Australia is playing host to what's arguably the world's greatest and oldest sporting rivalry - a cricket contest known as 'The Ashes'.
For more than 130 years, the best cricketers from England and Australia have faced off for a tiny urn trophy. Here are 6 historical facts you may not have known about 'The Ashes':
1. The urn is also symbolic of a love story
The Ashes urn as photographed in 1921 (Illustrated London News)
At six inches it’s possibly the smallest trophy in world sport but the Ashes urn not only represents a great sporting rivalry but also a century old love story. At the conclusion of the first official Ashes tour of Australia in 1883, the English cricket team took up temporary residence in Victoria. Having won the inaugural series 2 test matches to 1, English captain Ivo Bligh was presented with a terracotta urn containing symbolic ashes. One lady present was Florence Murphy; Bligh was smitten and elected to extend his stay for an additional five weeks before the two became engaged. The iconic urn stayed within the Bligh estate until shortly after Ivo's death in 1927 when wife Florence donated the artefact to the Lords Cricket Ground where it remains today.
2. An Aboriginal representative team was the first to tour England
Aboriginal cricket team at the MCG, December 1866 (Wikimedia Commons)
The first Australian touring team to play in England was a representative Aboriginal team in 1868. The squad played 47 matches against various teams across Great Britain, they returned with 14 wins, 14 defeats and 19 draws. In some games crowds grew to about 20,000 with Aboriginal team members often giving cultural displays of boomerang and spear throwing post-game.
3. There is a Women's Ashes too
The fall of a wicket during a test match between Australia and England - 1935 (Woman's Cricket Association)
The English and Australian women’s cricket teams also have a staunch cricketing rivalry dating back to 1934. The teams now play each other on a biennial basis with the Ashes awarded on a points based system incorporating the results of test, one day, and 20/20 games. Since 1934 Australia has won seven series, England five, and there has been seven drawn series.
4. Matches were played prior to the Ashes
1878 Australian cricket squad (Wikimedia Commons)
Prior to the first official Ashes tour in 1882-1883 nine matches between Australia and England had been played. When Australia defeated England in 1882 at The Oval, a satirical obituary written in the Sporting Times claimed that English cricket had died, "and the body will be cremated and the ashes taken to Australia". On the following cricket tour in to Australia inv1882-83, English captain Ivo Bligh declared the team was going to reclaim the Ashes - it was then The Ashes legend was born.
The first test cricket match between Australia and England occurred in 1877 - Australia won by 45 runs.
5. Most of Bradman's records still stand
Sir Donald Bradman (left) walking out to bat with fellow opener Stan McCabe (State Library of Western Australia)
Sir Donald Bradman's batting brilliance is well entrenched in Australian sporting folklore, and he is still the person to beat for many Ashes stats.
Bradman holds records for the most runs in Ashes history (5028), highest batting average (89.78), most hundreds (19), most fifties (31), most runs in a series (974), and the highest wicket partnership (451).
6. Bodyline had a bigger off-field impact
The bodyline field position during the 4th test match in Brisbane 1933 (Wikimedia Commons)
In 1932/33 England deployed a bowling tactic to diminish the dominance of Australian batsman by bowling consistently short and at the player rather than the wicket.
While the strategy caused player injuries and an unsavoury spectacle, the biggest impacts were felt off-field with both nation's parliaments debating the issue, business deals falling through, English ex-pats in Australia tormented, and products in respective countries boycotted.
The tradition of Ashes cricket is set to continue in 2013/14 with Australia and England beginning battle from the first test on November 21st and the series conclusion on January 3rd in Sydney.