x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 27 July 2017

Ashes: Australia's dial goes up to '11'

Perhaps a reversal of the battling line-up is in order for the tourists, who sprung a surprise on their hosts with a 19-year-old, Melbourne-born spinner named Ashton Agar. Paul Radley comments.

Ashton Agar, above, partnered with Phil Hughes to save Australia on the second day of the opening Ashes series match against England at Trent Bridge cricket ground, Nottingham, England.
Ashton Agar, above, partnered with Phil Hughes to save Australia on the second day of the opening Ashes series match against England at Trent Bridge cricket ground, Nottingham, England.

When Boris Johnson popped up alongside the likes of the British prime minister and other celebrities in a promotional video urging England to "rise" to the challenge of the Ashes, most assumed it was another stroke of opportunism from a marvel of self-publicity.

The funny man-come-Mayor of London-come-aspiring prime minister has a knack for getting himself seen or heard at major sporting events.

Last summer, while the London Olympics was ongoing on his patch, he got himself stranded legs akimbo on a zip-wire while waving flags in support of the Great Britain team.

Then at the weekend he paid tribute to his "one time doubles partner" Andy Murray, immediately after the Scotsman's success at Wimbledon.

But, on greater reflection, maybe there was more to it than that this time. Maybe it was not just idle self-promotion.

Maybe BoJo had some insider knowledge to give and it was a genuine warning for the cricket team: watch out England - the opposition have a secret weapon.

Surely he had some spies in the Shires who could have provided some intel?

Because, in the first part of this summer, Ashton Agar was playing as an overseas professional in recreational cricket in Johnson's former constituency of Henley.

On Thursday he was breaking batting records on his Test debut. As you do.

On his first trip to the wicket in Test cricket, he set two new individual records.

First he went past the highest score for a No 11 batsman on debut before ending with the highest score ever by a player coming in last.

He also shared in another record, his 163-run alliance with Phil Hughes being the highest 10th wicket stand in Tests.

If England were short on information on the teenager from Victoria, they were not the only ones.

On the first morning of this game, he must have been the most googled Ashton in the world. Kutcher will have had nothing on him at 10.30am on Wednesday.

How his star ascended thereafter.

Midway through Thursday afternoon, his name was trending on Twitter, while the same social network was revealing the sort of facts about him which would make Chuck Norris look like a pansy.

A snake bit him and, after 12 days of pain, the snake passed away, apparently. The Melbourne-born spinner looks due for a long and prosperous Test career.

But, seriously, how is ever going to follow this?

Agar idolises the New Zealand left- arm spinner Daniel Vettori. If he can get close to his deeds with the ball, he says he will be happy.

The way he has started out certainly has Vettori parallels. The New Zealander was 18 and still at school when he was given his Test debut, also against England.

Bespectacled, he looked like he had just been fished directly from the library. His tender age decreed that he was listed last in the batting order, but he finished not out in both innings for a combined total of five runs.

He was clearly misplaced. Vettori has since struck six Test centuries, with a best of 140.

Agar does not seem too different, other than having a more athletic appearance than the bookish demeanour Vettori had back then. But rather than just looking the part and edging his way up the pecking order, as Vettori did, Agar made a mockery of the Australian batting order.

He top scored. From No 11. They should reverse the batting order in the second innings, and they will probably fare better.

A few things did betray his age, though. When Test cricketers reach a landmark and have their statistics read out on the tannoy, they usually feign indifferent.

When Agar's were announced upon reaching 50, he giggled.

Even after he holed out, middling a long-hop from Stuart Broad straight to Graeme Swann in the deep, he was still smiling.

Maybe next time.

 

pradley@thenational.ae

 

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