The Ashes should need no introduction. The quest for the urn is the biggest prize in cricket and a contest which transcends the sport in both countries.
The 2013 series in England next summer is eagerly awaited and has dominated the Test horizon in both countries since Andrew Strauss lifted the smallest prize in sport in January 2011.
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Strauss will not relinquish the Test captaincy until he leads his side against the Old Enemy again, whilst pantomime-villain Ricky Ponting is also looking for the ultimate farewell party.
Australia have been rebuilding their side in attempt to wrestle back the urn and it should be far more competitive than the last two Ashes series.
The opening act comes this week in the form of the first game of a five-match one-day series.
The raison d’etre of these games is mysterious – the series is reported to be a bargaining tool which will allow England to play in a triangular series in Australia before the 2015 World Cup. The necessity of the Ashes series Down Under in 2013 is similarly perplexing.
The plan for back-to-back series between the sides, which will see 10 Ashes tests on the bounce, has divided opinion and an additional re-run of this summer’s one day series next year has furthered criticism.
The Australians will actually be playing in England three times over the next four years. In 2015, the Baggy Green will return for another Ashes series and one-day series.
The irony of the 2015 fixtures is that the rationale behind the back-to-back series in 2013 is to “decouple” Ashes winters in Australia from World Cup year.
The underwhelming World Cups of 2003, 2007 and 2011 followed Test and one-day series Down Under and the administration have sought to free up England’s schedule from the intensity of the ultimate cricketing challenge against their Antipodean rivals away from home.
In 2015, they will have a domestic Ashes summer followed by an Australian World Cup instead. They may not have the burden of exhaustion which comes with an overseas Ashes tour pre-World Cup but the emotional outlay will still be manifest.
The four year home-and-away cycle has been discarded temporarily with some disdain.
The urn of 1882 is being sacrificed for the 1975-born World Cup, and the coffers of both national boards.
In 2019 when the next World Cup comes around, England will be hosts straight after a home series against, you guessed it, Australia.
Both boards faced charges of denigrating The Ashes for financial gain.
The primacy of contests between England and Australia will be diluted if fixtures between the sides dominate the cricketing calendar. If a spectacle becomes routine, any sense of occasion is lost.
The threat of overkill is dangerous. Monotony is not long-forgotten.
The Ashes is currently a gateway to sell-out stadiums and unparalleled television revenue but this may change as the volume of Ashes Tests rises.
Ashes history is rarefied in cricket and it is imprudent to tamper with a formula which has endured for over a century. The biennial coming together of the two nations is intended to occur every 18 – 30 months.
We can preserve tradition and move forward at the same time; the policy of decoupling is understandable but the methodology is faulty.
If there must be two Ashes series in 2013, it follows that the next one should be in 2017 not 2015 to offset the proximity of the back-to-back 2013 series and avoid World Cup Year.
The Ashes has already been removed from terrestrial television and it must not be removed from the nation’s heart too because of the menace of repetition.
It is also cricket’s showcase to the world; the move to dabble with the Ashes has implications beyond the parochial.
The counties may stand to benefit in the short term – the grounds are usually guaranteed to sell out for international ODIs and Ashes tickets are still prized – but this is suggestive of a wider malaise.
The audience for Test cricket is dwindling. The game remains in trouble and the ICC must instigate the promised experiments of day/night Tests imminently.
The players may want more Tests against South Africa this summer rather than the up-coming ODI series against the Aussies but the market is not there.
The Ashes must not be used to preserve Test cricket. Test cricket needs an over-haul in its own right.
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