England v Australia, 1st Investec Test, Trent Bridge, 2nd day July 11, 2013

Agar lives a life-changing dream

The pressure of a Test debut. Your team in disarray. And you are 19 years old. What do you do? Stride out and hit a record-breaking 98, of course

There was once a man who had the day of his dreams. The man was young, just 19, with willow boughs for limbs and piano player's hands. It was a summer's day at Trent Bridge, with traffic curling round the ground and the beery lads in July bloom but he batted on a Hawaiian beach at sundown, bare feet in the sea, unlit cigarette at his lips.

On Tuesday, Ashton Agar was a spinner for Australia A and Henley CC, on Wednesday he was a surprise debutant wheel-barrowed into a feeble line-up on the whim of a coach. Now he goes into the record books as the man with the highest ever Test score at No. 11 - 98 runs off 101 balls, 12 fours, two sixes - transforming a session, tipping over a match. And oh, what style! What languor!

Agar popped out to bat on his Test debut, as if on a half-remembered errand to buy a second-class stamp. Yet the pressure could not have been much greater. Australia had just lost five wickets for nine runs in 32 balls, the finest swing bowler in the world was reverse-swinging at 85mph and Graeme Swann, buttoned up from the wrists of his sleeves to the ankles of his trousers had been tempting, beguiling, flighting Australian batsmen into heavy-booted panic.

Waiting for Agar was Philip Hughes, tense, cussed, a man who had watched his batting partners come and go with barely the time to ask their names. Hughes was awkward, sensing the pressure of failure, the history, the deficit. The nine yellow pitches cut into the mint Trent Bridge grass lay indented like the deep wounds in the Australian batting line-up, still 98 runs behind. The groundsmen swept the pitch and repainted the crease. Agar waited calmly, patting, straightening, patting, the ground as the bowler turned on his heel and ran in. This was the beginning.

The sun in a pale blue sky sprayed with skeins of light cloud started to bake both the ground and the crowd. Agar drove Anderson straight down the ground for four. Then, four balls later, England appealed against him for a stumping off Swann. The third umpire took his time - it was close - and turned it down. But hey, what would it matter - this wouldn't take long.

Agar swept Swann for four, then flicked another boundary through point, with total relaxation. There was no tension in this man, composed without shadows. He pulled Steven Finn through midwicket, then fast and clean hit Swann straight for six. He had a lazy scratch. There was warm applause now. Hughes at the other end began to unwind joint by joint. The knitting done by Swann and Anderson started to unravel ball by ball. This was the middle.

Agar, it turned out, had good eyes, good hands, fast reflexes and an immaculate temperament. Quick between the wickets, long legs stretching forward to negate the spin, he could play both sides of the wicket. An extra-cover drive off Swann brought up the 50 partnership and for the spectators surprise turned to admiration to excitement. As he turned the ship around, they began to think, "I am here."

Had the Australian selectors missed a trick or were they anxious not to overawe a young debutant? Whichever, he'll likely never bat at No. 11 again. This was iron sweetness. It felt a little like watching Ben Hollioake on his international debut, also aged 19, at Lord's in 1997.

As Agar drew level and then overtook Hughes (who had been 21 when the ninth wicket fell), a bond seemed to grow between the two men. With Agar's fifty came a pat and with Hughes' a big hug . Agar brought the team scores level with an exquisite late cut for four. On the radio Glenn McGrath mused, "I thought that I was presenting a baggy green to a bowler."

Lunch was delayed and eaten hastily when it came. Everyone was back in their seats afterwards - what fool would miss the second act. In this most partisan of contests, there was excitement and appreciation for an Australian. An Australian! One who had spoilt the James Anderson show, and ruined Alastair Cook's bacon roll.

The 90s were slightly nervous, well, as nervous as Agar gets. He went past Tino Best's previous record score for a No 11. Of 95. On 98 he swung at Stuart Broad, but missed, then cut and missed. Cook and Broad conferred, the crowd grew impatient. Clap, clap, they went, clap clap, clap.

Agar couldn't resist. He swung again, made contact and Swann caught him, reaching, down on the boundary. The spectators were stranded between a huge cheer of relief and a terrible sigh of disappointment. Agar raised his old bat, scuffed at the bottom, bandaged at the side, and smiled. He wandered off. It was his third standing ovation. This was the end.

Outside the ground, in the Radcliffe Convenience Store and the Instrument Repair Centre life went on. For those watching this, it had changed, just fractionally, for the better. For Ashton Agar, it will never be the same again.

Tanya Aldred is a freelance writer in Manchester

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Dummy4 on July 15, 2013, 18:18 GMT

    It's interesting to see the comparison between Agar and Ben Hollioake, as I saw on twitter the first day of the match that they were both exactly the same age, to the day, when they made their Ashes debuts

  • Mark on July 13, 2013, 23:03 GMT

    Good that the Article gives kudos to Phil Hughes who is the forgotten man to the Hughes-Agar double act. One of the best last wicket partnerships in 130 years of Ashes cricket history. As both batted their way into the record books. Its sporting drama at its best which only Ashes cricket can throw up. There has also been a lot of talk of Agar's Sri Lankan half and of course is off Sri Lankan descent. We also forget Phil Hughes is half Italian he is of Italian descent. Like America was built on the vitality of its immigrants. Australia too have shown like America that its country's vitality and exciting unbounded spirit is also built from its Immigrants just like in America, whether they are Italian, Irish or Sri Lankan. Maybe thats why Australia and America have so much in common. They are both products of Italian, Irish and other immigrants mix melting pot. Thats why Americans and Australians think alike compared with other countries.

  • santosh on July 13, 2013, 11:23 GMT

    Reminds me of Ravi Shastri, who was flown to New Zealand as a left arm spinner, who could bat a bit. In due time to come, he became an opener batsman, who could ball a bit!!!!

  • Chatty on July 13, 2013, 1:52 GMT

    A nice sentimental piece of journalism. Objectively speaking, it is mostly rubbish. Some guys just get lucky once in a while. This was it!

  • Android on July 12, 2013, 23:07 GMT

    It's sounds really exciting. I wish I had watched this live. Matches like these will bring back faith and interest in the game.

    Looking forward for more Agars in ask the team.

  • Shiv on July 12, 2013, 20:31 GMT

    Very well-worded article indeed! And it comes on the back of a classic debut-innings by Ashton Agar which, I now feel, I was privileged to watch yesterday! And "inswing", this article, or the kudos for the young man, are in no way a coronation. If I'm not mistaken, it is the unbridled joy being shared amongst the viewers and spectators alike, at watching a debutant bat without letting the pressures of the situation and the atmosphere, get to him. And to bat the way he did. In these days of flashy in-your-face cricketers and their egos, it felt good to see someone value the baggy green, and play cricket the way it was meant to be.

  • Dummy4 on July 12, 2013, 19:39 GMT

    Pressure?!! He was under no pressure. When you are 9 down and the rest of the batsman havent made any worthwhile contribution, and you walk in on your test debut (you are playing primarily as a spinner), you are just 19 years old(which means the team really does not expect much from you right away) what kind of pressure will you be in? You put Michael Clarke in this situation, there is tremendous pressure on him as captain and top batsman to perform. If he had made a century that would be a great innings. This Agar innings nothing but a lucky debut and lets leave it at that. She does not what she is talking about...

  • John on July 12, 2013, 19:10 GMT

    What came across in a strong way in this beautifully written piece is that this was a moment in time. Even if Agar never scores another test run, he was king for a day and I got to appreciate it through this article.

    I grew up in the West Indies with the means to travel in the glory days (70-96) of Sobers, Kanhai, Kallicaharan, Richards, Lara, etc. So I've seen some great batsmen in my time. But our favorite was Lawrence Rowe who played only 30 tests and was allergic to grass. He was our fave because he was the best natural batsman we'd ever seen. In 10 hours of unruffled technical excellence, he made 302 against England in Barbados in '74 and we were there for every minute of it. It was like watching an artist at work. At one point, he was beaten playing defensively forward and laid back to square cut a leg-break to backward point for 4 - us teenagers went crazy. Sitting on my deck here in Atlanta, this article reminded me of that time. That's what great writing should do.

  • Dummy4 on July 12, 2013, 18:33 GMT

    Kudos to you Tanya Aldred. What a wonderfully scripted piece. You've transported us to Trentbridge as if we were right there amongst the action. One can almost smell the grass at TB. "Well done young fella"