The Ashes is the name given to any Test Match series between the cricket teams of England and Australia, in a tradition which began as newspaper joke.
IN 1882, a cricket team representing Australia defeated England by just seven runs in a match at the Oval in London, the first time Australia had beaten England on home soil.*
The Sporting Times mourned the death of English cricket in a tongue-in-cheek Obituary, which ran:
When England had their revenge upon Australia the following year, a group of Australian ladies graciously presented the victorious English captain, Ivo Bligh, with a terracotta urn no more than six inches high, containing (so it is said) the ashes of a single bail.*
Thus ‘the ashes of English cricket’ were returned, and to this day, every Test series between Australia and England is said to be ‘a fight for the Ashes’.
*See the urn at Lord’s Cricket Ground in London. Note that the urn is not a trophy, and the teams do not ‘fight’ for it or the ashes inside it: they fight for the ashes of English cricket.
* See the scorecard at CricInfo.