The Ashes 2017

By Jonathan White Source:Global Times Published: 2017/11/24 0:10:48

The most long-standing rivalry in world sport has resumed


England captain Joe Root hits out during the first Ashes cricket Test match against Australia on Thursday in Brisbane, Australia. Photo: VCG

On Thursday at the Gabba in Brisbane, one of the oldest long-standing rivalries in world sport resumed when England arrived in Australia to take on their hosts for the 70th series, some 140 years since their first meeting. The first international cricket match may have taken place between the US and Canada in 1844, more than three decades earlier, but it is England versus Australia that has become the preeminent rivalry in world cricket.

The five-match Test series between the countries is known as "the Ashes" but that hasn't always been the case. The term itself came from a mock obituary of English cricket in the Sporting Times the day after England first lost a home match to Australia in August 1882, five years after their first meeting. Just weeks later an England team, led by Ivo Bligh, set sail Down Under to regain "the ashes" of English cricket that the Sporting Times had declared as being cremated and sent to Australia.

Bligh's England did win and, during their tour, he was presented with a terra-cotta urn to represent the recovered ashes. It is this urn that is fought for to this day. There are some that suggest the Ashes as a term fell out of use for some years and dispute both the origin and the contents of the trophy that Bligh received - is it a stump, or a ball or bails? But there is no disputing that it is the smallest trophy in world sport and despite its stature - it stands just 15 centimeters - it is one of the most fiercely contested.

Current holders

While the Ashes urn stays at its permanent home at the Marylebone Cricket Club Museum at Lord's in London, the "ownership" belongs to the last team to win the Test match series. In the case of a draw at the end of a series, the last team to win the Ashes outright retains them. England and Australia are tied on 32 wins each, with five draws, but it is the visitors that are the current holders, much to their hosts' chagrin.

England won the last Ashes series, which was played on home soil in 2015, despite Australia being favorites to win before the tour on the back of winning the 2013-14 series in Australia with a 5-0 whitewash. England arrive in Australia with the hosts having revenge firmly on their mind and being considered slight favorites to win back the trophy.

Home advantage

One of the reasons for that is the Australian pitches, and it is no coincidence that they have decided to start the series at the Gabba, a ground where England have not won a Test match since 1986 and Australia are unbeaten in 28 matches. Conditions of the wickets in Australia tend to favor the style of the hosts, as do the Kookaburra brand balls that are being used, which are a stark difference to the Dukes brand used in England and favored by the English swing bowlers. All of the signs point to it being favorable to the hosts' armory of fast bowlers.

However, England are fancied for the first-ever day-night Test to be played in the Ashes, where their swing bowlers are expected to have an advantage with the pink ball used to show up under the floodlights. That second Test match takes place the Adelaide Oval from December 2 to 6, and the view is that if England can get out of the Gabba unscathed with a draw or a shock win, then they could benefit from conditions that will be more similar to back home in England.

History

"History suggests it's a once-in-a-generation event for England to come to Australia and win," says former England captain Michael Atherton. That's borne out by the fact that England have won only once in the last seven tours to Australia. England's team will take hope from the fact that they are the slightly more experienced of two fresh-faced Ashes teams, while the Australians are arguably more talented and have home advantage.

Injuries, inexperience and a relative lack of stardust in comparison to Ashes' past mean that the series is in the balance, so much so that the usual predictions of a 5-0 whitewash that usually come from the Australian camp before every Ashes series have been conspicuous by their absence. That's not to say that the war of words that surrounds Ashes cricket is absent, though. Australia's senior head Nathan Lyons and the press have been vocal before the series started, while the on-field sledging that has characterized meetings between these countries is sure to make an appearance.

With hostilities resumed, the next six weeks offer a combination of history, tradition and a time for new heroes.



 



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