The Ashes is a cricket series of test matches played between England and Australia. It dates back to 1882 and is currently played once every two years. It is named the Ashes because the teams compete to retain a small urn containing the ashes of a ball, burnt before the commencement of the series  between England and Australia.
Following England's defeat by Australia in 1882, the Sporting Times published a mock obituary, which read "In Affectionate Remembrance of English Cricket Which Died At The Oval on 29th August 1882, Deeply lamented by a large circle of sorrowing friends and acquaintances. R.I.P. The body will be cremated, and the ashes taken to Australia."
The series alternates between being hosted in England and Australia, and is due to be played in England in 2009.
Australia currently hold the ashes following their victory in 2006/2007.