On Ashton Agar

Two images remain from today, one of a 19-year-old lad who may already have played the innings of his life and the other from a 38 year old man who has no more left to play.

-The Old Batsman (full post)

Around the 12 or 13th over of Sunday’s India v Australia match, a substitute fielder came on for an Australian bowler. I think the subbed bowler might have been Faulkner, but I am not entirely sure. It’s beside the point. The point is actually who the substitute was: Ashton Agar. He of the once-in-a-lifetime 98 at Trent Bridge during the first Test of the 2013 Ashes.

For those that don’t remember – all two of you – Agar, a 19 year old kid making his Test debut in the simmering cauldron of the Ashes – came in to bat at number 11 when Australia were falling off a cliff at 117/9. He then didn’t do much but bat for two runs shy of a debut Test century and the highest ever partnership for the 10th wicket (since broken). He kept Australia’s hopes alive in the first Test only to have them dashed in the end, falling 15 runs short of the rare successful chase of 300-plus runs.

It was a truly magical innings for a 19-year-old on debut, and his grace under such extreme pressure made me think Australia had itself a real special cricketer on its hands. But then he struggled with the ball, fell ill, returned home before the fourth Test, and hasn’t made a Test appearance for Australia since.

In the years between his 98 and his substitute fielder appearance on Sunday, he has played a lot of domestic cricket and appeared in a handful of ODIs. But all that promise that was on display that day in Nottingham has not re-appeared. (However, it goes to show the Australian team’s faith in his ability to handle pressure by throwing him into the field in front of a hostile ground in what was for all intents and purposes a knock-out match.)

And so it seems we have what The Old Batsman predicted above: a 22-year-old kid who played the innings of his life when he was only 19, and while he might very well prove someday to be more than just the answer to a Pub Quiz question, for now he exists forever 19, forever smiling the perfect smile of a kid “in love with absurdity of it all.” And that’s okay, I think. Well, it’s okay, of course, but it’s also a little tragic to peak so young, to be 22 and know that your best moment on a cricket pitch is always behind you, lurking.

But, that said, just as it’s better to have loved and lost, it’s also better to have scored a 98 in an Ashes Test than to have not scored a 98 in an Ashes Test – no matter the age you were when it happened.

I just hope that those two runs don’t haunt him too much.

*

Forgotten from that day due to the Agar Show was the man at the other end of the crease: Philip Hughes. Hughes who batted for nearly 4 hours that day, scoring 88 off of 111 balls. Hughes who would die so young and so tragically not 18 months later.

While Agar’s story might be tinged with a bit of melancholy for potential and promise never fully realized, Hughes’ story is of course far sadder. That said, both stories serve to remind us of one very important point: what happens off the cricket field is far, far more important than what happens on it. Agar’s life will not be defined by what happened at Trent Bridge, just as Hughes’ loss is not felt at the batting crease as much as it is felt in the hearts and minds of those that knew and loved him.

*

A footnote: in the quote above The Old Batsman is referencing the fact that Agar’s knock came on the same day as Ricky Ponting’s final First Class innings.

And to quote The Old Batsman one final time:

The gap between it and Ponting’s at the Oval, that brief window of time in which sportsmen have their lives and all of us are young, closes before anyone notices. What a day it was today.

Which is one more lesson that Ponting and Agar and Hughes and, well, cricket can teach us: life is short. Damn short. So enjoy the moments we are given, for they – along with the people we share them with – are always gone far too soon.

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