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A brief history of the Ashes Part One

England v Australia 1861 - 1888

Martin Williamson

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The first tour of Australia, a privately-run affair led by HH Stephenson, took place in 1861-62 and, like many contests at that time, most matches were against odds. The idea of the tour was to make money and so games were arranged where returns were best. George Parr (1863-64) followed with a side that remained unbeaten throughout, and in 1868 Charles Lawrence, who toured with Stephenson, put together an Aboriginal side which played 47 matches in England and overcame the loss of one of their number to tuberculosis during the trip.

1876-77

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James Lillywhite's tour was another private venture entirely made up of professionals played games in Australia at either end of an exhausting trip to New Zealand (where they left Edward Pooley, their wicketkeeper, in jail after falling foul of the law for betting on a tour match). On March 15, 1877 came the start of what we now consider the first Test ever, and Australia ran our winners by 45 runs. England were by this time exhausted and their fielding was dire. At the time the game was considered by all taking part to be little more than another match, and was billed locally as James Lillywhite's XI v South Australia and New South Wales. The touring party left England on September 21 and did not return until early June.
Australia 1 England 0

1878-79

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ID Walker was asked to tour with an amateur side - he found it impossible to raise one and so the XI was supplemented with two professionals - and so it was utterly unrepresentative of English cricket. In the end, even Walker could not go, and so Lord Harris led the trip. In between visiting the USA and New Zealand, a one-off Test (again, never considered anything of the sort at the time) took place early in the trip and Spofforth's 13 for 110 ensured an Australian win by 10 wickets. Harris concluded that betting on matches - widespread and used by some players as a means to supplement their income - should be outlawed. England's side was again weak, and included Leland Hone, an Irishman who had never played county cricket, to keep wicket ... although he wasn't even a wicketkeeper.
Australia 1 England 0

1880

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The Australians tour was a low-key affair and they often struggled to find opposition as many officials snootily dismissed the tourists' ability. The match against England was organised at the last minute and took place in mid September. England, with amateurs to the fore, won the game with WG Grace - one of three brothers in the XI - making 152. The Demon Spofforth took 391 wickets on tour at an average of 5.63 but, crucially, missed the Test with an injured finger.
England 1 Australia 0

1881-82

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Lillywhite, Alfred Shaw and Arthur Shrewsbury led the most gruelling tour to date, again playing matches in the USA en route, The tour was blighted by the gambling that Harris had condemned three years. Against Victoria, the English players made a killing when they wagered £1 each when the odds were 30-1 on them winning; there were also widespread rumours than two tourists had been paid £100 each to throw a match. A third - Billy Midwinter - refused to join and was beaten up by the other two when he reported the approach to Shaw. The first Test was drawn - the first instance in Test history - as England had to catch a ship, and the final one suffered the same fate. It was to be the last drawn Test in Australia for more than 60 years.
Australia 2 England 0 Drawn 2

1882

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The birth of the Ashes after Australia won a thrilling Test at The Oval, dismissing England for 69 after they had been set only 77 to win. Spofforth took 14 for 90 in the match, and bowled his last 11 overs for 2 runs and 4 wickets. The match resulted in a mock obituary for English cricket penned by Reginald Shirley Brooks appearing in The Sporting Times and the legend began.
England 0 Australia 1

1882-83

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The Hon. Ivo Bligh travelled back to Australia and recaptured the Ashes (which he had stated before the trip was his goal) by virtue of a 2-1 series win. The trip out was tough - a mid-Ocean collision so injured Fred Morley that he was a virtual passenger for the whole tour and he never really recovered. England lost the opening Test (the first three games were billed as Mr Murdoch's XI v The Hon Ivo F.W. Bligh's Team) but England bounced back to win the next two, although the third game at the SCG was marred by a row over bowlers deliberately cutting up the pitch in their follow throughs - it was peculiarity of the series that each captain could chose which pitch of the four prepared to bat on. It was after that game that some ladies took a bail, burnt it, and placed it in an urn which they presented to Bligh. The symbolic Ashes now had a tangible presence. Australia did win a fourth "Test" (this time taking the field as a Combined Australia XI) but the match was considered unofficial as far as the series was concerned although it does count in the record books.
Australia 2 England 2

1884

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For the first time both teams were at full strength. The series started with Old Trafford's Test debut - the first day was rained out, and with matches only lasting three days, that inevitably meant a draw. Lord's followed - also staging its first Test - and England won by an innings. An oddity was that Murdoch caught one of his own players as he was at the time fielding as a substitute for the injured WG Grace! The Oval produced a high-scoring bore, notable only for Alfred Lyttleton, the England wicketkeeper, taking 4 for 19 with lobs while Grace took a catch off his first ball as stand-in wicketkeeper. Spofforth again blew through the land with 207 wickets at 13.25.
England 1 Australia 0 Drawn 2

1884-85

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Shrewsbury led this side on a tour marred by disputes between the teams over payments and umpires, and for the first time there were five Tests. England won the opening Test, but a strike by the Australians meant for the next match they fielded a reserve side (under the name Combined Australia) and were predictably well beaten. Some players returned for the next Test, and Australia won a nail-biter by seven runs. England had problems of their own as Billy Barnes refused to bowl during a row with his captain. Australia leveled the series at the SCG, but England won the decider by an innings. They fielded the same XI throughout, while Australia were so unsettled that they even had a different captain for each Test.
Australia 2 England 3

1886

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The Australians were weak and their best players were past their best, so the 3-0 series whitewash was not unexpected. They were also seriously hampered by the loss of Spofforth from June onwards. This was the first tour organised under the auspices of the Melbourne CC rather than private individuals.
England 3 Australia 0

1886-87

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An all-professional side included only 11 tourists, making team selection fairly straightforward, and they won the two Tests, but both were close matches. England's George Lohmann took 25 wickets for 189 runs while Turner and Ferris took 35 of the 40 wickets to fall to the Australians
England 2 Australia 0

1887-88

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Utter confusion as two "England" sides toured. One, led by Lord Hawke, went at the official invitation of the Melbourne CC, the other, raised by the disgruntled organisers of the earlier trips (Lillywhite, Shaw and Shrewsbury) travelled after an invite from New South Wales and were captained by C Aubrey Smith. Both groups travelled on the same boat, toured separately, but joined forces for the match between a Combined England Team and Combined Australia (the only Test of the trip). Once again, several Australians refused to play in a dispute over pay, and England won after bowling them out for 42 and 82.
England 1 Australia 0

1888

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Australia ended a run of seven straight defeats with a win in the opening Test at Lord's - 27 wickets fell on the second day in three hours after a storm - but in three Tests Australia only once exceeded 100 and England won both the remaining Test by an innings. At The Oval, another rain-affected track on the second day resulted in Australia losing 18 wickets before lunch. Ferris and Turner took 534 wickets on the tour, and since their joint debuts had accounted for 85 of the 96 wickets taken by Australia. England 2 Australia 1

Martin Williamson is managing editor of Cricinfo

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Martin Williamson Executive editor Martin Williamson joined the Wisden website in its planning stages in 2001 after failing to make his millions in the internet boom when managing editor of Sportal. Before that he was in charge of Sky Sports Online and helped launch and run Sky News Online. With a preference for all things old (except his wife and children), he has recently confounded colleagues by displaying an uncharacteristic fondness for Twenty20 cricket. His enthusiasm for the game is sadly not matched by his ability, but he remains convinced that he might be a late developer and perseveres in the hope of an England call-up with his middle-order batting and non-spinning offbreaks. He is now managing editor of ESPN EMEA Digital Group as well as his Cricinfo responsibilities.
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