Last month, Ashton Agar was playing for Henley against North Mymms in the Home Counties Premier League. By Thursday, he had become a national hero for Australia.
There were some doubts about his selection for this series since it came at the expense of Nathan Lyon, the young off spinner who had taken as many wickets as any other Australian bowler in the run-up to the Ashes. Agar was unspectacular with the ball in England's first innings, taking 0-24 in his seven overs, but when it was his turn to bat, he was spectacular.
He didn't look like a 19-year-old making his Test debut, playing poised, controlled shots and not letting his nerves get to him—one day after they had affected the best batsmen on both teams. He was almost stumped on six, after an achingly close video review could have gone either way. But he was called not out and continued to rack up the runs at almost a run a ball.
Soon, the records started to fall. At 46, he broke a 111-year-old mark for the highest total scored by a debutant batting eleventh. At 66, he passed Glenn McGrath for the best knock by an Australian No. 11. When they reached 151, Hughes and Agar owned the record for the best 10th-wicket partnership ever made at Trent Bridge. One run later, it was the best such partnership in the history of the game
As Agar inched into the 90s, the atmosphere became increasingly tense with each delivery. He reached 96 to pass Tino Best for the most runs scored by a No. 11 in Test history but would fall agonisingly short of a debut century, caught in deep midwicket for 98.
The knock rescued the tourists from what was looking like a humiliating defeat. On 117, when five wickets had fallen in exchange for nine runs, the Australians still trailed by 98 runs and it looked unlikely they could survive much longer at the crease. Agar and Hughes—whose own contribution of 81 not out has been overshadowed but should not be overlooked—turned that into a 65-run lead.
They almost took a stranglehold on the match in the first few overs of England's second innings, too, when Mitchell Starc took two wickets in two balls for the second time in two days. First, Joe Root was caught behind by Brad Haddin on five, then Jonathan Trott was caught lbw first ball in a call which brought more controversy onto the video review system.
On the brink of a collapse, captain Alastair Cook and Kevin Pietersen steadied the ship. An unbeaten partnership of 69 saw England to the close but the run rate was stagnant—at one stage, eight overs passed with only two runs scored.
On day three, either side can take control of the match. If England continue to frustrate the Australian bowlers, they could comfortably build up a lead of 300 and anything around there would be difficult for Australia to chase. However, we saw in the first innings how easily and quickly each team's order can fall apart.
Day two in brief:
- Australia collapse in morning, fall from 108-4 to 117-9.
- Agar and Hughes put up 163 for final wicket.
- Australia 280 all out and lead by 65
- Starc takes two wickets in two balls, England stumble to 11-2
- Pietersen and Cook score slowly but survive, hosts 80-2.