Ever so often, a cricketer announces himself in a blaze of glory that leaves an indelible mark on our collective cricketing consciousness.
When the Australian team — of 'Melbourne 98' and 'Cape Town 47' infamy — were left reeling at 117/9 in the opening Test of the 2013 Ashes at Trent Bridge, a relatively unknown No 11 batsman by the name of Ashton Charles Agar walked into the middle.
The 19-year-old, who was awarded a Western Australia contract just the previous summer, was added to the squad, led by Michael Clarke, in an attempt to exploit Kevin Pietersen's perceived incapacity to play left-arm spin.
But as it turned out, the bolter from Melbourne was more comfortable with his batting than bowling at that point of time.
On his Test debut, Agar put together what was a record 10th wicket partnership at the time with the late Philip Hughes to give Australia a sizeable lead. Unperturbed by the stage and unconcerned by the magnitude of an Ashes Test, the debutant used his feet beautifully and lofted England's premier off-spinner, Graeme Swann, over long-off for six.
He flicked James Anderson, drove Stuart Broad and pulled Steven Finn.
Slowly, people began to wonder: who is this batsman masquerading as a tail-ender?
Australia were trailing by 98 runs when Agar came to the crease. No number 11 on his Test debut had scored even a half-century in the history of the game until then.
And Agar had got 98 runs himself in a 163-run partnership with Hughes. It was only the third time in Test history that the last wicket pair had doubled their team’s total.
Yes, all this within 24 hours of getting his Baggy Green.
Unfortunately, he miscued a pull shot off a short ball from Broad into the hands of a tumbling Swann.
There was a collective dismay among the Nottingham crowd. For, on that particular day, it didn't matter whether you were Aussie or Pom. They all wanted him to get those two runs.
As the languid left-hander walked off the ground to a standing ovation, he let out the most radiant and broadest of smiles — seemingly at peace with himself — despite the heartbreak.
The photo of the remarkable moment appeared in numerous sports dailies and websites the following day capturing the hearts of cricket fans all over the world.
Ashton Agar. A day you or any cricket fan will never forget!!!!! What a test match!! Gripped!
— Hugh Jackman (@RealHughJackman) July 11, 2013
Wolverine on his work days and cricket nuffie during his offs, actor Hugh Jackman aptly declared: It was “a day you or any cricket fan will never forget”.
Agar had, indeed, become a part of cricketing folklore.
If this was a fairy tale, his innings would have led the Aussies to victory at Trent Bridge and his heroics would have inspired them to reclaiming the Ashes. Agar would have become a household name having gone on to establish himself as one of the world’s best all-rounders.
But no. Australia lost the Test at Nottingham and the next at Lord’s. Agar was dropped for the third Test. England won the Ashes 3-0.
From one of the most audacious debuts in cricket, Agar slowly began to go down the pecking order as the Australian selectors wanted him to work on his craft in First Class cricket before making a comeback.
And Agar did just that. In the 2014-15 season of the Sheffield Shield, he picked up 31 wickets at an average of under 31, while the following summer, he proved his all-round credentials scoring 361 runs at an average north of 36.
Agar, along with Steve O’Keefe, bowled Australia A to victory against India A in an unofficial Test on their 2015 tour. He even picked up the prized wicket of Virat Kohli, trapping him lbw for 16.
Deservedly, four years after his debut heroics, Agar is set to make his comeback to the Australian Test team when they take on Bangladesh in Dhaka. He was recalled ahead of O’Keefe who faces a potential career-ending axing after repeated off-field misdemeanours.
Agar’s all-round skills have received a strong backing from both his skipper Steve Smith and coach Darren Lehmann.
Smith believes the 23-year-old has the ability to bat higher up the order and eventually “end up in the top six”. Add to that his “gun fielding” skills, he can turn himself into a world class all-rounder akin to Bangladesh’s Shakib al Hasan.
And Agar need not look any further than his captain for inspiration on how to transform himself into a mainstay in the side.
After coach Mickey Arthur’s ousting ahead of the 2013 Ashes in England, it was his replacement Lehmann who added both Smith and Agar to the squad.
Having made his debut against Pakistan at Lord’s in 2010, Smith was initially picked as a leg-spinner who batted at No 8. Three years later, he was playing at No 5 as a pure batsman.
Now, Australia’s accidental hero is the World No 1 Test batsman after having scored 20 centuries in the past four years and boasting an average of more than 61.
In Australia’s perennial quest for a genuine all-rounder, the national selectors have picked squads packed with them for the tours to Bangladesh and India.
Agar and incumbent No 6 Glenn Maxwell will both aim to make their case for the Ashes Down Under.
Hilton Cartwright is the sole seam-bowling all-rounder in the squad but conditions in Dhaka and Chittagong will undoubtedly favour the spinners more. So, Nathan Lyon and Agar appear likely to play ahead of young leg-spinner Mitchell Swepson.
And Agar firmly believes he is ready to make his Test comeback after a four-year-long hiatus.
"I’ve been preparing really well and I've done everything I can now. I feel like everything is in really good order," he said.
They say “you never get a second chance to make a first impression”. This is Agar’s first chance to make a resounding second impression.
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