I tip my hat to this kid. Single-handedly stirred the fire in the hearts of an Australian cricket team on the brink of yet another disappointing campaign (before it had even started). With all the negativity in sport (and the economy and politics) this year it was a breath of fresh air to see a young lad on debut take the weight of expectation off his shoulders and make it his stage for a few hours.
He walked to the wicket, a smile ear to ear, with the score at 9 for 117 and the match looking like it was almost done and dusted after an hour of utter madness. With the prized urn and sporting history at stake someone forgot to tell this to Ashton, as if he had been blindfolded, oblivious to the occasion for the last hour. It was like a kid in the park, playing with his mates, not a professional sportsman amidst the heat of battle in the cauldron of Ashes Trentbridge.
It started all innocently, and to the then predicted script; the Poms, the crowd, all expected Hughes to farm the strike and scrounge a few lousy runs before the inevitable last wicket fell with Australia behind, and almost out of the match. There was a hiccup when a stumping chance was referred to the third umpire and after an agonising wait the green light signalled play to re-commence. The commentators continued to bemoan the fact that Phil Hughes started taking singles, exposing the fragility of the Australian number 11 to the rampaging English swing attack. Little did they know what would shortly unfold.
Within 15 minutes the tables slowly started to turn and the English somehow began to unravel as the ball sailed over Graeme Swann's head for a towering six. The talk started to shift from defeat to "Wow, this kid can bat, he obviously isn't a natural number 11" and eventually to "This is the record innings for a number 11 on debut" and remarkably "this is the best innings ever by a number 11." From then on the deficit dwindled down, as Ashton hit it all over the park at almost a run a ball.
It was almost as if one of the classic tragic poets wrote the end of the script however, after the game had taken on a new light, Agar was caught an agonising two runs short of a ton on debut. Up until this moment, it was almost a chanceless innings. Barely a mistake, barely any sign of fear. Unlike most number 11s who make a score, it was full of technique, class and youthful exuberance. Something that three hours before had seemed impossible. Despite not reaching three figures Agar will be still etched in folklore forever. Perhaps he is the phoenix that Australia has needed to once again rise from the Ashes (pardon the pun, I'm sleep deprived). He has certainly got people excited again.
The most telling part for me, and why he earns my respect, was when he gently shook his head on dismissal, and that familiar cheeky grin once again showed on his young face. It is the care-free nature that exudes self-compassion (ie. it is OK to make a mistake and still enjoy the moment) that will always defeat the negative attitudes that are often on display by all sorts of people both in and out of the headlines. After all, it's still only a game. But a game where new heroes can be found, and new inspiration can give us renewed faith in the circus of life in these dark times. Ask Ashton, you never know what is possible when you wake up each morning.