Thursday, 4 November 2010

Ashes advent calendar: The Obituary

While Test Matches had taken place between Australia and England since 1877, and exhibition matches had started considerably earlier, it wasn't until 1882 that the Ashes acquired its name, thanks to the wit of an anonymous cricket fan placing his famous mock obituary in the pages of the Sporting Times.

As will be relayed on these pages later, Australia's win in the Oval Test of 1882 came as a deep, deep shock to all English cricket followers, akin perhaps to the earthquake that spread through English football when the mighty Hungarian side of the 1950s beat England at Wembley. England's supremacy in cricket, on home turf at least, was assumed to be absolute - all that seemed to be in question was the margin of victory. So to lose the match by 8 runs, all out when chasing only 85, left many in "stop all the clocks, cut off the telephone" mode.

Four days later, this famous notice appeared in the Sporting Times:

In Affectionate Remembrance
29th AUGUST, 1882,
Deeply lamented by a large circle of sorrowing 
friends and acquaintances.
R. I. P.
N.B. - The body will be cremated and the
ashes taken to Australia.

The final line ensured that when Ivo Bligh's side departed for Australia a few months later, their tour was referred to as the quest to "regain the ashes", as if repatriating the body of a fallen soldier. Thereafter all cricket series between England and Australia have been billed as The Ashes.

The Sporting Times itself was a newspaper which began publication in 1865 concentrating predominantly on horse racing and with gamblers as its major target market. It was also known as the Pink 'Un on account of the pink paper it was  printed on and was published every Saturday. It had a multitude of competitor publications throughout its lifetime, surviving often through propagating rather scurrilous tabloid-style gossip. It finally folded in 1932.

Did you know: The Sporting Times was not the first to publish an obituary of English cricket. Just two days before the more famous version was published, the weekly newspaper "Cricket" published the the following notice: "SACRED TO THE MEMORY OF ENGLAND'S SUPREMACY IN THE CRICKET-FIELD WHICH EXPIRED ON THE 29TH DAY OF AUGUST, AT THE OVAL: 'ITS END WAS PEATE'" Peate was the last man out for England after refusing to give his partner the strike with 10 to win.

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