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Heirloom find bowls over world of cricket

The dispute over England's refusal to send the Ashes Down Under despite repeated victories by Australia's cricketers has taken a twist after the discovery of a silver tray that the famous urn once sat on.

The tray was presented to Sir William Clarke, president of the Melbourne Cricket Club, by the first England team to tour Australia in return for his gift of the urn. The urn was to rest on the silver salver, engraved with signatures of the England team.

The tray remained with the Clarke family and is being auctioned in Sydney today. It is expected to fetch at least A$200,000 (£85,000).

No one in Australia knew that the tray existed. It surfaced last month after a member of the Clarke family passed it to a Sydney auction house, Lawson Menzies.

The discovery is a further twist in the Ashes dispute. The urn has been held by Marylebone Cricket Club (MCC) since 1927. Last year, after sustained pressure from Australia, the MCC agreed to send it. But Lord Darnley, the grandson of Ivo Bligh, the historic team's first captain, refused to allow the urn out of the country.

Cricket buffs in Australia are hoping the tray will be bought by a museum and put on public display. But British institutions, including the MCC, are reportedly interested in buying it.