The 2023 Ashes Series is starting on Friday 16th June, for those of you who don’t follow cricket this is one of the oldest bilateral sports tournaments in the world, starting in 1877 and pits Australia versus England at cricket in a series of five day matches. It’s worth noting that it didn’t gain the name of ‘The Ashes’ until the ninth test match between the two sides, which took place in England in 1882 and which England somehow managed to lose from what should have been a winning position. This led to a mock obituary appearing in The Sporting Times on 2nd September 1882.
The urn containing ‘the ashes’ was presented to the captain of the touring England team in Australia that Christmas and is now kept at Lord’s Cricket Ground in London as it is extremely fragile, only rarely being removed from its glass display case for ceremonial occasions, and has only actually travelled to Australia twice in the intervening years. It isn’t the official trophy for the tournament but symbolises the rivalry between the two countries but replicas and images of this tiny, 6 inch (15cm), vase are to be seen whenever the two teams play each other and its silhouette can be seen on the front cover of this book between the words ‘The’ and ‘Ashes’.
This year there are five games to be played in June and July at various venues across England, five games is the most common number of matches but it does sometimes alter. Phil Tufnell played in five of these series and both his first and last test matches for England were against Australia. It should be noted that at the time the England team were pretty weak and the Australians very good so he never got near to being on the winning side in an Ashes series. Tufnell retired from playing serious cricket in 2003 and gained a job as a summariser on The BBC Test Match Special which he still does and he continued to play cricket for celebrity teams for many years after his official retirement.
I didn’t know what to expect from this book, but thought it would probably be descriptions of his experiences and whilst those do appear, the book is a whole lot more than that. In fact it is a highly entertaining look over the entire existence of the tournament from the first matches and includes the origin story of the Ashes urn but also lots of stories of players and games over the entire, almost 150 years, that England and Australia have faced each other on the cricket grounds in both countries. These range from when in 1903, back before aeroplanes existed and it would take three weeks by boat each way to get to the tour, the England team on their way out managed to lose a game of deck cricket against a team of female passengers. In 2001 The Australians hosted a charity function in Manchester and the first auction item was a chance to train with the team, bidding was slow as the room hadn’t really got going when they started this so a couple of Australian players decided to bounce the bids on a bit, which was fine until Steve Waugh ended up winning the auction and paying £500 to train with his own team-mates.
Scattered through the book are lists of ten players in various categories including, ten fast bowlers Tuffers was happy to have never faced, ten Ashes blockers and ten Ashes bashers amongst other selections. These are fun as it’s not just a list but reasons why. Chris Tavare is probably the best of the blockers that I have seen and he once spent ninety minutes at the crease without scoring anything at all and had on a different occasion taken two hours to score nine, not entertaining but incredibly frustrating for the Australian bowlers and winding them up led to mistakes.
My copy is the first edition hardback from 2013 published by Headline and I have to wonder why it has languished on my shelves for ten years its been a really fun read and here’s hoping for an equally fun summer of cricket.