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For the next six weeks, Test cricket will suddenly be thrust back into the spotlight and primetime TV with the latest incarnation of The Ashes commencing on Friday night WST.
Yup, it may be the middle of AFL season, but the Ashes is as big as it gets when it comes to Test cricket and with each day’s play starting at 6pm WA time, it’ll hard to miss. Here’s our Ashes primer to get you up to speed.
What is it?
First things first, the Ashes is a five-match Test series between England and Australia, played once every two years with the host alternating each time (Australia last hosted in the 2021-22 summer). For clarity’s sake, Test cricket matches are the five-day games where teams all wear white clothes, as opposed to the shorter formats in colour clothes. Each team gets to bat and bowl twice and there’s no time restriction, except the match can only last five days (90 overs per day).
Given its length, there’s a lot less urgency, so it’s got a very different feel to Twenty20 cricket, which the Perth Scorchers play in the Big Bash League. As a result, it requires patience and some understanding of the subtleties and tactics at play to be truly appreciated.
Who is in it?
The Ashes is solely competed between England and Australia. Australia are the current Ashes holders, winning 4-0 on home soil in 2021-22 (sadly, Perth didn’t host a Test in that series due to our hard border). Across 72 editions, the Aussies have won the series 34 times, compared to England’s 32, with six draws.
Among the 18-member Australia squad are four Western Australians; Cameron Green, Josh Inglis, Marcus Harris (who moved to Victoria in 2016) and Mitchell Marsh. Scotch College schooled 24-year-old all-rounder Green is likely the only one who’ll play in the first Test, batting at six and bowling a bit with his medium pace.
The usual suspects like Steve Smith, Pat Cummins, Nathan Lyon and David Warner will be part of the Aussie side, although the latter is under pressure to hold his spot with his form dipping in the twilight of his career. England’s stars include captain Ben Stokes, Joe Root, Stuart Broad and James Anderson.
Who’s the favourite to win?
That’s a tough one. Australia may have dominated the last series and just won the ICC Test Championship trophy on Sunday, making us technically the world’s best Test team, but it’s a little more complicated than that. Winning away from home is always difficult in Test cricket, due to unfamiliar conditions for touring teams. In fact, Australia haven’t won a series in England since 2001, retaining the Ashes with a 2-2 series draw in 2019.
England have revolutionised their playing style since that 4-0 defeat in 2021-22, playing ‘Bazball’, dubbed after new coach Brendon McCullum. Since McCullum’s appointment as England’s Test coach in May 2022, England haven’t lost a Test series, winning four of six with two draws.
The ‘Bazball’ style is essentially a bold, positive and aggressive approach, which McCullum (known as ‘Baz’) employed in his playing days as a batsman. That’s seen England score at a rate of 4.85 runs per over (way up on the norm in Test cricket) during the past year. That approach has seen them pull off some memorable wins, particularly chasing down big totals in the final batting innings, which is traditionally tough to do. It does come with risk, so it should make for exciting Test cricket.
Why is it called the Ashes?
The Ashes is steeped in history, dating back to 1882 where the name originated. That occurred after Australia produced a shock victory England in London in the ninth Test match between the two nations. That result led to some newspapers declaring the death of English cricket with “the ashes taken to Australia”. England’s captain on the next tour boldly claimed they would “recover those ashes”, thus the crux of its origin.
When England won that corresponding tour in Australia, they were presented with a trophy which was a tiny silver urn (which is the series symbol to this day), which allegedly held the “ashes of Australia cricket”.
The ‘Ashes’ moniker didn’t actually catch on until much later, with dates disputed around the 1920s, but eventually traditions were born, including replicas of that small urn becoming the trophy for the series, reputedly containing the ashes of a burnt bail (the little wooden things atop the stumps).
How do you win the Ashes?
The winner of an Ashes series is simply the team who wins more Test matches in that series. If it’s drawn, the previous winner ‘retains’ the urn, so Australia as the holders has that up its back pocket.
When is it?
The series runs from June 16 to July 31 2023, with the first Test starting on Friday night 6pm WST and running through to Tuesday if required. We’ve got it pretty sweet in WA, with the 6pm timeslot and play running through until approximately 1am-1.30am WST each day’s play.
Dates are as follows;
First Test – Edgbaston, Birmingham, June 16-20
Second Test – Lord’s, London, June 28-July 2
Third Test – Headingley, Leeds, July 6-10
Fourth Test – Old Trafford, Manchester, July 19-23
Fifth Test – The Oval, London, July 27-31
How can I watch it?
Unlike last week’s ICC Test Championship Final which aired exclusively on Channel 7, Foxtel/Kayo and Channel Nine have the TV rights to the Ashes, so you can watch it via a few means, along with listening on radio on ABC and SEN.
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Image Credit: Cricket Australia / Getty