What are the Ashes? Cricket's oldest rivalry explained

Last updated at 16:28
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We spoke to cricketer Sam Curran about England's World Cup win and whether his team can win this year's Ashes

Australia and England are gearing to go head to head in one of the biggest competitions in cricket - the Ashes.

It is a special series of matches between England and Australia - and one of the longest-running rivalries in sport.

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.

It is held alternately in England and Australia, with England hosting this time.

Both teams play a series of five test matches, each lasting up to five days.

The 71st series begins at Edgbaston today. Find out more below about the series' history and the players to watch out for this year.

Why are they called The Ashes?
Sporting-Times-headline.Getty Images
It all started with a joke article in a newspaper

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

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.

Over 75 years later, the original urn lives in the MCC museum at Lord's cricket ground in London.

Who will win the Ashes?
England-winning-ashes.Getty Images
England last won the Ashes in 2015 but lost them again in 2017

Australia are the current holders of the Ashes. They won the last series 4-0, back in 2017.

Overall, Australia have won 33 series and England has won 32, and five series have been drawn. So, this Ashes is a particularly important one!

Australia have dominated the tournament in recent history though. The Baggy Greens, a nickname given to the Aussies thanks to the caps they wear on their heads, won the series 5-0 in 2013/2014 and 4-0 in 2006/07.

They were completely dominant for nearly 20 years before that, winning nine out of the ten series played. That's why there was such a huge fuss when England finally won it back in 2005.

But England won the World Cup for the first time earlier this month and have not been beaten in a home Ashes series since 2001.

So anything could happen!

I can't see there being any draws in the five Tests. At this stage, I've no idea which way it will go.

Michael Vaughan, England's Ashes winning captain of 2005

If Australia can start well, I think they can go on and win, but the same can be said if England find form. Both teams have strength in the bowling, so whichever batsmen put their hands up will be the side that wins the Ashes.

Glenn McGrath, former Australia fast bowler and six-time Ashes winner

The question is which team can be the most consistent with the bat? It will be 3-2 to someone.

Jonathan Agnew, BBC cricket correspondent and Ashes winner in 1985

I expect England to win 3-2 to round off a memorable summer.

Paul Farbrace, former England assistant coach
Players to watch
Jofra-Archer-bowling.Getty Images

One name that is on every cricket fans lips is Jofra Archer, who has been called up for his first ever Test match. He has been making waves in the sport and was the leading wicket-taker in the recent World Cup.

Archer has a super fast right arm, bowling at speeds of up to 145kph, which poses some big problems for even the most experienced batsman.

At just 24 years old, Jofra is well on his way to a shining career in the sport.

Joe-Root-playing-2012. INDRANIL MUKHERJEE/AFP/Getty Images

England captain Joe Root is one of the top players to watch out for.

The 28-year-old batsman took over as captain in 2017 and has proved to be a reliable captain.

Root is a strong all-rounder and has racked up 6718 runs in just 81 matches.

He broke records in 2013 when he became the youngest England player to score a century in an Ashes match at Lord's in London.

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WATCH: England cricket captain Joe Root surprises his old school
Australian-player-steve-smith.Reuters

Australia's captain Steve Smith is his team's top batsman and has even been referred to as the best batsman in the world.

During the 2017 Test, he reached a Test batting rating of 947 - the second-highest of all time.

Josh-Hazelwood.Getty Images

Josh Hazlewood is the Australian bowler who England need to watch out for.

He shone in the 2017 Test and his accuracy can leave a nasty taste in the mouth of even veteran batsmen.

Hazlewood has taken 164 wickets in 44 matches and is more than comfortable facing off against England.

Is there a women's Ashes?
Australian Ellyse Perry with the new women's Ashes trophyGetty Images
Australian all-rounder Ellyse Perry with the new women's Ashes trophy

The women's teams play a version of the Ashes too.

The first women's Test series between England and Australia - the first women's Test series anywhere - was played in 1934-35.

The contest was not officially called 'the Women's Ashes' until 1998, when an autographed bat was burned before the first Test at Lord's, and the ashes were placed inside a cricket ball to make a trophy.

In 2013, a new Women's Ashes trophy was produced.

The Women's Ashes is decided from a mix of matches - Tests, One Day Internationals and Twenty20 International matches as well.

Danielle-Wyatt-catches-the-ball.Getty Images
Danielle Wyatt of England takes a catch in the latest Ashes tournament in Australia

Four points are awarded for victory in a Test match, two each for a draw, and two points for winning a One Day or Twenty20 match.

The Women's Series have been played every two years since 2001.

Australia are the current champions after winning the 2019 Ashes.