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10 things you might not know about the Ashes

Which controversial player ended up living with the enemy? Find out the answer and nine more unusual facts.

CRICKET 10/11/17 11:20

More than 135 years of bitter cricketing battles between England and Australia has generated some surprising stories and little-known facts.

Here are 10 things that even the most passionate Wisden collector may not know...

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1. The first touring Australian team was Aboriginal.

Some 14 years before the first official Ashes series started a touring side from Australia took on the might of English cricket.

The squad of 13 Aboriginal players were smuggled onto a ship in Sydney in 1868, arriving in England after more than three months at sea.

Big crowds turned out to see the indigenous sportsmen but the MCC was less than welcoming, warning against "tribal demonstrations" at Lord's. Still, a match went ahead and the Aboriginal side impressed in a narrow defeat.

They gained widespread credit throughout a strenuous touring schedule that ended with 14 wins on both sides and 19 draws.

2. The series is named after a mock obituary.

Reginald Shirley Brooks, a cub reporter in London, unknowingly coined the term with his inventive description of the home side's humbling to the Australians in 1882.

"In affectionate remembrance of English cricket which died at The Oval, 29th August, 1882," he wrote in the Sporting Times.

"Deeply lamented by a large circle of sorrowing friends and acquaintances, RIP. NB The body will be cremated and the ashes taken to Australia."

By the time England captain Ivo Bligh vowed to "regain those ashes" a year later the term for the contest was fixed.

3. Bodyline villain Larwood settled in Australia.

Few figures in the Ashes series have generated as much opposition loathing as Harold Larwood after the ex-miner thundered down ball after ball at Australia's batsmen in the infamous 1933 'Bodyline' tour.

Larwood never apologised for enacting captain Douglas Jardine's aggressive (though then-legal) tactics and publicly condemned the Australian fans.

So it's particularly surprising that he went on to make the rival nation his home.

He headed Down Under following the war with his wife and five children after his post-career investment in a Blackpool sweet shop turned sour.

Larwood took a job with a soft drinks firm, made friends with his former foes and remained in New South Wales until his death in 1995 at the age of 90.

4. England hold the series record for the highest innings score.

Spare a thought for Eddie Paynter and Denis Compton, who went for a duck and a single run respectively on an Oval pitch which the rest of their team-mates compiled 902 runs in a single innings in 1938.

Opener Len Hutton alone struck 364, while Joe Hardstaff was on 169 when England skipper Wally Hammond finally declared with three wickets still in hand.

Australia made 201 and 123 in reply as England won by an innings and 579 runs.

5. The Don's Ashes average is rarely mentioned (but still unbeatable).

Sir Donald Bradman's 99.94 career standard is burned into the psyche of every Australian cricket fan, but his Ashes average is not quite as iconic.

That might be because the game's greatest batsmen found facing England marginally less easy than most, dropping his runs rate to a still-ridiculous 89.78.

Needless to say no one has got close to the 5,028 runs he compiled between his 1928 debut and the duck that famously ended his international career in the fifth Ashes test of 1948, denying him a century average.

To put Bradman's achievement in a little more perspective, England's runs-machine Alastair Cook is the highest ranked current player on the all-time list, his 2,117 runs placing him 25th with an average of 39.20 - more than half a century below the Don.

6. Australia resorted to desperate appeals against England's unplayable spin king.

Roll on beyond Bradman's era to 1956 and England's Jim Laker was turning the tourists inside out.

As batsmen after batsmen fell under his spell, Australia's captain Ian Johnson attempted to have the game halted.

His claim? The sawdust on a dampened Old Trafford surface was blowing up and getting into his eyes.

The umpires rejected the complaint and Laker went on to claim a never-bettered 19 wickets in the fourth Test (part of a record 46-wicket haul in the series).

7. The Ashes haven't always been stored at Lord's.

It's a point of consternation, on one half of the Ashes divide at least, that every time Australia win or retain the Ashes the famous little urn stays at the home of English cricket.

However, the terracotta trophy has headed south on two occasions.

The Ashes were brought to Sydney in 1988 for the Bicentenary Test and travelled again in 2006, this time to tour each state capital.

And long before the urn went on display at the MCC Museum it lived on the mantelpiece of first England captain Bligh's Kent home. His widow bequeathed it to the Marylebone club after his death in 1927.

8. England and Australia are equally good.

Fans can argue over it and anyone who followed England from 1989 until 2005 may find it hard to put up a defence, but the teams are officially as good as each other - based on series wins.

England's home victory in 2015 brought the teams level on 32 wins each from 69 Ashes series. Only five series have been drawn.

Yes, Australia have won 130 Tests to England's 106 but whoever wins the overall 2017-18 battle will tip their team ahead in the series war.

9. England have never whitewashed the Aussies.

The 5-0 humbling in Australia in 2013-14 was the third time the tourists have gone home without even a solitary draw.

While Australia delivered their other whitewashes in 1920-21 and 2006-07, England have never managed to deliver total domination.

The best was 5-1 in 1978-79's six match away series.

10. History is being made in 2017-18.

The latest series heralds a number of Ashes firsts and lasts.

Joe Root's England will take on Steve Smith's Australia in the maiden Ashes day-night second Test in Adelaide - with a pink ball being used for the first time in the series.

But emotions will run high in the third Test as the last Ashes match is played at the WACA.

The 22,000 capacity stadium, which opened in 1890, will be replaced by the new 60,000-seater Perth Stadium in future series.

 

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