Action Replay: From Ashes to Ashes

THE FIRST Australian cricket team to tour England was in 1868. It was made up entirely of Aborigines selected from western Victoria and coached by Tom Willis (the founder of Australian football).

The colonial view was that involving the indigenous population in sports created a kind of imperial glue that wedded the natives to their new British identity.

Despite an onerous schedule, and having no history in the game and playing in a foreign culture, the team managed 14 wins, 14 losses and 19 draws.

The Ashes originates later, from a satirical obituary published in a British newspaper, The Sporting Times, immediately after a White Australian team’s victory at the Oval in 1882.

The obituary stated that English cricket had died, and ‘the body will be cremated and the ashes taken to Australia.’ The mythical ashes immediately became associated with the 1882–83 series played in Australia, before which the English captain Ivo Bligh had vowed to ‘regain those ashes.’ The English press dubbed the tour ‘the quest to regain the Ashes.’

It has stuck ever since. In winning the fourth test at Trent Bridge by an innings and 78 runs at the beginning of August, England regained the Ashes from a below par Australian side. The standout moment of the whole series was the dismissal there of the Aussies in the first innings for a paltry 60 runs with Stuart Broad taking 8 wickets for 15 runs. The Australian fans were shell shocked into silence while the English supporters were ecstatic.

This was regarded as a national disaster in Australia where support for the national cricket team has become a glue to wed the population to their new postcolonial identity. The Australian captain, Michael Clarke, had to fall on his sword, like the leader of a political party which loses an election. Which is appropriate since the job of captaining the Australian cricket team is commonly regarded down under as more important than that of the Prime Minister of Australia.

Nowadays few Aborigines play cricket. Rugby and Aussie Rules football are more popular.


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