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Agar takes the honours, England the lead

Australia trail by 15 runs despite No. 11’s historic 98 as Cook, Pietersen consolidate after Starc’s two-wicket burst

Agar takes the honours, England the lead - Cricket News
Debutant Ashton Agar scored a record breaking 98 in the first innings.

Ashton Charles Agar. Read that name and remember it well for fairy tales of his kind play out in cricket but once in a lifetime. With a smile on his face, Agar walked off to a rapturous standing ovation, having fallen two short of a century on debut at No. 11 in an Ashes Test. There was heartbreak, of course, for Agar was within kissing distance of going where no man had before, and he’s only a boy. The second day of the Trent Bridge Test swung England’s way and then Australia’s but it belonged solely to Agar.

When England finally got its man, pulling with the field back for the shot, Australia was bowled out for 280, and had a lead of 65, something that appeared impossible two hours and fifteen minutes prior when Agar walked to the crease with the score on 117 for 9.

The first half hour of the second morning went placidly enough, under bright blue skies, but then the departures from the crease began with regularity that would have done the Nottingham Station on Carrington Street proud. Starting at 11.31 with Steve Smith going hands first at a James Anderson delivery, batsmen breezed in and out at 11.37 (Brad Haddin), 11.43 (Peter Siddle), 11.50 (Mitchell Starc) and 11.58 (Darren Pattinson).

Anderson, extracting reverse swing with precision and control, was the perfect aggressor as Graeme Swann, finding an unusual amount of purchase for a second-day English pitch, triggered an Australia collapse that would have put a house of cards to shame. From 108 for 4, where Australia was recovering from an early wobble, it lost 5 wickets for 9 runs, including 3 for 5 to Anderson.

And then came Agar, loping through the gates with seemingly not a care in the world. As with his bowling there were early nerves, and he appeared to have overbalanced against Swann when on 6, and though Matt Prior was convinced he’d got his man, Marais Erasmus disagreed. The game moved on quickly enough, for no one could have foreseen what would follow.

Steven Finn, drawing himself to his full height, decided to bounce out the skinny teenager who was batting behind a line-up that was on the verge of implosion inside 40 overs. Off the front foot and back Agar pulled comfortably clearing the infield. Swann, who tossed the odd ball up to invite the tailender to play the big shot, was twice put into the stands.

With no real plan for Agar – apart from trying to bounce him out first up – England gave Phil Hughes the single, concentrating on the No. 11. The ploy backfired spectacularly as Hughes was happy to tame his ego and allow the adventurous Agar to do his thing.

The walking square drive, the rocked-back late cut, the swiveling one-legged punch through the on side and the short-arm whip over midwicket: Agar played every shot in the book, all with consummate ease. His technique was predicated on waiting the ball to come to him, remaining side on, and committing fully to the shot he had chosen to play.

If Agar’s innings was a mood elevator to those watching it, it was a dream come true for statisticians totting up the figures. When he reached 29, Agar went past the highest score for an Australian No. 11 on debut, beating Percy Hornibrook’s 1929 effort. Next to fall by the wayside was Chamila Lakshitha’s 40, the highest score by any No. 11 in his maiden Test innings. When he got to his half-century, Agar, at 19 years and 270 days, was the fourth youngest Australian to reach that mark behind Ian Craig, Neil Harvey and Archie Jackson.

But, even as Agar was purring along, Hughes played an invaluable hand, keeping out the good balls and scoring through his strong areas when the bowlers’ accuracy flagged. Hughes, who came into the game under pressure and had a bit to prove, ensured that the record for the highest last-wicket partnership, 151 made by Brian Hastings and Richard Collinge and also Azhar Mahmood and Mushtaq Ahmed, fell by the wayside.

Agar was on the verge of sealing the fairy tale when he fell but, the missed century apart, the damage had been done. Hughes, unbeaten on 81, and Agar had put on 153 for the final wicket, and had swung the game comprehensively back in Australia’s favour.

Learning from their first-innings waywardness, Australia’s quick bowlers bedded down into a tight line and length early on, working on the patience of the batsmen. Starc reaped the reward when Joe Root, strangled down the legside, was given out caught behind by Aleem Dar. Root thought about reviewing the decision, consulted with Cook and walked away.

Off the very next ball, Jonathan Trott was nailed in front of the stumps by Starc, and Dar turned down a vociferous shout. Erasmus was in business again as the Australians reviewed the decision. From the replays, it was obvious that the ball was headed for the middle of the middle stump, with the only question being whether Trott hit the ball or not. A side-on view of HotSpot should have cleared that easily enough, but this replay was unavailable as HotSpot had been queued up to replay the Root dismissal from the earlier ball, had it been needed. With that being the case, Erasmus relayed the evidence he had to Dar, and the finger went up.

With England 11 for 2 in its second innings, still trailing by 54 at the stroke of tea on the second day, the Test had advanced remarkably rapidly. Resuming after the break, Kevin Pietersen saw off a harmless hat-trick delivery, and reined himself in to help England scrap its way back into the game. Cook and Pietersen will rejoin battle on the third day with England, on 80 for 2, looking to build significantly on its lead of 15 on a wearing, dry surface.

There will be those who talk about umpiring decisions, technology protocols and what might have been, but that would be forgetting Agar’s smile, and the light touch with which he rewrote history.

 

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