I have a picture at home by a local artist, Roy Perry, called “the last batsman”. It shows a village match at the fall of the ninth wicket with the fielding team waiting for the number 11 to come in – the position I usually occupied in the team I played for.
Batting at number 11 rarely involved me staying long at the crease. After all, that’s why there are 10 people above you in the scorebook. I suspect there won’t be 10 people above Ashton Agar for much longer, whichever team he plays in. The little known Australian spinner could retire from Test cricket next week yet still be in Ashes folklore after his innings of 98 at Trent Bridge on a second pulsating day to this series that has barely got out of the blocks.
Part of England’s problem may have been they knew little about him as a batsman. Barely a dozen first class innings, none of them at Test level, will have hardly given them hours of video footage to study. However the difference between the streaky 20 I once made at Dumbleton and Agar’s innings was the polished way in which he batted.
The early stumping appeal aside, he played more akin to a man who might bat at eight or nine, and Australia’s 117-9 after Anderson’s mini-blitz of the lower order was then taken to heights they could never have dreamed were possible by Agar and the doughty Phil Hughes.
Trent Bridge has, in my experience, always had a knowledgeable and fair minded crowd, and to hear the ovation Agar was given – and hear the BBC’s Pat Murphy actually sound crestfallen when he was out – showed how a tailender making runs against the odds is one of the joys of the game.
He may score a first class or Test hundred at some stage, but the circumstances surrounding this Test match made two more runs something any genuine cricket fan would have wanted him to achieve.
While Agar was batting beside the Trent, Alex Gidman also achieved a personal milestone with the first double century of his career for Gloucestershire in the Championship match against Kent at the Cheltenham Festival. It was the first by anyone playing for Gloucestershire since 2004, and Gidman’s third century of a season in which he no longer has the responsibility of captaincy, having relinquished it during last winter.
“It’s possible I would not have played some of the shots I did early on had I still been captain” he told me. “There is that balance between risk and reward and I really struggled for the first 50 or 60 balls and found it hard to score. I then tried to play with a bit more freedom in order to get going and it paid off.”
“It was just a pity I wasn’t there when Hamish (Marshall) got his hundred. We’re good chums and enjoy seeing each other succeed. His innings and Chris Dent’s 153 were both superb, regardless of the wicket. The overhead conditions were good but we have enough occasions in this country when batting conditions aren’t like this so it’s nice to make the most of it.”
The match at the College Ground has seen more than 700 runs for only 7 wickets in two days. At Trent Bridge, there have been 575 runs and 22 wickets. At Cheltenham, a draw looks the most likely outcome. In Nottingham, as Ashton Agar proved, just about anything is possible.
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