Posts Tagged ‘Ashton Agar’


Chandrasekhar Jayaramakrishnan

You can carp over England’s performance over the first three days up to a certain point all you like, with a fair sense of justification around loose strokes and a couple of idea-devoid sessions on Day 2. But you can’t accuse them of at least not trying to salvage some morale through responsible batting during the second innings.

Ian Bell, as he’d shown over many an innings post his maturity, finished the day unbeaten on a well-paced 95 – an innings that tilted the scales towards England. He’s mastered the art of wearing down bowlers; waiting for the right occasion to unleash his aesthetic drives through the off-side. He is what the likes of Phil Hughes and Rohit Sharma should become – boys who entered the international scene with immense potential, waiting to grow in to men who can carry the burden of expectations on their shoulders moving forward.

Bell's gritty, unbeaten 95 help steady a ship that otherwise was ready to run off course

Bell’s gritty, unbeaten 95 help steady a ship that otherwise was ready to run off course

Bell’s style is placed on simple principles coupled with a style that pleases the eye. But what he lacked initially was a quality that he’s gained, and gained substantially well over the last three years. The boy became a man with a few match-saving, and winning, innings in South Africa – a fluent 140 followed by a persistent 78 against the likes of Steyn, Morkel and co.

A successful Ashes followed down under, before the perils of the turning ball in the subcontinent raised a few eyebrows over his technique under such conditions. But he’s recovered strong enough to pose as a fulcrum of the middle order at 5 – acting as the meat of the sandwich between the flamboyant, boisterous Pietersen and the exuberant, young Bairstow.

Bell, like Cook and Pietersen earlier, showed a lot of intent towards occupying the crease for as long as he could. So did Broad, who refused to walk after edging one to Clarke at slip off Agar, off a deflection courtesy Haddin’s gloves. Australia had no reviews left.

How Aleem Dar failed to notice that will remain an unsolved mystery. Broad’s deadpan expression following that was a classic. But the notion of walking rarely gets mentioned especially when these two teams meet. England will point to the Hot-Spot blunder that presented Trott his first golden duck in Test Cricket as a karmic equivalence. Clarke didn’t seem too pleased. But the game already has had its fair share of contentious decisions.

Haddin made a nuisance out of himself by dropping Bell in the very next over, a fairly difficult chance though. Australia desperately needed a wicket if their dreams weren’t to feel totally futile. They’d toiled hard to get Pietersen and Cook before lunch, after which Matt Prior threw away his wicket to a needless shot that matched his wicket-throwing first innings stroke.

Australia responded to the doggedness shown by Bell and Broad, but not with too much vigor. Agar got plenty of bounce, showed encouraging signs of proving his mettle as a bowler. It was a shame that his team had no reviews left when Broad smashed one off his edge to Clarke. At the other end, Bell was given plenty of opportunities to commit himself to the expansive drive – a temptation that he intelligently restricted, especially of the bowling of Shane Watson.

He played late, played his shots with soft hands to construct an aptly paced innings given the circumstances. England had plenty of time at their disposal, with an ardent need to keep the scoreboard ticking. Any run rate freeze would’ve exposed them to the risk of a collapse resembling their first innings domino. If a lead of 250 was their first milestone, they got there comfortably with Bell and Broad well stuck in.

The Australians were forced in to redrawing their contingency plans for chasing a score that appeared to cross 300. Not every innings can script a record breaking tenth wicket stand. England’s continued resistance crystallized the notion that they aren’t a weary shadow of the team that clinched the Ashes down under last year.

There was a sense of staleness about the Australian attack when things didn’t go their way. As Broad and Bell ticked on, Pattinson tried every trick in his young repository of skills to reverse the red cherry. His valiant attempts, though, didn’t yield a wicket.

The first session of Day 4 will decide the likely outcome of the first test. Many a skeptics fear of the game unlikely to run on to the fifth day can be buried to rest, unless a dramatic Australian collapse exhibits itself tomorrow. Or if they manage to chase down 300 odd with a series of Agar-ian innings.

Advertisement

Chandrasekhar Jayaramakrishnan

Inventors are held in high esteem, albeit the fact that some of the best discoveries and inventions have been a by-product of an accident. Corn Flakes. Microwave Ovens. Post-it notes. Potato Chips. And Ashton Agar, the batsman.

Theory could point to the fact that his inclusion was intent to shatter Pietersen’s psychological stumps. Forget Lyon’s form with the ball, or the bat in hindsight for the time being. At 117/9, most would’ve expected Cook and Root to have been practicing their bat swings with their mindsets sold to the idea of getting ready to bat anytime soon.

At lunch, the scoreboard read 229/9. By the time the Australian innings came to a close, Agar fell agonizingly short of a record-book inscribing century on debut by a number 11 batsman.

Poor old Hughes would’ve wondered why God was so hostile to him. After years of living up to a label that read ‘one of Australia’s biggest unfulfilled promises’, he ended up having the best seat in the house to witness a teenage debutant, at number 11, overshadow his gritty performance. One which has been long overdue. The game of cricket has a funny way of biting you at times.

Agar’s no mug with the bat though. His first class record spanning 10 games paints a batting average of 33, with 3 fifties to his name. You could’ve been forgiven for associating these stats to a young, promising teenage batsman coming out of the intimidating Australian setup.

His brand of batting against Finn, Anderson and Swann was fearless. That doesn’t mean that he didn’t have fears, he batted in spite of knowing that some of those deliveries could have sent him back to the pavilion – be it the scorcher that sent Clarke home, or the wild turner that left Haddin perplexed.  He survived a stumping early in his innings. And then hit Swann for six a few overs later.

Ashton Agar's dream debut ended two runs short of a century

Ashton Agar’s dream debut ended two runs short of a century

Within no time, he became the first number 11 in the history of the game to score a fifty on debut. And as if to demonstrate his acclimatization, he sent Swann over long on for his second six of the day. I wonder what Glenn McGrath would’ve made of this innings. It was, quite frankly, a ridiculously brilliant session.

Tino Best had flirted similarly with the English bowlers batting at number 11 last summer. He ended up five runs short of a deserved hundred. In the shorter format, England had the Champions Trophy robbed off their sights when a last wicket partnership by the West Indians sent the trophy packing to the Caribbean. That made it feel even more inexcusable to have sullied England’s reputation towards cleaning off the tail. It is staggering that it has come to this again.

By the time Australia had bowled themselves out for 280, Agar holed out to deep midwicket two runs short of an outrageous hundred. And as Shane Warne, exhibitor of the game of cricket’s most painful and agonizingly just-short-of-a-hundred moment, will attest, this will be etched in the pages of the history book forever. It was as though William Dear’s Angels in the Outfield was being staged live a couple of decades later. And to think this hugely contentious game opened on Day 2 amid great hopes of an English ascendancy.

Finn’s struggles with the ball locked one end to disparity, while Stuart Broad’s injury meant that he just about had enough in him to bowl a few overs, go for aplenty but walk away with undoubtedly the most crucial wicket of the day. Whether Broad’s fitness played a role in England’s inability to wipe off the Australian tail is something we wouldn’t know, but Agar’s batting certainly didn’t seem to possess any real weakness that a fully fit Broad could have exploited.

As we move towards Day 3, with England ahead by a few having lost Root and Trott to Starc, the home team have a monumental psychological barrier to conquer before they start entertaining any hopes of taking a lead in the series by the time they leave Nottingham.

Well played Ashton Agar. And spare a thought for Phil Hughes.