Ashes 2013: Ashton Agar steals the show on topsy-turvy Day Two of 1st Test

Ashton Agar scored a record-beaking 98 on Test debut after coming in to bat at No 11 for Australia © Getty Images

By Jaideep Vaidya
 
Jul 11, 2013
 
On a day of potentially match-turning umpiring and technical howlers, a 19-year-old Australian spinner on debut, namely Ashton Agar, produced a record-breaking show with the bat to help his team hold a slight edge in the first Test of The Ashes 2013. Coming in to bat at No 11 with his team reeling on 117 for nine, 98 runs behind England’s rather average first innings total, Agar scored exactly those many runs and took his team 65 ahead before holing out to deep mid-wicket.
 
Agar was given a lifeline when he was just on six, when the third umpire ruled what looked like a clear stumping not out. Nevertheless, to go on from there and score as many as he did in the situation that he was thrust in required some skill. It was an innings of pure class and astonishing maturity for someone so young and playing his first Test match, more so by rescuing his team with his secondary trade. Agar had a highest score of 71 not out in First-Class cricket and batted at No 3 for his local club in Melbourne; he had been slotted at the last spot in the line-up probably because of his inexperience, but if Michael Clarke and Darren Lehmann had the nearest of clues that he could bat the way he did on Thursday, they wouldn’t have left him so late.
 
Earlier, James Anderson had taken his 14th five-wicket haul, and fifth at Trent Bridge, in Tests to help reduce Australia from 108 for four to 117 for nine. Anderson added to the two wickets he took on Wednesday as he ripped through the Australian middle and lower order in the morning session. ‘c Prior b Anderson’ became the order of the session as the Australian batsmen managed to find the edges of their blade with nagging regularity. It was a bright, sunny day in Nottingham, quite unlike the first day which was quite overcast. But Anderson still managed to generate reverse swing enough to leave the Australians clueless.

Steven Smith, unbeaten on 38 overnight, had provided Australia with a positive start and was looking extremely confident with his stroke-making. He added a couple more boundaries to his tally, reached his fourth Test half-century and looked set to carry his team past their deficit, only for Anderson to run in and find his edge on 53.

With a deficit of 98 and just one wicket in hand, there was no turning back for the visitors. Or was there?
 
Agar played like a seasoned pro and made proficient use of a consistent line of short-pitched bowling from the Englishmen, Steven Finn in particular. The cover-drives were Lara-esque and the pulls would have pleased Matthew Hayden. Agar notched his half-century — the first ever by a No 11 on debut — at a run-a-ball and then brought the scores level with a couple of glorious boundaries off Graeme Swann. It wasn’t the only record wiped off by the teenager, as he soon went past Glenn McGrath’s 61 which was the previous best by an Aussie No 11. Speaking to BBC’s ‘Test Match Special’, McGrath, who presented Agar with his baggy green on Wednesday before start of play, said, “At the start of this match I thought I was presenting a first cap to a bowler — not a batting all-rounder.” Agar’s fifty was also the second fastest on Test debut by an Australian, taking him four balls more than Adam Gilchrist. To be associated with such names in his very first match speaks of the talent that Australia have unearthed.
 
Phil Hughes, Agar’s last-wicket partner who scored an inconspicuous half-century himself, was happy to watch from the sidelines. It was only the fifth time in Test history that Australia had achieved a 100-run partnership for the 10th wicket, and Hughes was more than happy working from the background. Australia took lunch at 229 for nine, and added 51 more in the afternoon session, before Agar went for a mighty pull off Stuart Broad’s short delivery and deposited the ball into the hands of Swann on 98. He had broken the world record for the highest score by a No 11 batsman — Tino Best’s 95 at Edgbaston last year — but everyone around Trent Bridge would have grimaced when Swann took the catch. But not Agar. The youngster took his helmet off and smiled to the crowd as he walked off raising his bat on the way. It was a knock that is certain to be remembered for days to come.
 
Australia were bowled out for 280, a lead of 65 which seemed inconceivable not so long ago. Mitchell Starc then further propelled his team’s advantage as he dismissed Joe Root and Jonathan Trott within eight overs before the umpires called tea. Both dismissals warranted suspicion: Root tried to help a delivery drifting down leg towards fine-leg, but did not connect. The ball took a deflection and was gulped down by the wicketkeeper Haddin who vociferously appealed. The umpire thought it took the edge and raised the finger; Root thought of referring it, discussed it with his captain before reluctantly trudging back to the pavilion. The very next ball, Starc bowled full and straight and struck Trott plumb in front. Aleem Dar thought it was an inside edge; the Australians decided to go for the review. Hotspot showed there was no bat on that and the decision had to be overturned, much to a shocked Trott’s disbelief, who walked away looking at his bat.
 
As it later transpired, there was a technical glitch with the Hotspot technology’s side view which led the ECB to seek clarification from the ICC whether an on-field decision can be overturned if all technology isn’t functional. Meanwhile, on the pitch, England skipper Alastair Cook and his talismanic soldier Kevin Pietersen won the last session for the hosts as they shared an unbeaten 69-run partnership to give their side a slender lead at stumps. As far as sessions go, both teams have won two each and shared the remaining two going into Day Three, which should decide the fate of this Test match.

Brief scores:

England 215 and 80 for 2 (Alastair Cook 37*, Kevin Pietersen 35*; Mitchell Starc 2 for 15) lead Australia 280 (Ashton Agar 98, Phil Hughes 81*; James Anderson 5 for 85) by 15 runs.
 
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(Jaideep Vaidya is a correspondent at CricketCountry. A diehard Manchester United fan and sports buff, you can follow him on Twitter and Facebook)