| The Ashes Urn
London, Jan. 3: The Marylebone Cricket Club today firmly quashed any suggestion that the urn containing the symbolic “Ashes” of English cricket should remain in Australia where the tiny trophy is part of an exhibition currently travelling from city to city.
Once it has got hold of a treasure, England doesn’t like handing it back.
The British Museum always says no to Greek requests to the return of the Elgin Marbles, just as the Tower of London always rejects demands from either India or Pakistan for the restoration of the Koh-i-Noor diamond.
The Ashes Urn is the property of the MCC and the heavens will fall in before it gives it up, though occasionally it allows the trophy to be taken out to be seen and admired by ordinary people, especially in Australia, a former colony.
Ricky Ponting’s men may have won the first four Tests in the current series but Lord’s will remain the permanent home of the urn.
The folk who run Lord’s must rue their moment of weakness when they allowed Sir Richard Branson, chairman of Virgin Atlantic, to fly the urn to Australia for a travelling exhibition.
Now, the tycoon has suggested that it’s only fair that the urn should remain in Australia because England has been comprehensively defeated in the current series.
What is worse is that the greatest living hero of English cricket, Ian Botham, has added his voice to those who want the urn to stay in Australia.
Allan Border, the former Australian captain, agrees but the MCC can afford to ignore him because he is only an Australian.
The MCC today made clear where it stood with a war-like declaration headed: “Ashes Urn to return to England.”
The sound of bugles could almost be heard as the MCC issued this notice: “Marylebone Cricket Club (MCC) has issued a statement in response to renewed calls for the Ashes Urn to remain in Australia at the end of its current exhibition tour.
“As the tens of thousands of visitors to the MCC Travelex Ashes Exhibition now know, the Urn was never intended to be the trophy for the cricket series, and has never changed hands between the two countries. It was a private gift to (England captain) Ivo Bligh, which he kept at his home until he died. To him and his wife — Florence Morphy, an Australian — the Urn represented their meeting, romance and subsequent marriage.
“It was Ivo’s wish that it be bequeathed to Marylebone Cricket Club and Florence carried out that last wish, giving the Urn to MCC in 1927.”
There are no ifs and buts about the next line: “The Urn will return to Lord’s after the exhibition tour finishes at the end of January.”
The statement added: “The Waterford Crystal MCC Ashes Trophy, which has stood as the perpetual trophy for the contest since 1999, will be presented at the end of the current Test, and will remain in Australia until the next Ashes Series.”
A small terracotta urn was presented to Bligh by a group of Melbourne women after England’s victory in the 1882 Test series. The urn is reputed to contain a set of burnt bails symbolising “the ashes of English cricket”.
Commenting on his discussions with Botham, Branson said: “Ian and I were talking the other night — and as two Englishmen, we basically just said that it seems wrong that the Ashes should be going back to the UK when England had just lost the series.
“As the airline that actually sponsored bringing the Ashes down, I also feel uncomfortable about the idea of actually flying the Ashes back to England. If England one day win the Ashes back, then we’ll be proud to fly the Ashes back to England.”
Botham said: “This [debate] has been going on for as long as I can remember — why should the Ashes stay in England — and it’s a fair point. You’re playing for the Ashes, and to me it seems a little bit ridiculous. If you’re playing for the Ryder Cup or the European Cup, then you get the cup.”
According to Border, “it’s all very well to have the symbolic handing over of the Ashes, and a little Ashes trophy replica, but there’s nothing quite the same as the real McCoy”.
He was backed by John Howard, the Australian Prime Minister, who commented: “I would very strongly support them coming to Australia. Despite all the tradition associated with the urn being where it normally is in England, I do think it should follow the winner.”
Ponting, the Australian captain, added a sly dig: “It’s going to be too frail to fly back, isn’t it' It would look quite good in Cricket Australia’s offices.”