Ashes 2015: Remember Ashton Agar? The No 11 that nearly toppled England

At Trent Bridge two years ago he hit 98 on debut. Richard Edwards tracks down the spinner intent on returning to the Aussie fold

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The Independent Online

As entrances go, it was one of the most audacious ever witnessed in Ashes cricket. Ashton Agar was due to spend the summer of 2013 first at Henley in the Home Counties Premier League and then with Australia A. He clearly hadn’t read the script.

By the time he was eventually caught by Graeme Swann off the bowling of Stuart Broad for a breathtaking 98 in just 101 balls in the opening Test of the series at Trent Bridge, he hadn’t simply resurrected Australia’s faltering chances of winning the match – they trailed by 98 when he first came to the wicket – he had also completely rewritten the record books.

His 98 is the highest score by a No 11 in Test cricket, while his partnership of 163 with the late Phillip Hughes was also a world record – until it was overtaken by Joe Root and Jimmy Anderson on the same ground against India last year. Agar was the first Australian No 11 to make a fifty since Fred “The Demon” Spofforth in 1885 and the ninth man in Test history to top-score from the lowliest spot in the batting order.

Under this avalanche of figures, it was easy to overlook the fact that Agar’s batting was a thing of beauty. For just over two hours, he was the epitome of languid left-handedness, a player who appeared capable of hitting the ball wherever he wanted. As the sides prepare to play in Nottingham again, Agar is touring India with Australia A. On Thursday, though, he will do all he can to catch the action on the ground that, for a brief period, turned his life upside down.

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Ashton Agar’s partner for the record 10th-wicket stand was Phillip Hughes, who died last year (Getty)

“Time has gone so quickly,” Agar tells The Independent. “I’ve got some great memories of the place, I had a good time there. Unfortunately, we didn’t win but it will certainly bring back some memories. It doesn’t feel like a dream but everything happened very quickly. The time in between has passed very quickly too.”

When he was picked as a bowler, Agar’s selection ahead of Nathan Lyon before the Trent Bridge Test was held up as an example of Australia’s muddled thinking in the chaos that preceded the opening match of the 2013 series.

Darren Lehmann had been brought in as coach in place of Mickey Arthur. As Agar strode out with the score on 117 for 9 – having seen his side lose five wickets for nine runs in 31 balls – the Melbourne-born 19-year-old must have wondered quite what he had walked into.

“I just tried to go out and play my natural game, that was the instruction,” he says. “Me and Hughesy had a great partnership. Was I kicking myself when I got out? Not really, I was absolutely delighted. You always want to make runs but realistically I didn’t expect to make 98. I was pretty happy that I did. I wasn’t kicking myself because I had a really good time out there.

“A few days later, I was at Lord’s and just looking around the ground, taking in the history of the place, walking through the Long Room and just thinking about everything that had happened there. It’s a beautiful place to play, even lunch was unbelievable. Everything about the ground was great.”

That Lord’s Test is, to date, Agar’s last appearance for his country, with the wicketless left-armer – then batting at  No 8 – proving the fall guy for a dismal team performance that handed England an initiative which they retained for the remainder of the summer.

At only 21, Agar is still very much in the Australian selectors’ thoughts, particularly after a successful Sheffield Shield season for Western Australia which included a 10-wicket match haul against South Australia in February.

 

“I’ve been going in at seven for Western Australia and it’s going really well,” he says. “Justin Langer is a great coach and he’s got huge belief in my ability with the bat. I take a lot of pride in that. There are times when I’m batting better than I’m bowling and times when the opposite is true. I would still like to become a genuine all-rounder in the team. It’s all about how much you really want it – and I do really want that to happen.”

Jimmy Anderson ultimately proved the difference between the sides on Agar’s debut, claiming 10 wickets in the match including the final one as England scraped home by 14 runs. The paceman will be missing this week and, with the series delicately poised at 2-1, Agar believes his absence could be crucial.

“I think it’s extremely important,” he says. “I would say Anderson is England’s best bowler. He swings it both ways with the new ball – and swings it a long way too. That’s the hard part about going to England – facing the swinging Duke ball. You feel like you have to play every ball.

“For him not to be playing at the place where he has traditionally done really well is a massive bonus for Australia. It would be great if Australia win this one. It would set up an unbelievable last Test match at The Oval.”

This series has so far proved impossible to predict but one thing is almost certain – neither No 11 is likely to match Agar’s prodigious scoring feat.

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