Last night, as many around Australia slept, one 19-year old from Melbourne exemplified what is great about Ashes Cricket.
Ashton Agar’s innings of 98 off just 101 balls against the previously deemed impervious England doesn’t gain it’s status of greatness through speed, class or even the records it broke, but through it’s context.
For so long, the under-dog status on which the Ashes legend is based has been deprived to Australian players. How could a team winning nine of the past twelve series have victory considered ‘beyond reach’? Yet having won just 2 of the last 10 Tests against England and being completely outclassed on paper, the stage was set for a performance indicative of Australia’s fighting spirit. A performance that reminded Australian and English fans alike why the ‘Battle for the Urn’ is amongst the world’s greatest sporting contests.
Last night, we witnessed that performance.
In Swann, Anderson, Finn and Broad, Agar faced a veteran bowling attack of 217 Test matches. Their achievements, 822 Test wickets at an average of 29.69 were confronted with a constant smile born of national pride and sheer appreciation for the opportunity at hand.
Not since Adam Gilchrist’s unbeaten 59-ball Ashes century at the WACA in 2007 has the nation become so vehemently invested in an individual innings. On that occasion however, we marveled at exactly that, an individual, one of the greatest cricketers of all-time, its rawest of talents in unencumbered full flight.
We don’t expect Ashton Agar to rival the legacy of Gilchrist, however his innings may live in the mind for just as long as any of his fellow West-Australian. Why? Because it summarises the friendly yet fiercely competitive Ashes spirit like few others have.
On that famous day in 2007, Gilchrist demoralised the English faithful, leaving their hopes of building an Ashes dynasty in tatters. In 2013, every run scored by Agar was met with a cheer. Trent Bridge, filled with Australians and Englishmen alike, had found a new hero.
When dismissed, Ashton Agar received a standing ovation, had his hand shaken by Graeme Swann, the man who caught him on 98 and proceeded to the boundary near where his family was seated. There, he leaned over the fence to his brothers, 17 and 16 in age, future Test cricketers by all accounts and said ‘sorry guys’ before trudging off in preparation for his 2nd Test innings in the field.
With the commitment and mentality of Australian cricketers under intense and justified scrutiny in recent years, the determination for an unknown commodity, who wouldn’t have been lambasted for losing his wicket cheaply, to save the day for his country is refreshing at the least.
In Ian Botham and Michael Holding, his knock was commentated on by two of the most incredible figures to play the game. A sheer competitor, himself defined by the Ashes rivalry and a true gentleman, humble in his legendary status both spoke in admiration of their fellow Test player.
Put it down to the patriotism instilled in this team under Lehmann, praise Phillip Hughes for not throwing his wicket away when paired with an unknown number 11, but at the end of the day, the guts and determination showed by Ashton Agar were his own, and that is something we’ll never forget.
A legendary and record-breaking innings worthy of Warne’s 99 and Bradman’s average of 99.94, it seems all great things in Australian sport are destined to end with a form of poetic injustice.
When Agar walked off with a smile, you couldn’t help but wonder whether he appreciated the place in the history books he’d just personally crafted and the joy he gave so many in a mere 101-ball innings.