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Agar Sublime But Test Remains Finely Balanced

Ashton Agar (left) scored a wonderful 98 on day two. Here he is congratulated by Graeme Swann, who took the catch to dismiss him
©REUTERS / Action Images

England 215 & 80-2 (Starc 2-15) v
Australia 280 (Agar 98, Hughes 81no)
First Test, Trent Bridge, day two

There was plenty of action on the second day at Trent Bridge, but the first Ashes Test remains evenly poised with England 15 runs ahead of Australia on 80 for two in their second innings.

England took the upper hand in the morning as James Anderson found just enough reverse swing and Graeme Swann enough turn to reduce Australia to 117 for nine.

However, debutant number 11 Ashton Agar broke two world records and, along with Phil Hughes, put the tourists back in front. When Mitchell Starc then removed Joe Root and Jonathan Trott with consecutive deliveries early in England’s second innings, it was Australia who were suddenly leaping ahead.

Kevin Pietersen and Alastair Cook, though, remained together until stumps, grinding down the Australian bowlers effectively during an unbroken third-wicket stand of 69 which spanned 35.2 overs.

Australia’s attack were unable to find any of the reverse swing that Anderson had at the start of the day, while Agar wasn’t overly threatening after his brilliance with the bat and, despite a couple of nervy moments initially, Pietersen played him well, while Cook came across his stumps to counter any turn out of the rough outside his off-stump.

Starc had struck twice in his fourth over to rock England after they had been left shell-shocked by Australia’s last-wicket stand. He had Root, who desperately wanted to review the decision but was fortunately persuaded otherwise by Cook, caught down the leg-side, with Trott then controversially trapped LBW.

Trott was given not out initially as umpire Aleem Dar suspected an inside edge. However, Michael Clarke called for the review, and third umpire Marais Erasmus, despite no clear evidence, decided to overturn the decision.

The replay appeared to show a slight deflection as the ball passed bat, but Hot Spot showed nothing, and it was the latter which Erasmus took the most notice of. Dar signalled that his decision had been overturned with a shrug of the shoulders that epitomised the unease felt by many.

That was Erasmus’ second slightly controversial decision of the day. He had early given history-maker Ashton Agar not out when on six when Kumar Dharmasena sent a perilously close appeal for a stumping upstairs. Again, replays were inconclusive, with the camera angles again not ideal, and Erasmus rightly gave the batsman the benefit of the doubt.

It had been Agar who had rescued Australia after Anderson had found reverse swing to pick up another five-wicket haul and edge closer to Bob Willis in England’s all-time wickets tally. Swann, meanwhile, extracted appreciable turn to have Brad Haddin bowled second ball, and left-hander James Pattinson leg-before in trademark fashion.

19 year-old Agar was unknown to all but the most ardent cricket fan before this match, having only made his first-class debut in January of this year for Western Australia. However, he had already showed enough pedigree with the bat to make what followed this afternoon not a complete surprise. Nonetheless, it was a spectacular introduction to Test cricket.

A tall, willowy left-hander, he stood upright at the crease, twice launching Swann for six and displaying one of cricket’s more elegant leg-flicks. He broke Tino Best’s record of 95 for the highest score by a number 11 in the 2090-match history of Test cricket and also partnered Hughes during a record tenth-wicket partnership of 163.

By the end of his innings, he had all but the most hard-nosed England supporter willing him on to a century, but it wasn’t to be as he pulled Stuart Broad, still bowling gingerly after his blow to the shoulder yesterday, to Swann at deep mid-wicket when on 98. Australia were all out for 280 and had an unexpected lead of 65 thanks to Agar the history-maker.

© Cricket World 2013