ASHTON Agar’s record-breaking Test debut will give Englishmen nightmares for years to come, but was just a “dream come true” for the Australian teenager.
After making the highest score by any No11 in Test history and falling only an agonising two runs short of a century, Agar recalled how he chose cricket over Aussie Rules football because he got fed up with being “the little fat kid ... getting smashed around”.
It is a decision he will surely never regret, because he was the one doing all the “smashing” yesterday as he shared a world-record last-wicket stand with Phil Hughes (81no) to help Australia recover from 117 for nine to 280 all out.
“It’s a dream come true. Forever, I’ve dreamt of playing Test cricket for Australia,” said the 19-year-old, having carried his team into a first-innings lead of 65 before England closed day two of this summer’s Ashes on 80 for two.
“For my debut to start the way it has, I’m over the moon.”
Agar, watched in the Nottingham crowd by his parents John and Sonia and brothers William and Wesley, played more like a Test number five than 11 in an innings full of assured strokeplay and containing 12 fours and two sixes.
He thanked Australia coach Darren Lehmann, and his batting partner Hughes, for helping him produce his best at his first attempt on the biggest stage when his country needed it so badly.
Agar said: “Darren Lehmann just told me to bat the way I know how to bat.
“He’s told the whole team to back their own natural styles. That’s the way I like to bat – take the game on – so that’s what I tried to do.
“I was lucky to have a really good partner at the other end. Phil Hughes is a seriously, seriously good player and really helped me through it.”
Agar missed out on a maiden first-class hundred – he did make one in grade cricket for the University of Western Australia two winters ago – when he pulled Stuart Broad to Graeme Swann at deep midwicket.
He said: “To make a hundred in an Ashes Test would have been awesome.
“Obviously, it’s a dream to make a Test match hundred. But I didn’t really dream I was going to make 98 on debut, so I’m very, very happy.
“I hope we’ve helped put the team in a winning position. If we can get through them tomorrow, I think we can win the game.”
Agar’s innings would have ended much earlier, had third umpire Marais Erasmus given him out stumped for only six - a very marginal call which could easily have gone England’s way.
“I’d say I was just back in my crease,” he said. “Obviously, that’s out of my control – so I couldn’t do anything about it.”
England did not bear a grudge, according to Agar, who said: “They didn’t say a word to me [about it].
“Graeme Swann came up [when I was out] and shook my hand and said ‘Well done, young fella’. He was very good about it.”
There were congratulations too, of course, from Agar’s family – repaid so remarkably for their hastily-arranged flight from Australia.
“They were on a plane straightaway, once they found the news out [that he had been picked to play],” said Agar. “To have them there today made that extra-special to me.”
It was vindication too for that decision to knock football on the head.
“Cricket was always my number one,” said Agar. “I did play a bit of junior ‘footy’ but everyone grew a lot quicker than me.
“I was just the little fat kid getting smashed around, so I thought I’d give that a break.”
Agar’s record-breaking debut and Marais Erasmus’ controversial third-umpire decisions combined to make day two of the 2013 Ashes every bit as dramatic as the first.
Having benefited from the first of Erasmus’ interventions when he was ruled not out stumped Agar partnership with Phil Hughes rescued Australia from an apparently certain and significant first-innings deficit and instead put them 65 in front.
Erasmus also overturned Aleem Dar’s not-out decision – despite the unavailability of side-on “Hotspot” evidence – as Mitchell Starc dismissed Jonathan Trott lbw for a golden duck.
That setback left England 11 for two at tea, before Alastair Cook and Kevin Pietersen at last restored order in a wicketless final session to close on 80 without further loss.
Day one of this much-hyped Investec series brought 14 wickets, under unshifting grey skies. The clouds were absent yesterday, but there was no let-up in the action - with a dash of controversy thrown in, as England sought clarification from match referee Ranjan Madugalle over the DRS procedure by which Erasmus gave Trott out.
Agar took guard after James Anderson (five for 85) had kickstarted a rush of five wickets for nine runs as Australia lurched to 117 for nine and the debutant played barely a false or mistimed shot until Stuart Broad had him caught.
Shell-shocked England appeared to run out of ideas, holding back Broad – passed fit to bowl at start of play, despite the shoulder injury he suffered on Wednesday – for almost two-and-a-half hours as Agar and Hughes extended the morning session by 30 minutes.
First-class playing conditions dictate that curiosity, once a team has nine wickets down, and England fell foul of the rule for the second time in as many years.
It was only last summer they last ran into a number 11 in world record-breaking form, when West Indies’ Tino Best smashed 95 at Edgbaston.
This time, Agar’s astounding performance was almost nipped in the bud when England thought they had him stumped off Graeme Swann with the total on 131.
Erasmus made a marginal call otherwise, though - and Australia’s teenage sensation never looked back.
Agar’s innings was full of pedigree shots, and clean striking, which belied his position and will surely mean he makes a career for himself much higher up the order.
In Broad’s absence, Steven Finn’s bowling was erratic after Steve Smith (53) had hit the first half-century of the series only for an apparently terminal collapse to take hold around Hughes.
Anderson demonstrated yet again this is one of his favourite hunting grounds, starting when Smith went for one drive too many and edged behind.
Brad Haddin was bowled on the back foot by a Swann off-break, and Anderson upped the ante with his second wicket in successive overs.
Peter Siddle edged an attempted drive low to diving wicketkeeper Matt Prior to depart, like Haddin, for just a single.
Starc could not even get off the mark, already dropped at second slip by Swann off Anderson before he instead became the England pace spearhead’s third caught-behind victim.
Swann made it nine down when James Pattinson was lbw despite a DRS review. But Hughes and Agar were in no mood to go quietly – not before they had chalked up several notable pieces of cricket history and altered the complexion of this manic contest, anyway.
England’s second innings hinted only briefly at calm before Starc put himself on a hat-trick for the second time in the match, Joe Root caught down the leg-side and then Trott bang in front to an inswinger.
Dar presumably detected a faint inside-edge, as did many others on video replay, but the absence of “Hotspot” corroboration was enough for Erasmus to overrule.
If England felt wronged, they responded impressively as Cook and Pietersen – both escaping half-chances to wicketkeeper Haddin off Agar, on 25 and 30 – shared an unbroken stand of 69 to sneak 15 runs in front.
At a glance
MAN OF THE DAY
Ashton Agar. A shock debutant on day one but a record-breaker on day two. His 98 in 101 balls was driven by sound technique and youthful fearlessness.
BALL OF THE DAY
Graeme Swann to Brad Haddin. Swann struck a blow for the tweakers with one that spun sharply to bowl the wicketkeeper for one.
SHOT OF THE DAY
Ashton Agar off James Anderson. A four off the Anderson – a left-hander’s version of Kevin Pietersen’s one-legged ‘flamingo’ stroke.
SHOCK OF THE DAY
The performance of third umpire Marais Erasmus. He gave Agar not out on six when England were confident of a stumping and then ruled that Jonathan Trott was lbw despite an inside edge.
STAT OF THE DAY
Australia great Ricky Ponting played his last first-class innings yesterday for Surrey. He made 169no to end with 24,150 career runs.
TWEET OF THE DAY
“I’m feeling you’re pain lad #Agar well played young man...coming from the former world record holder hahaha #Ashes” – West Indian Tino Best, the previous top-scoring number 11 in Test cricket with 95.