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.
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.