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Last Updated: Wednesday, 13 July 2005, 14:56 GMT 15:56 UK
Ashes History: The early years
The origins of cricket's oldest international contest date to 1882 when Australia achieved the unthinkable.

Until then, England had never lost on home soil, but Australia, led by WL Murdoch, shocked the "Mother Country".

England, with the legendary WG Grace in their ranks, went down by seven runs as Fred Spofforth took 14 wickets.

The following day a mock obituary ran in the Sporting Times: "In affectionate remembrance of English cricket, which died at The Oval on 29th August, 1882".

It added: "The body will be cremated and the ashes taken to Australia."

Those mythical ashes became a reality when the next England team toured down under.

Prior to that trip, England had travelled south three times with little success. They drew the first series and lost the next two, which sandwiched a home victory - nine matches in total of which Australia won four to England's two.

But the English took revenge on the 1882/83 trip when the Hon Ivo Bligh was presented with an urn containing the burnt remains of a bail after beating the home side 2-1.

Thus "The Ashes" were now a tangible sporting prize, although they remain in the safekeeping of cricket's spiritual home, Lord's.

After regaining their honour, England went on to win the next seven Ashes contests, starting with the first home Test series against Australia in 1884.

1876-77: Aus 1-1 Eng
1878-79: Aus 1-0 Eng
1880: Eng 1-0 Aus
1881-82: Aus 2-0 Eng
1882: Eng 0-1 Aus
1882-83: Aus 1-2 Eng
1884: Eng 1-0 Aus
1884-85: Aus 2-3 Eng
1886: Eng 3-0 Aus
1886-87: Aus 0-2 Eng
1887-88: Aus 0-1 Eng
1888: Eng 2-1 Aus
1890: Eng 2-0 Aus
1891-92: Aus 2-1 Eng
1893: Eng 1-0 Aus
1894-95: Aus 2-3 Eng
1896: Eng 2-1 Aus
1897-98: Aus 4-1 Eng
1899: Eng 0-1 Aus
1901-02: Aus 4-1 Eng
1902: Eng 1-2 Aus
And that winter, England beat Australia 3-2 in the first five-Test series down under.

But it was a tour marred by controversy, including a walkout by the Aussies over payment and a fight in the first match.

Australia failed to win a Test until they came to England in 1888, but they still lost the series, going down by an innings in the remaining matches.

And it was a similar result two years on when poor batting bedevilled their chances against a team led by WG Grace.

The Australians finally won the Ashes when England toured in 1891-92, beating Grace's team 2-1 - one of the rare blemishes during the good doctor's astounding career.

Having missed the intervening two series - which were both won by England - Grace returned to the helm in 1896 to oversee a 2-1 victory.

It proved to be England's final Ashes triumph of the Victorian era, however, as Australia proceeded to reel off four successive wins.

They won 4-1 at home in 1897-98, then finally won again in England in 1899, 17 years after their previous victory had spawned the Ashes.

Grace played his final international match in the drawn first Test, before Australia secured the decisive victory in a five-match series in the following match at Lord's with centuries from Clem Hill and Victor Trumper.

Hill and Trumper were joined in the team by Hugh Trumble and Monty Noble, a quartet of players who were crucial to their country's dominance over the ensuing years.

Their run of success continued on the 1902 tour to England, one of the most exciting Ashes series ever.

It included two tense finishes at Old Trafford and The Oval. Australia sealed the Ashes in Manchester with a three-run victory, before the hosts exacted revenge of sorts with a one-wicket win in London.

Both victorious sides had to come from behind in the only successive Tests that could have been won by either side off a single ball.

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