x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

Let's burn the urn and play for a new trophy

Cricket has changed over the past five years. A new ICC headquarters in Dubai, a new World Twenty20 tournament, a new Indian Premier League. And England have managed to win the Ashes. Twice!

Cricket has changed over the past five years. A new ICC headquarters in Dubai, a new World Twenty20 tournament, a new Indian Premier League. And England have managed to win the Ashes. Twice! So while this bracing wind of change blows, might I suggest another small alteration? The Ashes series needs a new name and trophy.

Think about it. The Ashes urn is the physical manifestation of an old - but not particularly funny - joke. In 1882, England were beaten by a visiting Australia, prompting the Sporting Times newspaper to write a satirical obituary for English cricket. It included a line that "the body will be cremated and the ashes taken to Australia". The following year, a group of Melbourne ladies joined in the hilarity by presenting a small ashes-filled urn to England captain Ivo Bligh.

Like I say, it was not the funniest gag. But this was 1883, remember, and television had not been invented. You had to make your own fun. Fast forward 126 years and the joke is unsurprisingly stale. English cricket has died a thousand deaths since then, and the Motherland is regularly humiliated by her former colonies. Besides, what good is a tiny urn in the world of trophies? Yes, the winning captain can kiss it (well, he can kiss a replica because the original is too fragile to be handled) but it is too small for the crowd to see. You cannot wear an urn, like you can wear a Green Jacket. You cannot swill champagne from an urn, or place its lid upon your head, like you can with the FA Cup. You cannot even use an urn as a cudgel with which to tackle a burglar, as one presumably can with the Fifa World Cup.

But more to the point, the Ashes urn represents a lost era in sport - a time when winners were magnanimous and losers were gracious. In modern cricket, losers do not amuse themselves with satirical obituaries. They carp and moan, as the Australians have done. Why did England use delaying tactics at Cardiff? Why did they not sort the drainage out at Edgbaston? Why did they scorch the wicket at the Oval?

And the victors? Well, if there is one thing worse than a moaning Australian, it is a boastful Englishman. We are as arrogant and boastful as the Aussies in victory, but we also show an utter lack of perspective. Take the hysterical over-reaction when England won the Ashes in 2005. Grown men should not weep with joy, attend open-top bus celebrations or accept gongs from the Queen - the entire team were awarded the title of Member of the British Empire - simply because they have managed to win a two-horse race, held biennially, for the first time in 16 years. The mind boggles at what stately reward Strauss and co will get this time. Knighthoods all round, perhaps? Seats in the House of Lords? The Falkland Islands?

So, in a nutshell, I do not want Australia to win, because the Aussies are unbearable in victory. And I do not want England to win, because the English are even worse. An old English term for such a dilemma - one in which both outcomes are equally unpalatable - is a "Morton's Fork". It dates back to a 15th century tax collector who could justify taxing almost anyone. Rich or poor, when John Morton was in town, you were going to get forked.

Such a dilemma could be the inspiration for the new Ashes name and trophy. To reflect a competition in which I dread either team winning, let us ditch the urn and look forward to 2011, when Australia and England do battle for a humble piece of cutlery - in the inaugural Fork Series.