It was said to have started as a bit of a joke. A bunch of cricket loving ladies approached former English Captain Ivo Bligh in 1882 and handed him a small urn — containing the burnt remains of a bail — that according to Lord’s curator Adam Chadwick was “perhaps plucked off one of their dressing tables, maybe it was filled with perfume, or face cream, or ointment of some kind”.

Thus the urn became the symbol and trophy of the greatest rivalry in world cricket, and the source of complete outrage for many Australians, who could never see it in their own country. It has only visited here twice in the last 124 years, but it has never been on display to the public… until now.

Starting later this month, the urn will start a tour of five capital cities, but the English have taken special precautions. The urn will be insured for a seven figure sum, will have its very own business class seat on its Virgin Atlantic Flight, and be escorted by three people.

For most of the time it will be handcuffed to Chadwick, a light framed balding man with glasses who could be easily overpowered if anyone wished to do so, yet this walking target is talking tough. “Of course I’m expecting to encounter one or two people who think it should stay Down Under,” he said. “But this exhibition is about educating visitors in the history of the Ashes, and we can show them that this was originally a gift … And having given it to us, it would be wrong for Australia to ask for it back.”

Wrong to ask for it back? Yes it did start as a gift, but it has become so much more and surely if Australia manage to “regain the Ashes”, they should actually regain the ashes. Critics argue that it’s too fragile (despite seeing a severely bloated Mike Gatting holding it for the English press last week), and flying it back and forth would ruin it. But if Australia continues to beat the Poms, like they have done every series bar one, since 1987, then the urn wouldn’t be making any long haul flights, would it?

If we are to believe new MCC (Marylebone Cricket Club) chief executive Keith Bradshaw, the Ashes will never call Australia home, “I expect to get some press over there if Australia win — but the Ashes are definitely coming home.” But isn’t Mr Bradshaw’s home Tasmania? The State that was excluded from the urn’s itinerary because they didn’t want to chance it in a place that the visitors still refer to as Van Diemen’s Land?

If so, then that’s just not cricket… so let’s steal the bugger back.

Peter Fray

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