First Test – Day 2: Transcendence in Nottingham

“They say the darkest hour is right before the dawn
And in the hour of greatest slaughter the great avenger is being born”

So sang Paul Kelly in his 1987 tribute to Sir Donald Bradman. After one Test innings at the crease, it would be quite a stretch to liken Ashton Agar to Bradman.

However, sitting high in the stands at the Radcliffe Road end on day two at Trent Bridge, one could not help but let Kelly’s words dance in the sub-conscious as Australia lost five wickets for nine runs in an horrific half hour that questioned the value of the 5am start to make it to Nottingham for the day’s play (not to mention Australia’s chances over the coming six months).

What followed has already been widely documented across the globe. Today’s “The Times” devotes no fewer than six pages to analysis of Agar and Hughes’ partnership (whose own role in this drama can in no way be understated). I’d hate to think how many pages in the broadsheets at home are similarly filled.

People often describe the beauty of a great piece of art or music as being an insight into the Transcendent. If ever a day’s sport could be equally described, yesterday was it.

The sun shone on Nottingham from the first ball. Those lucky enough to be in attendance and not in the office toasted their good fortune as the English bowlers ripped through what Mike Atherton later described as “the soft underbelly of a flimsy batting line-up”.

Enter Agar, whose shot selection made a nonsense of his position in the line-up on this particular day’s play. He looked oblivious to the fact that there were 17,000 people in the stands watching him and countless millions listening in around not just the UK, but Australia too and played as if he was still by the Thames in Henley with no care for the reputations of those running in to get him.

The English crowd initially enjoyed the spectacle, but after Agar made his half-century began to lose patience. That patience though returned after lunch as he strove towards three-figures. When he fell two runs short, they stood to a person to applaud. There is an undefined phrase, thrown around these parts quite frequently, whose meaning is difficult to pin down. However, if ever I’ve seen “Best of British”, it was witnessing the respect Agar was shown as he left the field.

It wasn’t long before various people started laying claim to some form of credit for Agar’s performance or a place in the news cycle with him: there was the forever populist prime minister of Australia declaring the day “Ashton Agar Day”; there was a cousin of mine who apparently helped get him into De La Salle, and another who taught him year 9 history.

It was only in listening to the BBC’s “Test Match Special” after tea as I had to take an early train home that that which really made the man was fully revealed. The ABC’s Jim Maxwell, appearing as a guest commentator for the BBC, interviewed Agar’s parents, John and Sonia. They had arrived in England just in time for the start of the first day’s play. If anyone had a right to take credit for some of what had been achieved, it was these two.

Yet they did nothing of the sort. They spoke of Ashton’s own level-headedness and their pride in what he alone had achieved that day. Yet, they also spoke of Ashton no more than they spoke of their other boys, William and Wesley. They spoke of their sons playing cricket in the drive in suburban Melbourne with a strapped-up tennis-ball. They spoke the story of so many families in Australia on a hot summer’s day.

Surely they were entitled to bask in the glory of their offspring. Yet they placed the credit purely at their sons’ feet.

To hear two parents, together, speaking with such joy about each of their sons neatly concluded a wonderful day’s sport where the usual travails of life were briefly put on hold, it seemed, to celebrate something Greater.

Whilst comparisons with Bradman remainfa unfair, with an average of 98 compared to Sir Donald’s 99.94, perhaps they’re not so wide of the mark.

Ben Santamaria
12 July 2013


  1. Luke Reynolds says

    Great stuff Ben. Must have been amazing to have been there.

    Another line from the P.Kelly song, “he hit em hard, he hit em straight” is also apt for Agar’s innings. And maybe “They say the darkest hour is right before the dawn.”

  2. Luke Reynolds says

    And of course that last line was your first after a re-read.

  3. The Wrap says

    We might lose this test. And we might even lose the series.

    “And in the hour of greatest slaughter, the great avenger is being born” Well chosen lines Ben.

    They’re over here next Summer. I hope it’s a stinker. And that we’ve stopped mucking about and found the rest of Ashton Agars lurking around in District Cricket.

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