Looking ominous: Alastair Cook, and Kevin Pietersen make their way from the pitch at stumps. Photo: AP
- Scorecard / As it happened
- Ashton Agar, the Ashes hero
- Innings beyond imagination
- Robbed - England seek answers from ICC
Sunshine lit up Trent Bridge on Thursday, intensifying both the colours and the shadows. As luminescent as was Ashton Agar's innings – and his partnership with the not-to-be-forgotten Phillip Hughes – on either side of it was a looming darkness.
Agar's batting, like his selection in the first place, was so unexpected it stole the show. But before and after, it was the predicted elements that pushed the match in their direction. Through reverse swing and spin bowling, and then some grinding batting, England achieved their overall aims. Alastair Cook and Kevin Pietersen left the field with the air of casino owners who might have lost the big high-roller bets but still ended up ahead.
The majority of the Australian batting could not cope with the swing of James Anderson or the spin of Graeme Swann. Photo: Getty Images
This has been one of those 'Look up, not down' games, where the colour of the sky has dictated the contest between bat and ball. A sunny start to Thursday promised a non-swinging ball and a golden chance for the tourists.
Hughes and Steve Smith batted for half an hour without a hint of difficulty. More experience, and Australia might have still had wickets in hand at stumps.
But after Smith undid his very good fifty with a loose drive, the lower order was exposed to an attack that knows how to bowl at new batsmen. James Anderson, shielding the shiny side of the ball like a bridegroom with a dark past, managed to keep his intentions secret until the event had come and gone. He set Peter Siddle up with a savage in-ducker, and sent him on his way by following it with the ball that held its line. It was a master class in reverse swing, ably backed up by Graeme Swann's ability to twist the ball out of the dry turf.
The Ashes: Australia v England, Day 2
Thanks to teenage debutant Ashton Agar's 98 runs batting at 11, Australia salvaged the lead on day two of The Ashes. Photo: Getty
The sinking feeling in the Australian dressing room was delayed, if not dispelled, in unprecedented and unforgettable fashion. But it was hard to tell if the Agar-Hughes happy hour was entirely good or bad news. Of course it was good. It was great. It was a joy to behold. Agar was astonishing, while Hughes's controlled, under-the-nose defence was probably more important for the long term stability of Australia's batting order. Yet there was a sneaking sense that this partnership was conducted in brilliant light when batting got easier and easier. It highlighted what an opportunity the earlier Australian batsmen had thrown away, and also what a benign surface England and its second-innings specialists were going to bat on, with endless time up their sleeves. Like that massive party you throw when you're being evicted from your flat, the Agar-Hughes stand came out of a bad situation and promised a nasty hangover, but gee it was fun while it lasted.
In England's second innings, Mitchell Starc and James Pattinson bowled better with the new ball than in the first. Their greater control was another reminder of opportunities missed: if they had bowled this accurately on Wednesday, would England have made 100? But after Starc's two early, and somewhat contestable, wickets – this has been a much better week for cricket than for cricket technology – the match settled into a pattern that had been planned for on both sides. The Australians probed and probed, trying to tempt Cook into his fallible off-drive. And Cook waited and waited, with more leaves than autumn, until they dropped short and gave him something to nibble away square. Pietersen was also dried up and teased.
Accept for a moment that Agar was picked not as a batsman but to prey upon Pietersen's supposed weakness against left-arm spin. That plan almost worked. There was a nick into Brad Haddin's leg, and a couple of ropy chip shots just wide of the fielders. But the wicket didn't come. After five madcap sessions, the Test match was easing towards the one we were expecting.
At the end of the day, the Australians converged on the field, shaking hands and slapping backs. The morale in this group is strong. So far, this is a strength that comes from will, hope, youth and desire, and a world record partnership between two young players that put a smile on every face. It is yet to be fully stress-tested. Meanwhile, Cook and Pietersen strolled off with a different bearing: strong, silent types. The Friday forecast was for a cloudless sky.