The Ashes 2019: An idiot's guide to the Ashes - cricket's greatest rivalry

A thrilling Cricket World Cup captured the attention worldwide and all eyes will be on the sport once more as the Ashes begins this week.

This historic series might not be the easiest to understand for anyone who is still new to the sport having been gripped by the incredible finale to the ODI showpiece at Lord's earlier this month.

So what is the Ashes and where does it get its name? Who are the key figures? 

We bring you all the details of England and Australia's long rivalry.


What is the Ashes?

The Ashes is a five-match Test cricket series contested between England and Australia. It is considered the pinnacle of the long-format of the game due to the intense and long-running rivalry of the nations, dating back to their involvement in the first officially recognised Test match in 1877.

But the Ashes did not emerge as a concept until 1882, in the aftermath of Australia's shock seven-run win in the lone international fixture of their tour to the United Kingdom.

In a mock obituary published by the Sporting Times, British journalist Reginald Shirley Brooks wrote: "In affectionate remembrance of English cricket which died at The Oval, 29th August, 1882.

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

England sailed Down Under later that year with the intention of recovering the hypothetical Ashes, drawing 2-2, and the battle for ownership has continued for well over a century.

What is the prize?

Those Ashes, said to be contained in an urn, are exactly what the two sides are still playing for in 2019.

The delicate urn remains on display at Lord's, with the MCC instead commissioning a larger crystal trophy in the 1990s following discussions with both teams.

That trophy is presented to the winning captain at the end of the series, yet it is the urn which still represents bragging rights in the minds of many, with several songs and poems written about bringing it "home".


Which nation has been more successful?

England have the chance to even the Ashes ledger at 33 series victories each after Australia edged ahead in the count courtesy of a commanding 4-0 home win in 2017-18. 

Five out of the 70 series contested since 1882 have ended in a draw and Australia also hold the advantage in terms of individual Test match wins, with 134 to England's 106, with 90 draws.

Recent history, however, does not favour Tim Paine's team: England have not been beaten in an Ashes series on home soil since 2001.


Who are the key players?

Australia welcome back star batsmen Steve Smith and David Warner following the end of respective 12-month bans for their roles in a ball-tampering incident that also involved Cameron Bancroft - another member of this year's Ashes squad - against South Africa in March 2018. The trio are back in an international squad together for the first time since that controversial incident.

Australia's strength otherwise lies in their bowling: vice-captain Pat Cummins is the top-ranked Test bowler in the world, while left-armer Mitchell Starc took the most wickets in the recent World Cup.

England won that tournament on home soil, making heroes of a new generation. Ben Stokes and Jos Buttler, both influential in the nail-biting Super Over defeat of New Zealand in the final, are among the game's most thrilling batsmen to watch and form part of a dangerous line-up, which also contains captain and linchpin Joe Root.

Experienced seamer James Anderson and partner in crime Stuart Broad have tormented Australia in English conditions over the past decade, although there is a slight fitness concern over the former.

When and where are the matches happening?

The series begins at Edgbaston in Birmingham on Thursday. The teams then reconvene in London at Lord's - usually described as the "Home of Cricket" - on August 14 before squaring off at Headingley in Leeds from August 22. 

Manchester's Old Trafford plays host to the fourth Test, starting on September 4, and the series concludes in a fifth Test at The Oval - again in London. That match begins on September 12.

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