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How the first Ashes Test changed cricket forever

CONTRIBUTOR
Feature
Timeless

Australia v England
Australia v England

“When Ivo goes back with the urn, the urn

Studds, Steal, Read and Tylecote return, return

The welkin will ring loud

The great crowd will feel proud

Seeing Barlow and Bates with the urn, the urn;

And the rest coming home with the urn.”

Sport isn’t sport without rivalries. Every sport needs one. Football has Manchester United vs Liverpool, and Barcelona vs Real Madrid. Tennis has Roger Federer vs Rafael Nadal. Racing has Sebstian Vettel vs Lewis Hamilton.

When it comes to cricket, it’s hard to look beyond Australia vs England.

The eternal feud between the oldest cricket playing nations began with Australia scoring seven more runs than England at the Oval on 29 August 1882.

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The lush green lawns of the Oval seemed a tinge lighter. The sky seemed a shade grayer. The air seemed a tad heavier. A shadow of disbelief enveloped all of England. The MCC felt robbed.

The unthinkable had unfolded right before their eyes. The “inventors” had lost to the “convicts”.

There was no respite for Ivo Bligh’s team. They say words hurt more than actions, and the English media went out of their way to certify that saying. The Sporting Times went as far as printing the following obituary:

The obituary, as published by
The obituary, as published by "The Sporting Times"

The first Ashes Test changed world cricket as they knew it. Out of the eight Test matches played between England and Australia before the historic first Ashes Test, both the Brits and the Aussies had remained undefeated at home. Winning Tests away from home was almost unheard of in the days of yonder (it still is very difficult).

The crowd was nearly barbaric. The deck was tailor-made for the home side and the press was relentless with their biting questions and remarks.

The ninth official Test match marked the end of an unbeaten British home team and with it, an imperial domination over the gentleman’s game. The changes it brought about were of astronomic proportions. Cricket was no longer a game played on a Sunday evening by the nobles. It had become, in fact, the closest one could get to war.

The Ashes has been like war ever since that 1882 match
The Ashes has been like war ever since that 1882 match

Young boys’ hearts now started filling with the desire to play and win an Ashes Test. Bringing home the Ashes had now become a matter of national importance.

Cricket no longer remained “the gentleman’s game”. It traveled from the rich, well-irrigated fields of the nobility to the scorched parks of the common.

In that sense, the first Ashes Test in 1882 ended up playing a much bigger role in shaping the history of cricket than anyone could have imagined at that time.

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