Today may signal the start of the international Summer of Cricket for many a fan against the old enemy in Brisbane, but few would know that it was in a humble suburb north west of Melbourne where the origins of one of the most recognised sporting trophies of our time are embedded.
It’s hard to believe that Rupertswood Estate in Sunbury, about an hours drive from the MCG, has the title of “birthplace of the Ashes” but as a result of a social match in 1882 with members of the English touring cricket team, a cheeky act by Lady Janet Clarke lay foundation to a tradition that has continued on for over 130 years.
The estate that started it all (Picture: Rupertswood Mansion)
When English captain Ivo Bligh was presented with an urn containing the ashes of what is believed to be a burnt bail, Lady Clarke inadvertently created a rivalry that now pits cricket’s oldest rivals in a battle both on and off field, in a fierce battle of words and wits due to recommence under the Queensland skies this morning.
Although it has only been 88 days since England triumphed 3-0 on their own hallowed turf, the Australian team are more favoured to pilfer a win at the Gabba however the fickle November weather may yet have the final say with thunderstorms and showers predicted for the last three days of play.
Traditionally, the Gabba pitch has proven to be a handful for visiting teams with the bounce, pace and movement troubling many a foreign batsman and it appears that today will be no different with the hot and humid conditions assisting in whatever home town advantage Australia can possibly muster.
In fact, Australia have not lost to England at the Gabba in the last 17 years however it is the English side which is likely to have the most settled side for the series – a factor that cannot be underestimated. With earlier injury clouds over both Matthew Prior and Kevin Pietersen all but completely cleared up and a bowling line up ready to strut their stuff, England’s preparation has been almost faultless; their batsmen have made plenty of runs and the strike bowling combination of Anderson and Broad has been superb. In fact, the biggest issue facing the selectors for the visitors is probably that surrounding whom will be the third seamer in the side after the long-term injury to Tim Bresnan.
After lack lustre performances from Steven Finn and Boyd Rankin in England’s seven wicket win over an Invitational XI a week ago, Chris Tremlett looks likely to fill that role; one which will most likely cause some trepidation for the Australian batsmen with his extra height assisting in sending down some vicious bouncers with an extraordinary ability to move off the seam.
Pietersen racks up the milestone of his 100th test – one which was potentially in jeopardy after his ostracising twelve months ago following well documented events surrounding his fraternisation with his South African rivals – and looks to be thriving from the attention of Australians intent on using a well rehearsed vocabulary of insults in his general direction.
Australia on the other hand have come off a difficult tour of India and at best have had a disrupted preparation with off field incidents drawing more attention than the on field efforts of the squad. Significant injuries to the bowling stocks including James Pattinson, Pat Cummins, Jackson Bird and Mitchell Starc have depleted much of the depth of which the squad prided itself upon and with in form bowlers Ryan Harris and Peter Siddle both susceptible to injury, it will be a nervous selection panel that oversees the preparation leading up to and the first few sessions later today and tomorrow.
Mitchell Johnson however has been anointed as the potential saviour of our pace attack and despite his wayward attack being the butt of English humour as a result of the 2010/2011 series, he has worked hard to bring consistency in his pace and rhythm, as was evidenced in his performance last Summer in Perth against the world’s number one, South Africa.
George Bailey will have his name go into the record books as being the oldest Australian test debutante in 32 years and has been in scintillating form in the one day arena – but will this translate to test form?
With news that Shane Watson appears fit to bowl, James Faulkner will most likely carry the drinks leaving the door open for the off spinner Nathan Lyon to make his mark – but it will be difficult for him.
Ultimately, this series promises to deliver far more than the recent series from England – and this is one Sunbury girl who cannot wait for it.
From a cricket match amongst friends in my own backyard 130+ years ago to a tradition that spans generations , the Ashes holds a place in the hearts of many – a vision that those present at Rupertswood in 1882 would only dream of.
Tickets are still available to every day of the First Test – go to www.ticketmaster.com.au for details.