As a boy, Ashton Agar was inspired by Steve Waugh's legendary SCG century, achieved with a box office boundary from the final ball of the day. As a teenager, Agar found himself joining Waugh in the pantheon of Ashes history, after conjuring 98 of the most staggeringly nonchalant runs ever made by a Test debutant, let alone a No. 11.
If there was any momentary grief in Agar at managing to pick out Graeme Swann on the midwicket boundary with a pull shot, it did not last long. As he turned on his heels in the direction of the dressing room, the applause swelled and so did Agar's pride. Partnered by Phillip Hughes, he had made history of the rarest kind in an Ashes Test, and in doing so revived Australia's hopes of forcing a series lead.
"It was a bit out of the ordinary," Agar said. "One of my favourite Ashes moments was Steve Waugh hitting four runs off the last ball of the day to make his hundred, and to make a hundred in an Ashes test would have been awesome. But I'm very happy.
"Obviously it's a dream to make a Test match hundred but I didn't really dream I was going to make 98 on debut. I'm super happy, and I'm happy me and Hughesy could get the team in some kind of winning position.
"I probably hit it a bit too well. All the other ones I'd been hitting up and over the top and I tried to come down a little bit on that one and picked him out perfectly. I could have made a better decision there but, oh well."
Though lacking any Test match experience, Agar had demonstrated his batting ability numerous times at club and first-class levels. Last summer in Perth he rattled off 108 for the University of Western Australia after arriving at the fall of the fifth wicket for 58 and also facing a large first-innings deficit. For the Warriors he had also been instrumental in Sheffield Shield wins over Queensland and South Australia.
What they said about Agar's 98
- "I thought I was presenting a first cap to a bowler, not a batting all-rounder" - Glenn McGrath
- "Never ever thought I would say I am disappointed a Aussie got out but I really wanted Ashton Agar to get a 100..." - Michael Vaughan
- "Whether he got 100 or not, it doesn't matter. I'm most proud he got out playing his shots. He didn't hold back. That's great." -John Agar, Ashton's father
- "What a stunning, gutsy, agonising 98 from Ashton Agar in the Ashes Test" - prime minister Kevin Rudd
"I like to keep myself fairly relaxed," he said. "I don't get too nervous when I bat. I just try to play freely and when I'm hitting the ball well I try and keep doing that throughout my innings and not change too much. Darren Lehmann told me to bat the way I know how to bat and he has told the whole team to bat in their own natural styles. That is what I tried to do.
"I've done it bfore. In Queensland I had to bat at No. 10 and was fortunate enough to get 50. I was lucky to have a really good partner at the other end in Phil Hughes, he is a seriously, seriously good player and he helped me through it."
The stand with Hughes pulled Australia back into a game that had been well in England's keeping at the fall of the ninth wicket. "It could have been a lot worse, so to do that with Hughesy has helped me a lot in terms of mentally getting around batting in a Test match and hopefully help put the team in a winning position," Agar said. "He just said keep watching the ball hard and keep playing it ball by ball. That's all we were really thinking of, just keeping it really simple."
England's frustration at being held up by a world-record tenth-wicket union was evident in the field but afterwards the fast bowler James Anderson was generous in his praise. Anderson admitted to little knowledge about Agar before the innings, but was now well aware of his capabilities. "I didn't know a great deal about him but he played really well and put us under pressure," Anderson said. "I'm sure it will be looked back on as one [special Ashes moment], on debut he played brilliantly in a pressure situation and coped well."
In an innings speckled with handsome strokes, Agar picked out his drive of Swann over long-on for six as his personal favourite. Swann pumped his fists after claiming the catch that did for Agar, but was quick to catch up to the younger man as they made their way off. Swann offered the words "well done young fella". Millions around the world shared exactly that sentiment, no doubt including Steve Waugh himself.
"P.S. a friend from Melbourne who knows the family says that young Ashton wears pirith nool and used to ask his mother to send them when he was playing for WA. Watch for a white thread when he bowls - he might have one on."