Thursday, 11 July 2013



Wow. Just, wow. And d’oh! Then a long nooooo!!!

Imagine walking into a Hollywood studio and pitching the following: “I’ve got this story about a 19-year-old Aussie kid – yeah? – who comes to England one summer to play club cricket for Henley – y’know, where they have that regatta – then goes on an A tour to Scotland and Ireland for a few weeks where he does so well that he gets called up for the main tour, the Ashes, ‘to aid his development’. Only, instead of being a net bowler and drinks waiter, he’s a shock call-up for the first Test, sheds a tear when presented with his baggy green by a bona fide Aussie legend, then goes on to make a debut hundred at a run a ball – the highest score in the history of Test cricket by a number 11”.

“B*****ks. Never happen”, they’d say (before ploughing $60m into the story of some university professor who, by night, turns into a mutant fox and bites the heads off posh folk who flounce around Leicestershire on horseback). Only, it did happen. Well, nearly… Agar-nisingly, the young Victorian fell two runs short. And the crowd was almost uniformly disappointed, even the partisans.

Ignore the tumbling records (the eclipse of Tino’s 95 at Edgbaston last year, meaning the ‘Best’s Best’ speaking tour must now be binned, with a huge printing bill). Ignore, too, the enormity of the series and the grisly match situation, Australia 98 runs behind when he poured himself out to the square. Instead, just look at the warm ooze of natural talent. This was an innings of preternatural beauty. Front foot, back foot, legside, offside; off pace and spin; the full range of strokes was on display. Quips that he could soon find himself batting at number three may have started as facetiousness but by mid-afternoon looked almost a stone-cold certainty.

TrentBridge was the county of Sir Garfield Sobers, of course, and there was something in the languorous drives and bullwhip hook and pull strokes that was redolent of the great Bajan. If young Master Agar can bowl lively medium-fast to complement his left-arm spin, turn himself to an electric close catcher, then the comparisons may not be so far-fetched.

There was something, too, of Brian Charles Lara in the two imperious sixes he struck off the bowling of Graeme Swann, the flashing willow blade finishing round between his relaxed shoulder blades as two balls that he didn’t quite get to the pitch to – one from round the wicket, one from over – were despatched to long off and long on, the latter his favourite stroke of the innings. It was all, well, erotic. Positively sexy. And England’s fieldsmen, scattered hither and thither across the greensward, looked distinctly edgy: a mild case of, ahem, Agaraphobia, perchance?


Talking of foxes – and Swann was deemed to have outfoxed one or two of the Aussies in the morning session; he may even have swanned about when he couldn't dismiss Agar – it struck this correspondent that the English language has an extraordinary amount of verbs deriving from the name of this island’s relatively harmless collection of animals. Here’s some more: to ferret, to badger, to crow, to goose, to snake (about), to hare (after), to dog, to cow, to pig (out), to carp (on), to grouse, to fox, to squirrel (away), to swan (about), to rabbit (on), to horse (about). Use them.

Architectural splendour

It was fitting that such a sensational debut performance as Agar’s was played out on this most delightful of grounds.

There is a wonderful line in Spanish surrealist filmmaker Luis Buñuel’s Le Fantôme de la Liberté (yes, I know that’s French) when one of the characters, contemplating a spider (or perhaps a butterfly) mounted and encased in glass atop a mantelpiece, says, enigmatically, “Bah, I’m tired of all this symmetry”. And therein lies the charm of TrentBridge – indeed all grounds that resist the lure to create identikit charmless bowls. Sure, the Radcliffe Road Stand is symmetrical, a Sir Richard Hadlee wing and Sir Garry Sobers wing, but the rest of the ground is a charming mixture of styles, materials and contours – the albatross wing on top of the Fox Round stand; the giant football dugout effect of the Parr Stand, allowing the afternoon light through; the famous old pavilion.

But perhaps the most strikingly singular is the glass-fronted office building where Notts Executive staff are usually housed, and where controversy’s Marais Erasmus sits making his dubiously supported decisions. If London has Sir Norman Foster’s ‘Gherkin’, Glasgow has ‘the Armadillo’ and Manchester ‘the Filing Cabinet’, then Nottingham has ‘The Batman’.

Going Irish

When the phrase “going Irish” is used in the context of the England attack, you’d be forgiven for thinking they were talking about the deck-hitting, 6’ 8” God Save the Queen avoider, Boyd Rankin. But no, they were talking about the reverse swing first developed by Simon Jones in the 2005 Ashes and since perfected solely by – and in certain parts of the world this claim goes down as well as cartoons of the Prophet Mohammad – the world’s top swing bowler, James Anderson.

England’s sole dependable paceman was at the top of his game in one of the craziest morning sessions the Ashes can have witnessed, sending back the hitherto comfortable Steve Smith, Peter Siddle and Mitchell Starc courtesy of three catches by Matt Prior as Australia lost five wickets for nine runs in 31 balls before Agar rode to the rescue. Whether the Aussies can do the same on a wicket that looks pretty flat may well decide the outcome of the game.


There was more than a hint of controversy over the first-ball dismissal of English batting bellwether Jonathan Trott, adjucated lbw on review after Aleem Dar had ruled out a vociferous appeal from Mitchell Starc’s full, swinging delivery. Replays suggested two possibilities: that he had hit it (tight-angle shot) and that he hadn’t hit it (wide shot). Jimmy Anderson was categorical in the press conference that he had hit it. The hotspot cameras square to the wicket were out of action, apparently still dealing with the Root dismissal the ball before (even though DRS was not required for it), strangled down the legside. So, with no conclusive proof either way, ‘Malaise’ Erasmus informed his colleague in the middle that he couldn’t tell whether there had been an inside edge or not. Fine. So why then overturn the decision? This is WAR!

Churchillian wisdom

According to somewhere in the region of 9834 articles that appeared yesterday, “the phoney war” finished at 11am on Wednesday. Meanwhile, the real war – without much of the maiming and misery, admittedly – finished at 4pm on Thursday, when five sessions of breathless cricket finally ran out of puff, like some wild-eyed student who’d gone out on two-for-one Thursday night, hit the adult confectionary, then staggered through the door late on Sunday evening. Now it’s just a cricket series, and much of the bellicose rhetoric can be parked for the foreseeable future.

Which brings us to Winston Churchill, who knew one or two things about cricket. “We shall fight them on the beaches”, boomed the bejowelled one, famously, in a pretty unambiguous advocacy of England looking to play on turning pitches. Agar can bat, but can he bowl? 

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