The Ashes, as cricket followers would know by now, is a Test cricket series of five matches played between Australia and England. It is oldest and most high-profile rivalry in cricket, matched only by the one between India and Pakistan and, to an extent, between Trans-tasman rivals Australia and New Zealand. The Ashes are held by the team which has won the most recent Test series between the two sides. Thus, currently, Australia are the holders of the Ashes having won the 2014 series in Australia having blanked England 5-0. The high-octane series has been of five Test matches for many years now.
Australia and England host the Ashes turn by turn. England last hosted the Ashes in 2013, which they won 3-0. They soon headed to Australia, as favourites to keep the crown, but were dismantled losing all Tests. England, where the game of cricket itself originated, dominated the Ashes in the early years. However, starting from the 90s, right until the mid-2000s, Australia were completely dominant in the series. In fact, England never won a single Ashes series in the 90s. Australia's dominance was finally broken in 2005 by a strong England side, when they won 2-1 at home.
Overall, Australia have captured the Ashes 32 times while England have done so on 31 occasions. Only five series between the sides have ever ended in a draw. The legendary Sir Don Bradman has scored the most runs in Ashes matches (5028) while another Aussie great Shane Warne has claimed most wickets (195), which includes the scalp of Mike Gatting in 1993, widely referred to as the 'ball of the century'. In recent years, the contest between the two teams has been more evenly matched as opposed to the 90s.
How the Ashes came into being
The term actually came from a satirical obituary, which was published in the British newspaper paper named 'The Sporting Times' after Australia beat England at The Oval in 1882. This was Australia's first Test victory on English soil. In the obituary, it was mentioned that English cricket had died at The Oval, and that the body would be cremated and the 'ashes' will be taken to Australia. Then England captain Ivo Bligh took the obituary very seriously, and vowed to regain 'The Ashes', and thus the historic series came into being, starting with the 1883 series played in Australia.
Legend has it that after England won two of the three Tests on the 1883 tour, a group of Melbourne women presented a small urn to Bligh. One of them was Florence Morphy, whom Bligh went on to marry. It is said that the urn contained the ashes of a wooden bail, which was satirically declared as the 'ashes of Australian cricket'. There is still no clarity over whether this was the same urn that was presented to the MCC in 1927, by Bligh's widow after his death. While the urn has never been officially presented to the winners, victorious sides hold aloft a replica of the urn, symbolising the Ashes is theirs.
-- By A Cricket Analyst