Sunday 22 October 2017

Cricket: Agar the beautiful has crossed boundary to a new dimension

Dion Fanning

On Wednesday morning at Trent Bridge, they let off some fireworks, the Red Arrows flew overhead and an attempt was made to induce patriotic fervour with the playing of Land of Hope and Glory.

By Wednesday evening, 14 wickets had been taken and another five fell the next morning. The fervour the crowd felt was provided without assistance. Nobody was wandering around the ground on Thursday lunchtime muttering, 'This is all very well but maybe they could have let off a few more fireworks so I'd feel really excited'.

The Ashes never disappoints were words uttered a lot last week but happily this is not true. The Ashes does disappoint which is as it should be and which is why, when it doesn't, it is magnificent.

There had been plenty of drama by noon on Thursday when Ashton Agar walked out to bat, but alongside the excitement, there was the fear that the Test match could be over by lunchtime on the third day.

In Australia, they have rushed to embrace Agar. He was, according to The Age, "Good-looking, articulate, intelligent" although they could easily have written "Good-looking, good-looking, good-looking" as that gift transcended almost all others in the eagerness to bestow him with all-conquering powers.

Agar's innings on Thursday afternoon was, apart from being beautiful and inspirational, a hugely significant Ashes innings and the moment when he became the saviour of Australian cricket, which, in its own way, might reveal the trouble Australian cricket is in.

In the squash court that is used for press conferences at Trent Bridge, Agar met Jimmy Anderson on Thursday night as one walked in and the other came out.

The cricket world might have changed. At the IPL and elsewhere, cricketers are promised riches in ways cricketers have never been promised riches before but, for those of us used to football, it is still an intimate and open world.

The meeting between Anderson and Agar probably wouldn't happen in football where there would be a phalanx of co-ordinators making sure these chance and human moments didn't happen.

Certainly Agar wouldn't have been hanging around at the back of the press conference waiting for his turn and, what was worse, so obviously waiting to go in. In football, everyone is too important to wait.

"Well played," was all Anderson said but 48 hours earlier he would have had difficulty recognising Agar.

It was another moment of simplicity in a world which, for Agar, may be about to become more complicated. In the press conference, it would have been no surprise if he had been asked what he thought of mining subsidies in Western Australia. He had become a sage as well as a saviour. This was love and everything he said about everything was articulate and intelligent and maybe even good-looking.

Agar had stepped into a different dimension, something that became clear as the audience in his press conference laughed at whatever he said.

Outside a bunch of Australian fans were waiting. One of them had been trying to get into the press conference wearing only his underpants, but his friends knew that this wasn't the correct state of dress to meet a new Australian hero or, in this more uptight journalistic era, attend a press conference. "Agar is coming, put your shirt on quick," his friend said.

Agar seemed perfectly capable of dealing with all this. After all, he had dealt with the situation in the middle on Thursday afternoon as if his life had been a preparation for these hours. There is no preparation for celebrity and no preparation for meeting enthusiastic fans dressed only in their underpants which may be the same thing.

A man in his underpants is not that unusual a sight at a Test match or at least it is not as unusual as it should be.

When people start drinking at 9.0am anything is possible and there is so much alcohol taken at a Test match that, at Trent Bridge, they have an alcohol-free stand to allow people to be removed from the elevated banter that occurs after a long day's drinking.

Those who don't understand cricket believe it is a sedate game, when it is nothing of the sort and they sometimes consider it to be a home for the civilised and respectable which it may be, but only occasionally and only if you can get a seat in the alcohol-free stand.

This image is one of the great tricks played on the world. Watching cricket is a fabulous way of disguising a five-day bender which in itself is a profoundly civilised trick and one which may see it become even more popular in Ireland.

We have always exposed ourselves to ridicule by doing nothing to conceal the fact that we are tying one on. Meanwhile, in England they were creating a whole series of society events, and non-society events, to provide the fabulous architecture that concealed their urge to drink.

A Test match is among the best. A man sitting there told me that the William Clarke Stand, where the non-drinkers sit, was "like being among a church group" which won't do much to alter the reputation of the teetotal.

Unless, of course, you want to watch the cricket and that was all plenty of people wanted, especially during Agar's golden hours.

His parents had flown from Australia when they heard on Monday night that he would be starting his first Test in the first Ashes Test of 2013. They sat and watched his innings and they sat on watch on Thursday evening as he moved from interview to interview being young, good-looking, articulate and intelligent.

When he finally got to see his family that was recorded too and, as he hugged one of his brothers, it was easy to glimpse the wonder and to chart the clear if staggering line that led from all the games of cricket they had played together in the garden to this day, this scarcely believable day. It was simple and beautiful and needed no effects to exaggerate its importance.

dfanning@independent.ie

Irish Independent

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