When Ashton Agar walked out to bat on the second day of the first Test , Australia were in dire straits. In reply to England’s first innings total of 215 , they had tumbled to 117 for 9 and things were looking bleak. Not much was expected of Agar , a 19-year old who was making his test debut . After all , he had been selected for his bowling, not his batting With James Anderson and Graeme Swann in full cry , the Trent Bridge crowd had every reason to think that Agar would soon be dismissed and that England would have a first innings lead of almost a hundred runs.
What followed was absolutely amazing and will be talked about for years to come.
Over the next two and a half hours , Agar and Phil Hughes held the English attack at bay as they put on a record last wicket partnership of 163. After he survived a close call for a stumping when he was on 6, Agar played a chanceless innings falling just 2 runs short of a well deserved century. Hughes who bats at # 6 is a recognized batsman but Agar soon overtook him. No hint of nerves from him as he cut , pulled , swept and drove with insouciance. He had been advised to play his natural game and that he did . The strokes flowed smoothly from his bat as he smashed seven fours and a six in his fifty . Nothing lucky or streaky about his batting . He played his shots with a straight bat , was disciplined and watchful but did not hesitate to punish the occasional loose ball. Gradually , the spectators must have come to realize that they were watching something special from the lanky teenager with the effervescent smile . I wonder when it happened . Was it in his very first over at the crease when he straight drove Anderson for four ? Or was it perhaps two overs later when he lofted Swan over long off for a majestic six ? What it must have been like to be an Aussie in the crowd that day ? Some Aussie fans , it is reported , endured a 25 hour bus journey from Pamplona where they had watched the running of the bulls . It must have been a gruelling trip but they certainly must have felt it was worth it as they watched Agar lay waste to the English bowlers. When Agar reached his fifty , the Trent Bridge crowd rose to its feet as one to give him a rousing ovation .
When Agar arrived at the crease a total of 150 must have seemed a pipe dream but, together, Hughes and Agar took the score past 150 , then 200 and then past England’s first innings total of 215. At lunch , Australia were 229 for 9 ( Agar 69 Hughes 63) and Australia were ahead by 14 . As Agar and Hughes went back to the pavilion , the English players spontaneously formed an honor guard and applauded them in a wonderful display of sportsmanship.
After lunch , Agar and Hughes carried on where they had left off and took the score to 280 when Agar who was on 98 skied a ball that was smartly taken by Swann close to the boundary.It is a measure of how much Agar had won over a the English crowd when you read that the cheers of relief were almost drowned out by groans of disappointment . In spite of the bitter England – Australia rivalry , most spectators would have loved to see Agar get his century , a historic performance by a # 11 batsman ; even more historic in that he was making his Test debut as a spinner and had only played a handful of first- class matches. Poor Swann came in for some criticism for what some in the crowd felt was an excessive celebration after he took the catch that dismissed Agar. Phil Tuffnel , the former England Test cricketer , echoed the sentiments of many Englishmen when he said on BBC Radio that ” I never wanted to see an Australian get 100 but I was willing him on there .” Geoff Boycott , the former England opener and well-known for his tart tongue as a commentator was positively effusive , declaring ” It is the best I’ve ever seen from a # 11. His judgement of length was so fabulous, his footwork so sure.”
At the end of the third day’s play , England seem to have wrested the advantage back from Australia . At 326 for 6 they are already 261 runs ahead and Bell ( 95*) and Broad ( 47*) are still going strong . ( Agar , by the way has taken 2 wickets and has eminently respectable figures of 35-9-82-2). It is not unlikely that Australia will be facing a target of 325 or even 350 by the time they get to bat. It is a daunting task considering that they will be batting fourth on a deteriorating wicket , the memories of their first inning top-order collapse still fresh in their minds . Still , they have a fighting chance , particularly if they are able to prise out Bell early tomorrow. It should be v-e-r-y interesting.
Regardless of who wins the Test , the result will be an anticlimax , a sideshow to Ashton Agar’s magnificent performance. In years to come , what people will remember about this Test is the way an untried , untested 19-year-old wearing the Baggy Green for the first time walked out at # 11 ,set the England bowlers back on their heels and gave the Aussies hope . I am sure that there are plenty of runs and wickets in Ashton Agar’s future but even if he never scores another run or takes another wicket , his place in cricket history is secure . I hope he goes on to greater things but even otherwise this is an innings that will forever define him.
Test Cricket is often criticised for its sometimes sedate pace and I can understand such criticism . But it is this very attribute that allows spectators a chance to savor the nuances of cricket , to appreciate the ebb and flow of fortunes , the stylish strokes , the dour defence and the character of the men in the middle. At its finest , it makes spectators forget their parochial sensibilities and cheer on the ” enemy”. That is what happened during the second day’s play when Agar , assisted by Hughes , momentarily dug Australia out of trouble. The warm applause that rained down on Agar that day confirmed what I’ve long felt about the English : English cricket fans are the epitome of sportsmanship and the best in the world.
( Since I don’t have Sky Sports , I wasn’t able to watch the match on the telly. I was able to follow it on Cricinfo and it was a most enjoyable experience. This post was based on what I gleaned there and from an article in the New York Times. Yes, the New York Times . Imagine that , the NYT on cricket. Maybe , there is cricket in America’s future ).