THE Ashes test series between England and Australia is again in full swing but how did this most passionately fought of all cricketing contests begin?

Wirral-based author Mike Haskins has the answer as the story of the Ashes’ origin is just one of hundreds of tales included in his latest book The Wicked Wit of Cricket. 

“The beginning of the Ashes is extraordinary,” explained Mike from his home in Moreton. “And it all goes back to a shocking bit  of behaviour by one of the greatest figures in cricket history, W G Grace.” 

In August 1882, during a match between England and Australia at The Oval, Australian batsman Sammy Jones needed to smooth down the pitch in front of his wicket.

"Grace, having apparently given him permission to do so, knocked the bails from the wicket as soon as Jones stepped from his crease and declared the Australian out," said Mike.

The Aussies were appalled by Grace’s unsportsman-like behaviour and fired up they fought back in the match. England had been on 51 for 2 and needed just 85 to win but Australia then took their last eight wickets for just 26 runs.

Mike said: "The tension among the watching crowd grew so great during this period that one man died of a burst blood vessel and another gnawed through the handle of his umbrella." 

A few days later a mock funeral notice in the Sporting Times announced that English cricket had just died at The Oval and its ashes would be taken to Australia. That December the England team - minus W G Grace who had asked for too much money - travelled to Australia with captain Ivo Bligh vowing to reclaim these “ashes”. 

After winning the series in Australia 2-1, the England team visited the home of Sir William Clarke, president of the Melbourne Cricket Club. Here a tiny urn was created and presented to Ivo by Sir William’s wife Janet and her governess Florence Morphy. This then is the 4-inch high Ashes trophy for which England and Australia still compete today. But what does it contain? 

"Some said it was either the burnt remains of the ball or the bails from the game played at Sir William Clarke’s home," added Mike.

"Others said it was the ashes of Florence Morphy’s shawl. Subsequently however Ivo and Florence fell in love and married and took the urn back to their home in England. Here, their housemaid one day knocked the trophy over while dusting it thereby spilling the contents.  

Wirral Globe:

"It is therefore possible that the trophy today simply contains the ashes from Ivo and Florence’s fireplace, swept up and placed in the urn by their butler to replace the urn’s original contents!"

Mike Haskins’ book The Wicked Wit of Cricket is published by Michael O’Mara; copies are available from all good booksellers or online at