• England v Australia, 1st Investec Test, Trent Bridge, 2nd day

Agar's world records create extraordinary day

The Report by David Hopps
July 11, 2013 « Live County Championship coverage | Chartbeat test »
England 215 and 80 for 2 (Cook 37*, Pietersen 35*) lead Australia 280 (Agar 98, Hughes 81*, Anderson 5-85) by 15 runs
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Ashton Agar fell for 98 in a fearless innings but gained two world records in the process © Getty Images
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No last man has ever made a Test hundred. Ashton Agar came within inches of achieving it in his maiden Test innings. His eyes lit up at the opportunity to pull Stuart Broad and Graeme Swann flung himself forward to hold the catch at deep midwicket. He was denied the ultimate prize, but his extraordinary innings will remain part of cricket folklore forever.

Before Agar's fearless intervention, life was going swimmingly for England. James Anderson was producing a contented exhibition of reverse-swing bowling. Swann was finding substantial turn. Australia lost five wickets for nine runs in 32 balls. But if England had imagined that a decisive advantage in the first Investec Test was theirs for the taking, as Australia's first innings shrivelled on a parched Trent Bridge morning, they were mistaken.

Agar might have missed a maiden hundred but for the man dubbed 'Ashton Who?' two world records in a day was enough to be going on with. He walked off the ground with a smile and a shrug that won further admiration. His 98 had taken only 101 balls with 11 fours and two sixes. The cricketing world knows his name now.

Agar was the unregarded teenager who told Australia that the game was not yet up. He now holds the highest score by a No. 11 of all time, surpassing Tino Best's 95, also against England, at Edgbaston only last summer. When Best set his mark, that was explosive hitting; this was batting.

He dominated a transformational stand of 163 in 33 overs for the last wicket - another world record - with Phillip Hughes, a specialist batsman who drew strength from his example. He even gave Australia a first-innings lead of 65 and nobody expected that. The Agar family, who had travelled halfway around the world to watch him make his debut, were in jetlag heaven.

England's shock reverberated into the start of the second innings, Joe Root and Jonathan Trott dismissed by Mitchell Starc in 7.3 overs up to tea. Root got a feather on a leg-side flick - his doubts were not strong enough for his captain to agree to a review - and Australia successfully reviewed to gain an lbw against Trott, even though there was no definite proof of an inside edge that the umpire Aleem Dar had suspected.

Maintaining the threat once the new ball had softened was a different proposition. Australia's pace bowlers dried England's scoring rate but found no reverse swing. Alastair Cook was intent on circumspection and even Kevin Pietersen played with utmost sobriety. The last session dripped by. Agar's left-arm spin, although possessing stately promise, lacked threat, although he did have Pietersen dropped at the wicket - a very taxing chance for Brad Haddin - on 25.

Agar will bask forever in the memory of how he twice deposited Swann's offspin straight for six and pulled Steven Finn defiantly to the boundary in a youthful show of Australian defiance. One on-drive late in his innings off Anderson, played with perfect balance, back leg off the ground in the style of Pietersen's flamingo, was a gem.

Australia's innings might have ended on 131 when Agar, on 6, got the benefit of the doubt on Swann's appeal for a stumping from the third umpire, Marais Erasmus. He must know a good story when he sees one. Agar began tentatively but Finn's hapless attempts to browbeat him with short balls on such a somnolent surface failed miserably as the young debutant lived the dream.

Agar pulled him more and more confidently; Finn's tactics looked more and more misconceived. By the time Finn pitched the ball up, Agar had the confidence to drive him eagerly through extra cover. Finn's four overs cost 32 and he has rarely looked so impotent.

England's employment of deep fields to Hughes, a specialist batsman who was blocking, with the intention of bowling to Agar, a No. 11 dismissing the ball to all parts, looked increasingly clownish, a manual that no longer applied.

England had to abandon plans to restrict Stuart Broad to a watching brief. Broad had officially passed a fitness test before play on an injured shoulder but he had bowled gingerly in front of a posse of England backroom staff. He could barely throw the ball in. Until 10 minutes before lunch - a session extended to two-and-a-half hours - he stood there and watched, unemployed for his own protection.

It has been quite a week for Broad. He has had a cortisone injection in his shoulder, been cold shouldered for laddish remarks on Twitter about Andy Murray's girlfriend and then struck on the shoulder by a bouncer from James Pattinson. As the overs ticked by, and he was not called upon, he probably got a chip on his shoulder to complete the set.

Glorious blue skies greeted Australia at the start of play. All it required was some glorious batting to go with it. For half-an-hour, Australia prospered. Hughes punched Anderson confidently in front of point, Steve Smith met the introduction of Swann's offspin by a spritely blow over extra cover to register the first half-century of the series. Thirty-three runs came in untroubled fashion.

Then, as if by instruction, the mood changed abruptly. The ball spun markedly as early as the second morning; it reverse-swung by the 31st over. The nature of Test cricket in England is not what it once was.

England had hinted that they might contest the Ashes on dry surfaces and they have been as good as their word. Australian wickets fell in a rush. The air was rent with England appeals. The skies were still blue, but it no longer mattered.

Smith had played with adventure, but his eye let him down when he drove ambitiously at Anderson and edged to Matt Prior, beaten by just a shade of outswing. Swann, presented with the sort of parched, cracked surface he must have dreamed that his home ground would one day produce, found substantial turn to bowl Brad Haddin, second ball.

Then in the next over Anderson, cupping his hands around the ball, signalled that he felt it was already time for reverse swing, the result of a dry ground and England's wise ball management. Peter Siddle was worked over, dealt in turn a lavish inswinger and then an aggressive outswinger which he edged to Prior.

Anderson proceeded with lithe contentment. Starc was his third wicket of the morning, all to wicketkeeper catches, as he dabbed at a ball that swung away from him.

Pattinson was quickly dispensed with, thrusting forward to an offspinner which failed to turn, the batsman's review of the lbw decision failing when replays showed the ball thudding into leg stump. In walked Agar, about to deliver something quite extraordinary.

David Hopps is the UK editor of ESPNcricinfo

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