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1897-1914

The first 30 years of Ashes combat would see many trends, traditions and trademarks of future series established.

This is not one of them: after the Hon. Ivo Bligh brought home the Ashes in 1882/3, England retained the urn for seven series spanning nine years.

Interestingly for those of us who lament the almost total disappearance of the five-Test series, most of these early series are short. Only the 1884/5 series in Australia, won 3-2 by England with innings and 98 run victory in final Test at Melburne is played over more than three Tests.

And those who decry the ICC's championing of four-day Tests as a damaging attack on the game's historical significance may be surprised to know that Tests in England at that time were played over just three days (although Tests in Australia were - and would be until the 1930s - played to a conclusion).

Australia won the Ashes, for the first time since inadvertently creating them in 1882, with a 2-1 victory on home soil in 1891 but relinquish them again in 1893 as an innings victory at The Oval alongside draws at Lord's and Old Trafford see England take out the series 1-0.

A sign of things to come over the next century arrives in 1897/8, as Australia produce their first crushing series victory.

After losing the first Test, Australia won the next two by an innings en route to a 4-1 triumph. Future captain Joe Darling became the first left-hander to score a Test century in the opener at Sydney; Ernest Jones the first bowler to be no-balled for chucking in the following game at Melbourne.

In the third Test at Adelaide, Darling scored the first six in Test cricket - which at that time meant hitting the ball right out of the ground - and in doing so brought up his hundred. He would hit two more maximums before being dismissed for 178 as Australia won by an innings and 13 runs to take a 2-1 lead.

A century at Sydney (in just 91 minutes) saw Darling become the first man to score three tons in one Ashes series.

Darling's Australia would retain the urn 18 months later, winning the first five-Test rubber on English soil 1-0. England fans will be unsurprised to learn that the one victory for the tourists came at Lord's: the Aussies' love affair with HQ is a long-standing one.

England, under the auspices of the MCC for the first time, toured down under again in 1901/2, but an injury to Sydney Barnes - who took 19 wickets in the opening two matches - left England short of firepower.

After losing the first Test by an innings, Australia hit back to win the next four and retain their metaphorical possession of the Ashes.

What followed the next summer was arguably the first truly great Ashes series as cricket enjoyed its celebrated Golden Age.

In the first Test at Edgbaston, Johhny Tyldesley's 138 set England on their way to 376 for nine declared.

Wilfred Rhodes (7/17) and George Hirst (3/15) then ripped through the Australian batting line-up for just 36 runs. It remains, unsurprisingly, Australia's lowest Test total.

But rain on the final day saved Australia from a crushing defeat, and only 28 overs' play was possible in the second Test at Lord's.

The third Test was the first - and last - to be held at the home ground of Sheffield United, Bramall Lane.

Greatest

Australia won by 143 runs, Clem Hill (119) scoring the only Sheffield Test ton, and England's greatest ever sportsman CB Fry was unimpressed: "When I was stumped in the first innings I literally saw no ball at all to play at. The Sheffield smoke-stacks were in fine form and the light was otherwise grim."

And so to the fourth Test at Old Trafford, where England needed a win to keep alive their hopes of regaining the urn.

It would prove the greatest match since the 1882 Test at The Oval that had started the whole thing.

The England selection looked panicked: Fry, Gilbert Jessop and Barnes were dropped; the great Indian prince Ranjitsinjhi was recalled for what would prove to be his final Test.

Most tellingly, on the Wednesday before the match, medium-pacer Fred Tate got a first Test call-up.

Victor Trumper's century helped Australia amass 299 in the first innings, but a hundred from Stanley Jackson enabled England to approach parity at 262.

The game was beautifully poised - even more so when Australia slumped to 10/3 in their second innings.

Darling then skied the ball to square-leg, where Tate dropped the chance. The Australia captain would go on to make a crucial 37 in Australia's 86 all out.

Yet England still needed only 124 runs for victory and, at 92/3, appeared set fair to square the series and make the final Test at The Oval a decider.

But Hugh 'Terror' Trumble and Jack Saunders took five wickets for 24 runs to leave Australia sensing an unlikely victory. After further rain delays, a brilliant catch from Hill on the square-leg boundary brought Tate to the crease, his chance of redemption at hand. He was bowled by Saunders for four, and Australia won by three runs. It was Tate's only Test.

Old Trafford 1902 remained the narrowest margin of victory in an Ashes Test until Edgbaston 2005.

With the Ashes now safe, there came the first example of what would become another regular feature of future series: Australia losing dead rubbers, often at The Oval.

But it was another sensational Test match.

England, set 263 for victory, appeared doomed at 48 for five. But Gilbert Jessop smashed a century in just 75 minutes and England's last pair Hirst and Rhodes scraped together the final 15 required.

Not until 1981 and 2005 would such nail-biting contests arrive in such close proximity.

England regained the urn 18 months later with a 3-2 victory down under despite 574 runs in the series from Trumper, while RE Foster's 287 in the first Test remains the highest score by a debutant and the highest for England in Australia. It was his only Test century.

The Ashes changed hands regularly over the following decade until 1911/12, when England triumphed 4-1 in Australia. Jack Hobbs scored three of his 12 Ashes tons, including a best of 187 and plundered 662 runs - a record at the time. In the fourth Test at Melbourne - which England won by an innings and 225 runs - he shared an opening stand of 323 with Rhodes which remains an England Ashes record.

The First World War halted Ashes combat for the best part of a decade. In the first series after the war, in 1920/21 Australia crushed England 5-0. The third Test at Adelaide produced six centuries - a record that stood until 1938 - while Arthur Mailey's 9/121 in the second innings of the fourth Test at Melbourne remain the best bowling figures by an Australian.

The 1920/1 series was, until 2006/7, the only whitewash in Ashes history - although it should be noted that these were timeless Tests with victory not secured in Adelaide until the sixth day's play.

The following English summer produced another classic - if one-sided - Ashes series. The Australian captain, Warwick Armstrong, dominated both physically and mentally. A large man, belligerent all-rounder and by all accounts fond of whisky, he masterminded a comprehensive victory.

Australia won the first three Tests of the series to take their winning run against England to eight. And the margins of those victories will be all too familiar to modern England fans: 10 wickets, eight wickets, 219 runs.

The first Test of the series - the 100th Anglo-Australian contest - at Trent Bridge is wrapped up by the second afternoon. Jack Gregory and Ted MacDonald - forerunners to Lillee and Thomson - take 16 wickets.

Despite their dominance of the series, Charles Macartney's century in the third Test at Leeds is Australia's only three-figure score.

After seven straight defeats, Johnny Douglas was replaced as England skipper by the Hon Lionel Tennyson for that third Test at Headingley. He promptly split his left hand, but bravely made 99 runs in the match using just his good hand. It did little to help his side against the might of a superb Australian outfit.

The final two Tests were drawn, with legend having it that Armstrong - bored by England's slow progress as Phil Mead painstakingly compiled 182 not out in the first innings of the final Test - retired to the Vauxhall End during the game to sit and read a newspaper.

Certainly, England appeared to have little heart to push for a morale-boosting victory, batting well into day two of the three-day match before declaring on 403/8.

Timeless

England regained the Ashes in 1926, but three-day Tests were fast losing their appeal.

The first four matches of the series were drawn as clamour grew for longer Test matches in England. Ashes Tests in Australia, remember, were still timeless at this stage.

But the urn was safely back in English hands after victory by 289 runs in the final Test and a recall for the 48-year-old Rhodes at The Oval.

Jack Hobbs scored his only Ashes ton on his home ground and opening partnership of 172 with Herbert Sutcliffe paved way for England's triumph.

England retained the Ashes in 1928/9 in a run-filled series that forewarned of the giant totals to come. England won the first Test by 675 runs (still a record) as one DG Bradman made an unsuccessful Test debut, scoring just 18 and one in the Australian middle order. He is dropped for the next match, but recalled for the third and makes the first of his 29 Test centuries - 19 of which would be scored against the old enemy.

Debutant Archie Jackson made a sensational 164 on debut in Adelaide while still in his teens but could not prevent England squeaking home by 12 runs top retain the urn.

A record 17 centuries were scored by 11 different batsmen in the series, but the two scored by Bradman - and an average of 66.86 for the series despite his debut struggles - that would leave the most lasting impression.

The Don had arrived.