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Australia Ashes 40 for 40: Ashton Agar re-lives his historic debut at Trent Bridge in 2013

23:50  29 december  2021
23:50  29 december  2021 Source:   msn.com

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The first impression of Ashton Agar is of your archetypal modern cricketer.

All in one, he's a calculating off-spin bowler, a useful lower-middle order batter and erudite on camera.

This summer he's been a key cog for the Perth Scorchers and, before that, he was part of Australia's T20 World Cup winning squad.

But there was a time when Agar was also being touted as a spin-bowling option in Test cricket and, in the English summer of 2013, he got picked in front of Nathan Lyon, at the tender age of 19.

"It was crazy," Agar tells ABC Sport.

"Why it happened and exactly what the catalyst was, I'm not sure. I guess they obviously wanted a left-arm spinner."

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Agar was in England playing for Australia A at the time. He had been bowling well and had also scored runs for Western Australia at the end of the preceding Australian summer.

Even though he was still a teenager, it seemed the selectors had a hunch.

"All of a sudden, I was called into the Ashes squad and, originally, it was just to be around for the first two Tests — just to get a bit of experience around the group. There was not much word of me playing," he says.

"Michael Clarke came up to me one day and said, 'You're really close, stay ready. I think you are a massive shot to play'."

Agar ended up being picked for the first Test of the series at Trent Bridge. His family flew in at the last minute and nearly missed his baggy green presentation from Glenn McGrath.

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He put in a solid performance with the ball in the first innings of the match, bowling seven wicketless overs and conceding 24 runs. At the other end, Peter Siddle's five-wicket haul meant the hosts were all out for 215.

In reply, Australian wickets tumbled. They reached 5-108 at one stage, before Steve Smith was sent packing and the lower order collapsed.

Agar walked out to the middle with Australia on 9-117.

"I was nervous, but not uncontrollably nervous," he says.

"I had a lot of faith in how I was actually batting at the time.

"The Barmy Army was chanting, the whole crowd was chanting, because England were going really well. It felt like it was just this wave of noise, going from left to right across the ground."

Despite the boisterous crowd, the lanky left-hander started playing his shots almost immediately and the TV commentary team started to take note.

At one point, Agar hammered a monstrous six off English spinner Graeme Swann over mid-off, and Sir Ian Botham reluctantly gave the debutant a modicum of credit.

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"Don't see too much wrong with that," he said in his TV commentary.

"Test cricket, no problem. Straight out of the middle of the bat."

Batting alongside the late Phillip Hughes, Agar powered the score past England's first innings total. In the dressing room, the Australians were following an old cricketing tradition and stayed glued to their collective seats.

The Australian captain at the time, Clarke wrote about the memorable moment in his autobiography.

"As their stand builds, we count every single run and stick to our seats, superstitiously, like it's the last wicket on the last day," Clarke wrote.

"I love seeing the two lefties out there, both so talented, and now Hughesy, who has always been the youngster in teams he's been in, playing the part of elder statesman."

Agar also credits Hughes as the key in pushing the two of them to a stunning 163-run partnership.

To this day, it remains the highest last-wicket stand in nearly 140 years of Ashes history, and the second-highest ever in Test cricket.

"I was lucky to have Phil there at the other end, the whole time," Agar says.

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"Someone to just keep me very grounded, every single ball. He kept me very present and didn't let me get too far ahead of myself.

"When Phil locked in and he wanted to do something, that's just what he did. There was no stopping him. It was awesome."

Agar would eventually be dismissed for 98, the highest score ever by a Test number 11.

His family, watching on in the stands, collapsed in their seats, exhausted.

Agar pulled off his helmet, shrugged his shoulders, and allowed himself a little smile as he walked off.

"I have no regrets that I didn't get the hundred," he says.

"It was some of the most fun I've ever had batting out in the middle, I would say."

Now aged 28, Agar says sharing the moment with Hughes, in one of his final matches for Australia before his shock death in 2014, makes it a particularly special memory.

"There were a lot of guys [who] were much closer than I was with Phil," Agar says.

"But it certainly brought us closer, it was beautiful.

"We did our best to try to put our country in a better position, and we were definitely proud of that."

After his memorable contribution with the bat, and an unsuccessful bowling performance in the second Test, Agar was dropped for the third Test of the 2013 series, which Australia went on to lose 3-0.

Since then, he's only played two more Tests, but represented Australia in T20 and One Day matches more than 50 times.

"I would love to play more Test cricket, I would love to do that, because I think I can certainly add value," he says.

"Also, I really enjoy it."

However, unlike many of his peers, Agar doesn't adhere to the view that the five-day format is cricket's holy grail.

"I don't know what makes Test cricket more important than One Day cricket or T20 cricket," he says.

"Any game you play for Australia feels like one of the most important games you'll ever play."

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