The Ashes: Sport or an obsession?

Story highlights

England and Australia will compete for The Ashes in a five-match series

England is favorite to triumph after winning the past two editions

Australia dominated during the 1990s and early 2000s

Contest and rivalry has been running since 1882

CNN  — 

The Ashes is not a sporting event – it is an obsession.

Since 1882, England and Australia’s cricketers have fought, wrestled and spilled blood in one of the world’s fiercest rivalries.

Whether it be on the rugby field or on the cricket pitch, these two countries only care about one thing – winning.

On Wednesday, when England and Australia go head to head in cricket’s biggest contest, the Ashes, two countries will hold their collective breath and prepare for a brutal battle.

It seems perverse that a game, which pauses for tea, and has the possibility of not having a winner after a five day contest, can stir such fierce emotion.

The Ashes: England v Australia

The Ashes: England v Australia

  • 10-14 July: 1st Test, Trent Bridge, Nottingham
  • 18-22: 2nd Test, Lord’s, London
  • 1-5 August: 3rd Test, Old Trafford, Manchester
  • 9-13: 4th Test, Chester-le-Street, Durham
  • 21-25: 5th Test, The Oval, London

    But for these two countries, thousands of miles apart, the yearning for victory could not be greater.

    Rivalry

    It’s a rivalry which encompasses everything good, and sometimes bad, about sport.

    It’s about pride. It’s about passion. It’s about blood, guts, victory at all costs.

    But it’s also about respect, a love of the game and the realization that these two nations are forever intertwined through one of sports greatest and most dynamic rivalries.

    Then there’s the history.

    There’s Captain James Cook discovering Australia in 1770 and the settling of British prisoners in Australia 18 years later.

    Add to that the brotherhood and bond between the two countries in time of war and the union of the Commonwealth.

    And why not throw a shared monarch into the mix too?

    United by history, divided by sport. It’s one rivalry which threatens to remain eternal.

    So when when the players of England and Australia walk out at Trent Bridge, with the words of William Blake’s Jerusalem ringing in their ears, they will know that the battle has begun.

    The CNN Ashes guide

    To understand the birth of this great rivalry requires a glance at the past.

    After enduring a dismal defeat by Australia on home soil at The Oval in August 1882, English cricket was left in a state of shock and embarrassment.

    A newspaper, the Sporting Times, carried a satirical obituary of English cricket, which stated that: “The body will be cremated and the ashes taken back to Australia.”

    When England traveled to Australia for the return series, it gained revenge with captain Ivo Bligh awarded a small terracotta urn to symbolize the winning of the Ashes.

    That small urn is arguably the most precious prize in world cricket with Australia holding it on 31 occasions to England’s 30.

    Controversy

    There has been no shortage of drama during Ashes encounters – but some are better remembered than others, although not always for the right reasons.

    The most controversial Ashes series remains that of 1932-33, which was known as “Bodyline” after England captain Douglas Jardine ordered his bowlers to bowl straight at the bodies of their opponents.

    It was a tactic which caused huge uproar, with Australian batsman Bert Oldfield suffering a fractured skull as England’s bowlers showed no mercy.