The Ashes is a Test cricket series, played between England and Australia - it is international cricket's oldest and most celebrated rivalry dating back to 1882. It is currently played approximately biennially, alternately in England and Australia. The Ashes are "held" by the country which last won a series and to "regain" them the other country must win more Test matches in a series than the country that "holds" them. If a series is "drawn" then the country holding the Ashes retains them.
The series is named after a satirical obituary published in The Sporting Times in 1882 following the match at The Oval, in which Australia beat England in England for the first time. The obituary stated that English cricket had died, and the body will be cremated and the ashes taken to Australia. The English media dubbed the next English tour, to Australia (1882-83) as the quest to regain The Ashes.
A small terracotta urn was presented to the England captain Ivo Bligh by a group of Melbourne women during the 1882-83 tour. The contents of the urn are reputed to be the ashes of an item of cricket equipment, possibly a bail, ball or stump. The urn is not used as a trophy for the Ashes series, and whichever side "holds" the Ashes, the urn normally remains in the MCC Museum at Lord's because of its age and fragility. Since the 1998-99 Ashes series, a Waterford crystal trophy has been presented to the winners.
In February 1883, just before the disputed fourth test, a velvet bag, which was made by Mrs Ann Fletcher, the daughter of Joseph Hines Clarke and Marion Wright, both of Dublin, was given to Bligh to contain the urn.
There used to be little public knowledge of the urn, and no record of a published photograph exists before 1924. However, when Bligh died in 1927, his widow presented the urn to the Marylebone Cricket Club and that was the key event in establishing the urn as the physical embodiment of the legendary ashes. The MCC first displayed the urn in the Long Room at Lord's Cricket Ground and since 1953 in the MCC Cricket Museum at the ground. It is ironic that MCC’s wish for it to be seen by as wide a range of cricket enthusiasts as possible has led to its being mistaken for an official trophy.
It is in fact a private memento, and for this reason the Ashes urn itself is never physically awarded to either England or Australia, but is kept permanently in the Museum where it can be seen together with the specially-made red and gold velvet and the scorecard of the 1882 match.