What are the Ashes? Cricket's oldest rivalry explained

Last updated at 16:55
James Anderson and Alistair Cooke with the Ashes trophy.PA

England have just regained the Ashes, but what is is all about?

The Ashes is the name given to a special cricket series involving England and Australia.

The two nations meet roughly every two years, with the winners claiming one of the most famous (and smallest) trophies in sport, the Ashes urn.

The matches are held alternately in England and Australia. They consist of a series of five test matches, each lasting up to five days.

Why are they called The Ashes?

The story of the Ashes began way back in 1882 when England were beaten at home for the first time by Australia.

Sporting TimesGetty Images
It all started with a joke obituary in a newspaper

The series defeat shocked the sporting world at the time, and prompted The Sporting Times newspaper to print a joke story on the 'death of English cricket'.

The newspaper said English cricket would be burnt down and the ashes sent to Australia.

When England next toured Australia those ashes became real - a pair of bails were burned and the ashes put into the now famous urn.

The winning players are given a replica to celebrate with, as the real trophy is far too fragile.

Who's the best?

England won three Ashes series in a row, at home in 2009 and away in 2010/11.

But they lost badly in the 2013-2014 series against the Baggy Greens - the nickname given to the Aussie side which refers to the caps they wear on their heads.

Stuart Broad with Ashes trophy in 2009Getty Images
England won the tiny trophy in 2009

Australia won the series 5-0 in 2013/2014 and 2006/07, when they beat England in Australia.

Australia were utterly dominant for nearly 20 years before that, winning nine out of 10 series played. That's why there was such a huge fuss when Michael Vaughan's England side finally won it back in 2005.

Players to watch

James AndersonAllsport
England's top bowler, James Anderson

England captain Alistair Cook is one of the top players to watch out for.

He's got a whopping 9,032 Test runs to his name and against Australia he's pretty good too, with four centuries and a top score of 235 not out.

Batting star Joe Root broke records in 2013 when he became the youngest England player to score an Ashes Series century against Australia at Lord's.

England bowler James Anderson will be leading his side's attack.

Michael ClarkeAFP
Australian skipper Michael Clarke

He's one of the top England wicket-takers, and has been a key player in previous Ashes series victories.

Australia's captain Michael Clarke is one of his team's top batsman.

His average batting score is over 50 runs per innings, and he's reckoned to be a great tactical captain too.

Australian fast bowler Mitchell Johnson could be a decisive figure in the series.

He's been made fun of by England fans in the past, because he can sometimes be a bit erratic, but when he's good, he's devastating.