The battle for one of cricket’s most high-profile trophies, ‘The Ashes’, is a highlight on any sporting calendar, especially in Australia. Held every two years, the matches between England and Australia are one of cricket’s,’ if not sport’s, greatest rivalries.
In ‘Burning the Bails: The Story of the Ashes,’ Krista Bell provides a partly fictional, partly factual account of where the famous trophy originated. In 1882, following Australia’s defeat of England by just seven runs, a tongue-in-cheek obituary appeared in ‘The Sporting Times’ in England lamenting the death of English cricket and noting that ‘the body will be cremated, and the ashes taken to Australia’.
In this fictionalised story we meet a young boy, Russell Clarke, retuning by boat with his family from a tour of Europe. Also on board are members of a touring All England cricket team. Russell is the son of the wealthy pastoralist, Sir William Clarke, at that time President of the Melbourne Cricket Club. The Clarke family invite the English cricket team to join them for Christmas at their station property, Rupertswood.
On Christmas Eve a cricket match was played between the visiting English team and a makeshift local side. England won, and that evening the English team were presented with a trophy that Lady Clarke made as a joke by having the bails used in that day’s match burned. In the story it is Russell who finds a suitable ‘urn’ in which to place the ashes.
The bright lively naïve style artwork throughout adds to the idea of this being a child’s account of the story. The inclusion of historic family photographs belonging to the Clarke family featured in the endpapers give credence and a timeframe to the events.
Thus, one of sport’s most converted trophies came into being. Of course, there is far more to the story, and the book includes additional historical information on the Birth of the Ashes and the Clarke family.