Australia are beaten – the Ashes are ours!

I think it may be sensible to tell the story of ‘The Ashes’ before going forward:

‘The Ashes’ is – ‘yes’ not ‘are’ – a Test cricket series played between England and Australia with ‘The Ashes’ being held by the team that most recently won the Test series.  The term originated in a satirical obituary published in ‘The Sporting Times’, a British newspaper, immediately after Australia’s 1882 victory at The Oval cricket ground, their first Test win on English soil. The obituary stated that English cricket had died, and “the body will be cremated and the ashes taken to Australia”. The mythical ashes immediately became associated with the 1882-84 series played in Australia.  Ivo Bligh, the English captain, had vowed to “regain those ashes”. The English media therefore dubbed the tour as “the quest to regain the Ashes”.
After England had won two of the three Tests on the tour, a small urn was presented to Bligh by a group of Melbourne women including Florence Morphy, whom Bligh married within a year. The contents of the urn are reputed to be the ashes of a wooden bail, and were humorously described as “the ashes of Australian cricket”. It is not clear whether that “tiny silver urn” is the same as the small terracotta urn given to the MCC by Bligh’s widow after his death in 1927.
So – ‘The Ashes’ is a Test cricket series played between England and Australia with ‘The Ashes’ being held by the team that most recently won the Test series.
After England had won two of the three Tests on the tour, a small urn was presented to Bligh by a group of Melbourne women including Florence Morphy, whom Bligh married within a year. The contents of the urn are reputed to be the ashes of a wooden bail, and were humorously described as “the ashes of Australian cricket”. It is not clear whether that “tiny silver urn” is the same as the small terracotta urn given to the MCC by Bligh’s widow after his death in 1927.

So now let’s come forward a bit to what was happening at this time in 1986 – 30 years ago to this day!

For what had seemed an age England’s cricket had been in the doldrums with defeats by the West Indies [5-0], India [2-0] and New Zealand [1-0] plus 3 draws – 11 test matches without a win. Australia’s record was not much better, losing two series against New Zealand [2-1 & 1-0] and two drawn series against India.  For many this series was to see who would be holding the ‘Wooden Spoon’. In their first match of the tour England lost by 5 wickets to Queensland then won by 5 wickets against South Australia – their first after 14 losses. England’s next game – their last before the first Test –  was saved by rain.

Australia were clear favourites for the first Test; so much so that Martin Johnson of ‘The Independent’ newspaper  wrote that the English team had only three things wrong with them: “they can’t bat, can’t bowl and can’t field.”

So what happened?  In the first Test England’s Ian Botham scored 138 runs; Captain Mike Gatting 61 and David Gower 51; the Australians fell 8 runs short of avoiding the follow on; batted again; bowled out for 282 and England won by 7 wickets.

The 2nd & 3rd Tests were drawn and now – starting on Boxing Day, 26th December 1986 on the Melbourne comes a critical match.  What will happen?  Who will win?

Let’s let John Woodcock of ‘The Times’ newspaper of 29th December 1986 tell us the story:
‘England retained the Ashes here yesterday when they won the fourth Test match by an innings and 14 runs with more than two whole days to spare.
Having bowled Australia out in three hours 55 minutes on the first day, they took only 45 minutes longer now, Australia’s last six wickets falling for 41 runs in 18.4 overs.
The less said about Australia’s batting the better.  The omission of Ritchie had left them in the first place with only four front-line batsmen, much to Border’s regret and England’s delight.
Mike Gatting [the England Captain] spoke after the match of a great effort by all of his players, and so it was.  Not least, England fielded splendidy.
For an England captain, it is a fine moment when he is assured of taking the Ashes home from Australia.  In all this century, only Warner, Douglas, Chapman, Jardine, Hutton, Illingworth and Brearley have savoured it.  Gatting was not chaired off the field or anything like that, but thas was because at the end England had met with so little resistance.
Gatting said that he had not enjoyed every moment of his captaincy (who does?), but he was enjoyong yesterday all right.  It made a jourful ending to what has been for the most part a depressing year for England.’

An unknown reporter said:
‘The embarrassing failureof Australia in losing this match so completly also marked their 14th Test in succession without a victory.  By any statistical analysis, Australia had reached their all-time historic “low” when the match ended.  Having reached this point, the only way for Australia was up.  Chris Broad became the third English batsman, after Jack Hobbs and Wally Hammond, to score hundreds in three consecutive Ashes Tests.  Allan Border later criticised the Australian selectors for picking a team with only four specialist batsmen – Border says he wanted to pick Greg Ritchie but was overruled.

The 5th Test began on 10th January 1987 – ran the full five days – and was won by Australia by 55 runs – their first victory in 14 Tests.

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