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Every 18 to 30 months, a team of cricketers from either Australia or England jets over to their opposite's country for several weeks of sport. The event is called the Ashes and is central to cricket in either country.
The Ashes began in 1882, when the English team lost on home soil for the first time to Australia. An obituary was published, declaring English cricket dead and that the body would be cremated and the ashes sent to Australia. Shortly after, an English team set off to tour Australia and the English captain, Ivo Bligh (Lord Darnley), declared he would bring the ashes back.
The metaphor was given body by some ladies in Melbourne, who presented Bligh with a small ceramic urn containing ashes. The urn became the symbol of the competition which takes place roughly every two years (with varying gaps, as the summer game is played in alternating hemispheres). The urn itself is not awarded to the winners of the Ashes, but remains in the museum at Lord's. Since 1998, the teams have competed for a Waterford crystal trophy.
The Ashes is Test cricket, consisting of five five-day games. Whichever side wins the most games is the winner. If there is a draw, the trophy remains with the winner of the previous series.