The Ashes is the national prize in a Test cricket series played between England and Australia. The Ashes are regarded as being held by the team that won the last Test series between those sides or, if that series was drawn, by the team that last won such a series.
The term originated in a satirical obituary published in a British newspaper, The Sporting Times, immediately after Australia’s 1882 victory at The Oval, 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 1882–83 series played in Australia, before which the English captain Ivo Bligh had vowed to “regain those ashes”. The English media therefore dubbed the tour 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.
The urn has never been the official trophy of the Ashes series, having been a personal gift to Bligh. However, replicas of the urn are often held aloft by victorious teams as a symbol of their victory in an Ashes series. Since the 1998–99 Ashes series, a Waterford Crystal representation of the Ashes urn (called the Ashes Trophy) has been presented to the winners of an Ashes series as the official trophy of that series. Whichever side holds the Ashes, the urn remains in the MCC Museum at Lord’s; it has however been taken to Australia to be put on touring display on two occasions: as part of the Australian Bicentenary celebrations in 1988, and to accompany the Ashes series in 2006–07.
Ashes series are traditionally of five Tests played biennially with England and Australia taking turns as host. As of December 2013, Australia are the holders – having won the Perth test by 150 runs to reclaim the Ashes on 17th December 2013. The present 2013-14 played in Australia, the culmination of a rare “back-to-back” series which commenced in November 2013. Overall, Australia has won 32 series, England 31 and five series have been drawn.