Tuesday, 9 June 2009

Raking over those Ashes

(A version of this article appeared in Varsity in June 2009)

The wait is almost over. In just a few weeks’ time, Andrew Strauss and Ricky Ponting will walk out for the toss at Sophia Gardens in Cardiff, and we’ll finally be able to tuck into the main course of this summer’s extravagant feast of cricket – the Ashes. This time around, there are some unfamiliar items on the Aussie side of the menu. While the tourists are confident that these fresh ingredients will spice up their team, the home side are aware that the likes of Hughes, Haddin and Siddle clearly lack the seasoning of the men they have replaced. As a brand new chapter of Ashes history begins, England will fancy their chances of regaining the urn.

Flip through earlier chapters of that history and you notice that a number of Cambridge men figure prominently. Mike Atherton (Downing 1986-89), the most recent CUCC Captain to go on to skipper England, took part in some epic Ashes battles but sadly never tasted success. Mike Brearley (St John’s 1960-68) had better luck, famously masterminding a Botham-inspired comeback in 1981. To find Cambridge’s most significant contributor to Ashes history, however, you have to turn to the very first volume, dated 1882. Therein lies the tale of the very blighter who first brought the urn back to Old Blighty – the Honourable Ivo Bligh (Trinity 1877-81). After England’s first defeat on home soil had prompted the Sporting Times to print its now famous mock obituary of English cricket, it was Bligh who led the touring team that set sail for Australia, declaring that he intended “to recover those Ashes.” And recover them he jolly well did. His personal contribution? Just 33 runs in 3 Tests, but plenty of damned fine after-dinner speeches, no doubt.

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