COLUMN: Every Ashes series throws up another unlikely hero

Ashton Agar of Australia
Ashton Agar of Australia

Every Ashes series throws up unlikely heroes. Jeff Thomson in 1974-5 blitzed England, just as Frank Tyson had the Aussies, 20 years earlier.

Both had played on Test against Pakistan before their Ashes debut. Tyson took 5-6, Thomson 0-100, albeit with an injured foot.

David Steele came from county obscurity to blunt Thomson and Lillee so effectively that he won the BBC Sports Personality of the year.

Three years before, Australian swing bowler, Bob Massie took 16 wickets on debut. Massie ended up playing six Tests, Steele eight. Neither lasted two years in international cricket.

This year’s unexpected Ashes hero didn’t even make it as far as the Third Test. As rain and the umpires conspired to hand England the Ashes, at Old Trafford, 19-teen year old left-arm spinner, Ashton Agar sat on the sidelines, and watched his replacement, Nathan Lyon, struggle against an England batting line-up who play spin pretty well on home pitches.

Agar, the surprise pick for the First Test, smashed 98 on debut, batting at 11. He broke the world record for a Test Match number 11 and was part of the highest last wicket partnership, 163, with Phillip Hughes. Hughes was also dropped for the Third Test.

Thomson and Massie might have caught England off guard, but Alastair Cook’s men prepare meticulously for Test matches. When Agar Pearl Harboured Anderson, and at Trent Bridge, they might have wished they’d called Alan Duncan.

That’s not Alan Duncan, MP for Rutland and Melton, and Minister of State for International Development, but Alan Duncan the High Wycombe Cricket Club all-rounder who had Ashton Agar caught by wicket keeper David Cranfield-Thompson, for four on May 11.

Before joining the Australian Ashes squad, Agar was playing for Henley Cricket Club in the Home Counties Premier League. He was one of six talented young Aussies who’ve been playing Premier League cricket and training at Hampshire’s Rose Bowl Academy, this year.

Duncan might have given England a pre-Ashes insight into Agar’s bowling too. Earlier in the game, the Australian trapped him LBW with an arm ball, a ball that didn’t spin away from the right handed batter which is the left arm spinner’s usual weapon.

During Agar’s first Ashes spell, Sky commentators Ian Botham and Nasser Hussain, noticed how Agar put a lot of overspin on the ball. England’s Graeme Swann imparts a lot of side spin.

Two weeks after the High Wycombe game, Agar bowled three consecutive arm balls against North Mymms on May 25. With them, he got a hat-trick of LBWs..

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l Crispin Andrews is an Aylesbury-based writer and journalist.

He writes for the Cricketer, Four Four Two, Inside Cricket, Readers Digest, Flipside and Engineering and Technology Magazine.

He has played cricket locally for 25 years, including stints at Aylesbury Town, Tring Park, Dinton & Buckingham Town.