Shortcuts / 09 December 2021

The Ashes

It is near-impossible to ignore cricket news during an Aussie summer, and this year will be a big ‘un… That’s because the Ashes are on Aussie soil, where our team is going up against the Brits in one of our biggest sporting rivalries. The first Test started yesterday, so this week we’ve handed the Squiz Shortcut reins to the team from Sport Today to step you through the history of the Ashes, why the Ashes is so lucrative, some talking points on the teams, and the names to look out for.

Let’s get on the ball – how did the Ashes start?
Very punny… This rivalry between Australia and England goes right back to the start of Test cricket.

Almost…
Yep, the first Ashes Test was actually the ninth ever Test match.

What was the first?
That was at the Melbourne Cricket Ground – better known as the MCG – in 1977. The first Ashes Test was at The Oval in London five years later, on August 28 and 29 to be exact.

So what happened?
The match was all about one player, an Aussie fast bowler by the name of Fred ‘the Demon’ Spofforth, and it was a bad bit of sportsmanship that fired up the Demon and his match-winning spell of bowling.

Go on…
So in Australia’s 2nd innings, Aussie youngster Sammy Jones was run out by cricket’s first megastar WG Grace. Only thing was, Jones wasn’t attempting a run, he was just tapping his bat on the pitch but Grace appealed and Jones was given out.

I bet that really irked the Demon…
It sure did. Reports say Spofforth was furious and said to his teammates “I swear to you, England will not win this”. Then just before it was England’s turn to bat needing just 85 to win, Spofforth roared “this thing can be done”.

And it was done?
Yep – if there’s one takeaway from this, it is never doubt the Demon. Spofforth took seven wickets, England was bowled out for 77 and Australia won by just 7 runs.

What was England’s reaction?
Well, the English press didn’t take the loss to the Aussies too well, That’s because we weren’t even an official country by then – we were still part of the colony.

So it was the little brother beating the big brother…
Exactly. Newspaper The Sporting Times printed a mock obituary after the match. It said, “In affectionate remembrance of English cricket which died at The Oval, 29 August 1882. Deeply lamented by a large circle of sorrowing friends and acquaintances, R.I.P. The body will be cremated and the Ashes taken to Australia.”

So the Ashes of English cricket were actually taken to Australia?
Nope, and that’s probably because nothing was cremated. The famous tiny urn and the ashes inside it originated in Victoria a little while later.

How did that happen?
So England set sail less than 2 weeks later for Australia under the captaincy of a guy named Ivo Bligh, who promised to return with the Ashes.

And did he?
He did. After a social match on Christmas Eve, a lady by the name of Florence Morphy took one of her perfume urns, filled it with the ashes of some burnt bails, and then gave it to Bligh. He went back to England with Ashes as promised but he returned to Australia a year later to marry Morphy.

Aww.. So the Ashes is a love story!
It sure is.

And what’s inside the famous urn?
Well, we don’t really know. Some say it’s bails, others a stump and a bail. It’s really old now and doesn’t leave its home at Lord’s in London.

What has the Ashes become since then?
Australia and England have taken it in turns to host a series every 2 or so years, so there have been plenty of classic Ashes battles.

Fast forward to today…
And the Ashes is the biggest Test series there is. It attracts audiences from all over the world, not just Australia, and the series makes some serious money for everyone involved.

Gimme some stats.
Seeing as you asked so politely… Let’s start with Cricket Australia. This summer, they’re looking at making about $200 million from the Ashes summer.

Wowzers. Where’s that all coming from?
About half of that comes from TV broadcasters Fox Sports and Channel 7, and the rest is made up from sponsorship, advertising, overseas broadcast revenue and ticket sales making up the rest.

So it’s a lot…
Yep – the Ashes is the second biggest money-spinner for Australia behind an Indian tour, which is worth about $300 million, and that’s because of massive TV deals in India. Those tours are extremely important to CA and it’s why they’re willing to move heaven and earth to make sure they happen.

So what’s the big deal then?
It comes down to the way Cricket Australia’s revenue cycle works. Basically, every home summer that isn’t against India or England runs at a loss, but because those tours are so big, they make up for it and return a profit over a 4-year cycle.

And COVID threw a spanner in the works…
It sure did. Like most sports bodies, CA has been hit hard by COVID costs. All the biosecurity bubbles over the past 2 years alone have cost CA tens of millions of dollars.

How’s it affecting this Ashes?
Well, firstly there are less tourists. The last Ashes tour in Australia in 2017-18 had about 30,000 UK residents come for a visit, with a majority of them part of England’s travelling fan base, the Barmy Army. That series pulled in around $400 million for the domestic economy.

But that’s not to be this time around…
Nope. Thanks to COVID and border restrictions, the head of the Barmy Army says there’s likely to be between 1,000 and 1,500 fans coming out this year, and even that’s been made more difficult with the new Omicron variant pushing back borders reopening.

And what’s this I’m hearing about the 5th Test?
Well, CA still has to make a pretty big call where the 5th Ashes Test is held this summer. It was scheduled for Perth, but it looks like Western Australia is refusing to budge on visitors doing 14-days quarantine, so CA might have to look at a new venue and money will likely come into it.

Who’s looking likely to host?
To give you some more stats, a Test at the MCG against a top nation like England or India can generate around $20 million, which is about $5 million more than the Sydney Cricket Ground (SCG) which comes in 2nd place.

Okay, so I’m across the economics of the Ashes. What about the players?
They’re pretty well off, especially if they win. The players get a bonus if they win the series, and it’s worth double against the top 4 ranked teams, and right now, England is ranked #4.

And Oz?
We’re currently 2nd, behind New Zealand and India. There’s also a series win pool of money for Australia’s men’s cricketers, and that’s got a bit in it too.

How much?
There’s a cool $2.5 million in that pool, but it’s for the entire summer against all teams and all formats. After the Ashes there are 4 white-ball matches against New Zealand and 5 against Sri Lanka. So there’s a bit of cricket to get through if the Aussies want to split the entire pool.

Just another incentive to get the win…
You got it.

So speaking of players, take me through some of the big names.
Well, if we’re talking about Ashes cricket, we have to mention Sir Donald Bradman. He averaged 99.94 in Test cricket and absolutely dominated England. He needed just 4 runs in his last innings to average one hundred. A bit of free trivia for you: the bowler who got Bradman out for a duck was Eric Hollies.

Anyone else I should know about?
One guy that also deserves a mention is Shane Warne. He bowled what’s called ‘the Ball of the Century’ in 1993 – it was a wicked delivery that bowled England’s Mike Gatting with Warnie’s first ball in a Test in England. Warne has the most Ashes wickets with 195 and he lost just one series in 2005.

So many legends… So who’s playing this summer?
In this Ashes series, Australia has a new captain and a new wicketkeeper. A couple of weeks ago Tim Paine was going to lead the Aussies but a sexting scandal has meant he’s stepped away from cricket to focus on his mental health.

Who’s the new captain?
That’s skipper Pat Cummins. He’s the first fast bowler to captain Australia since Ray Lindwall in 1956. Fast bowlers are injury-prone so don’t often get the captaincy.

And the new wicketkeeper?
That’s South Australian Alex Carey. He made his debut at the Gabba on Wednesday. Fun fact: he was contracted to the GWS Giants but was cut, so turned his attention to cricket and it paid off.

What about the English team?
The one player that everyone should take notice of when he’s bowling or batting is Ben Stokes. He’s regarded as one of the best players in the world – he starred for England in the 2019 Ashes with one of the best centuries ever in the third Test at Leeds. He’s also born in New Zealand, so he’s almost an Aussie.

We’d probably claim him if we could… Okay, talk me through the schedule.
The Ashes starts in Brisbane, then heads to Adelaide for a day-night Test, then to the MCG for the traditional Boxing Day Test, Sydney in the new year. As the 5th test – that’s still to be decided.

So who’s gonna win?
Well, we won’t give our opinion but let’s leave you with this – England have won just one Ashes series in Australia since 1987, and in the past 20 years, they’ve won just four of 25 Tests in Australia.

Let’s go with Australia then…
Aussie, Aussie, Aussie!

Squiz recommends:

The Test – Amazon Prime

The Captains by Malcolm Knox

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