification has been that the Ashes were a private gift to MCC and not a sporting trophy.

But in order to remedy this perceived unfairness MCC commissioned an Ashes-shaped crystal trophy which was first presented to Australia captain Mark Taylor after the 1998-99 series.

Up until this tour, the only time the urn left London was in 1988 when it was taken to Australia for the country's bicentennial celebrations.

MCC had hoped the urn could return to Australia in 2003 but an X-ray taken at the time revealed several serious cracks, notably in the stem.

But last year the trophy was repaired and is now currently touring Australia's major cities.

It arrived in Sydney in October on a Virgin Atlantic flight from London, reportedly with its own ticket made out in the name of "Urn, Ashes, Mr," guarded by several security guards and curators.

The urn will remain in Sydney until Nov 8 before travelling to Brisbane, Adelaide, Perth and Melbourne in a 94-day long exhibition.


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