Agar smashing it at the Ashes
Ashton Agar reaches the highest ever score by a number 11 in Test match history, pulling Australia's First Test hopes from the fire on an absorbing day two at Trent Bridge.PT1M50S http://www.canberratimes.com.au/action/externalEmbeddedPlayer?id=d-2ptrz 620 349 July 12, 2013
- Scorecard / As it happened
- Ashton Agar, the Ashes hero
- Happy hour hides England's strength
- Robbed - England seek answers from ICC
NOTTINGHAM: As Stan McCabe compiled a masterful 232 in an Ashes Test at Trent Bridge in 1938, Don Bradman summoned teammates to the balcony of the unprepossessing Edwardian pavilion, saying that they would never see anything like this again. On Thursday Michael Clarke must have importuned his charges to pause in their wound-licking and join him on the selfsame balcony to watch Ashton Agar play an innings that surely no one will see again. When it was done, he even could have offered Agar the same salutation that Bradman did McCabe: "If I could play an innings like that, I'd be a proud man."
The "surely" is advised. One of cricket's enduring joys is that it is limited only by imagination, and so every now and then realises impossible dreams. In at least three ways - highest score by a No 11, highest by a No 11 on debut, highest last-wicket partnership - Agar's 98 was an innings that had never been played in the game's history. Its exotic element was gloriously self-evident, but in the way it suddenly balanced up a seemingly lost match, its consequences might prove as far-reaching as any of the most famous magnums opus.
Apologetic: Ashton Agar with his parents Sonia and John. Photo: Reuters
How to capture the sheer improbability of this innings and day? One way is by the identity of the hero. A teenager, a stripling with an innocent's smile, a Darren Lehmann brainwave, not picked in the original Ashes party, not remotely in the popular reckoning for this Ashes opener, he had no place in Australia's big-time sporting consciousness until handed his baggy green by Glenn McGrath on Wednesday morning.
Son and brother, when at last he got out, while the acclaim of Trent Bridge was still ringing in his ears and - though he could not have known it - the Prime Minister was tweeting felicitations, he leaned across the fence and said to Sonia, his mother: "Sorry about that." He was, though it seems incidental now, picked as a spinner.
Another way to put his innings into perspective is its context. When he ambled out to bat at No.11 an hour into this second day's play, 19 wickets already had fallen in the match, including 5/9 in the previous half-hour. England was exercising all its patent strengths. Jimmy Anderson's reverse swing was paralysing the Australians at one end and Graeme Swann's tweakers were terrorising them at the other. Australia trailed by all but 100, and was hurtling towards calamitous defeat, and England to initial victory.
Simple philosphy: Ashton Agar ignored the reverse swing of James Anderson and the mind games of Graeme Swann. Photo: AFP
But the most memorable aspect of Agar's innings was the appreciation of it, and him, mutated over its course. At first, he was the No.11, there for the jape. Even when he narrowly avoided stumping in one of possibly three botched DRS moments this match, it seemed not to matter much. England manoeuvred to keep him on strike, and Phil Hughes - whose coolly executed foiling role this day should not be overlooked, but will be - did not try much to protect him. It wrankled in Australia, but lulled England.
The dawning came too late for England, in the nick of time for Australia. Before all eyes, Agar solidified into a natural, wristy and clean ball-striker, who used his reach well, and played each ball for what it was, not what Anderson's covering of his hand and Swann's head games might pretend it to be.
He was unfazed by the men or the moment. Twice, he launched Swann straight for six, but two other jousts with Swann were even more illuminating. One was a late cut for four that would have brought a tear to McCabe's eye. The other was to leave a couple of balls pitched deliberately wide and meant to lure a slogger to his ruin. He twitched, but ignored both; he was batting to a plan.
Channelling Bradman: Australia's captain Michael Clarke stands in the Trent Bridge pavilion with Steven Smith and David Warner. Photo: Getty Images
Somewhere within, a sense that this was Ashes history in the making stirred; after all, until a few weeks ago, he was a fan, too. Asked, Agar mentioned Steve Waugh's last-ball 100 at the SCG in 2003. He was nine then.
England retreated, Hughes fortified the ground gained, and Agar squeezed a ball to third man to go to 50 and punched his bat. Lunch was delayed, then taken anyway. England tried to crowd him, then to avoid him, then to bounce him with two on the hook, as it might a batsman. Agar took one on the body, arched to nudge another to the off for a single, and grinned.
The natural order grew still more warped. Alastair Cook reluctantly introduced a ginger Stuart Broad, and brought back Anderson, who with five wickets must have thought his work was done. By way of greeting, Agar on-drove him for four, flicking his leg behind as he did, a la Kevin Pietersen. Done, he let his bat dangle from his hand insouciantly. "I like to keep myself fairly relaxed," he said. "I don't get too nervous when I bat."
Ashton's Big Day Out!
Australia's Ashton Agar leaves the field after being dismissed for 98 runs during the first Ashes cricket test match against England at Trent Bridge cricket ground in Nottingham. Photo: Reuters
Tino Best, the previous No.11 recordholder, awoke in the Caribbean and tweeted best wishes, and so did Ricky Ponting from The Oval. Very nearly, the Trent Bridge crowd changed sides, in an Ashes Test! "I was surprised by the support I was getting from the whole crowd," Agar said. Four remained, then two. One opportunity went begging, so he swung again at Broad, and hit it too well, and was caught by a tumbling Swann in the deep.
As ever, the game had the last laugh. But Agar was laughing with it; to him, it was 98 made, not 100 lost, and his face said so. "I was still pretty happy," he said. Swann ran to shake his hand, and so metaphorically did all of Trent Bridge. Presenting for media later, everything about him shone: his brand new cap, his still new face, the wonder still coarsing in him.
When the Test match resumed, it was in conventional guise and rhythm, for suddenly, England had reason to be careful, and Australia to be bullish; this was Agar's doing. Two wickets half an hour in squared it, and it might so nearly have been three if Pietersen's edge from Agar had been a splinter thinner and lodged in Brad Haddin's gloves. The most fanciful century of all, the biggest wicket in this match: both missed by that much. For a cricketer, there are always more horizons to reach for, more thresholds to cross. To 19-year-old Ashton Agar, none must seem out of range.