Ashton Agar's inclusion for the Nottingham Test match is the best selection pick since Max Walker came into Ian Chappell's team against Pakistan at the MCG in 1972. And Big Max proved a trump card in the Caribbean just a few months later.
Agar has played just 10 first-class matches, but in all of them at home and abroad the youngster has impressed with his good rhythm and calm temperament. Agar is a very confident young man without a hint of brashness. The left-arm spinner delivers from a considerable height and gets a lot of over spin on the ball, something which all spinners appreciate in desire to achieve an acutely dipping arc.
There is a look of Daniel Vettori about Agar. Over the years I have worked with Vettori and showed him the square spinner: a ball which looks as though it is spinning but skids on straight. Vettori picked it up straight away, so too Graeme Swann. And both bowlers have collected big scalps with the square spinner. It reacts similarly to the one pushed out the front of the hand by a leg-spinner. In April I spent a week at the Centre of Excellence in Brisbane where I could see at close hand the bowling of Ashton Agar, Nathan Lyon and Fawad Ahmed. While Lyon bowled inconsistently, much as he did in India with three good balls to every 10 and Fawad impressed with his control and repertoire, it was Agar who stood head and shoulders above the trio in terms of a smooth and natural method of bowling.
Come in, spinner... debutant Ashton Agar. Photo: Paul Harris
Unlike Max Walker, whose approach to the crease was a tangle-footed display of arms and legs going in all directions, Agar moves in rhythmically and his whole approach and energy through the crease appears to be the most natural thing in the world for him. I told him about the square spinner and to my delight he already had it in his bag of tricks. That Ashton has a Sri Lankan heritage may have something to do with his smooth and natural way of spinning a ball. In Sri Lanka the spinners bowl naturally. They are not over-coached. They, like Rangana Herath, become wicket predators: hunters.
So for Ashton that attitude is in his DNA.
In a perfect world our Test selectors might well have wanted to wait a while before thrusting Agar into the white hot cauldron that is Test cricket, but their hand was forced a bit given Lyon's inconsistency over the past year.
In India he bowled poorly. Even a stack of wickets in the last Test at Delhi didn't hit a high note with those who know their cricket because the match was played on an absolute spinning minefield. Erapally Prasanna, the great Indian offie, would have bowled any batting side out from any era on that scrapheap for under 75.
Agar played his first big match for WA versus NSW at the SCG. In the NSW first innings he bowled a marathon 37.2 overs for a return of 3/103. Modest figures admittedly, however, he impressed straight away with his rhythm and guile. In his 10 first-class games Agar has taken 31 wickets at 29.38 and he has a batting average of 33.60. In replacing Lyon in Michael Clarke's team he brings to the table as much spin talent as his predecessor and better consistency, plus the fact that he is very useful with the bat. He scored a career high 71 not out against Tasmania and hit 22 not out to help WA beat SA at Adelaide Oval when his team looked down and out for the count. In that match he also bowled beautifully, taking 5/65.
He will continue to improve. I think that improvement will be enhanced by his spending a little more time on his front foot just before delivery, and a slightly shorter delivery stride, and that will increase his up and over energy and create more revolutions on the ball. There is a good dipping arc to his trajectory now. It will only get better. When I discovered that Agar had replaced Lyon for the final warm-up game against Worcester at New Road, I thought the youngster was a real chance to play in the First Test. I even sent Agar an email telling him: "Mate, you are the best spinner in Australia. However, you have to prove it to others. Think wickets. Believe."
In this series he will get the chance to prove his ability. Only a young man with great strength of character will shine when it comes to the ultimate test and this young bloke has that in spades.
The good thing about the Test selectors' decision to play Agar was that it reflected the time-honoured policy to play the best however much cricket they had played to that stage of their careers. Don Bradman came in as a youngster; Ian Craig toured England at the age of 17 and Doug Walters debuted at 19, so playing young, talented players has paid off over time. The selectors deserve a pat on the back, so too Michael Clarke and Darren Lehmann for their backing the move.
While he was understandably nervous at his first stint on the Test stage, Agar quickly settled and looked dangerous, especially to Trott and I suspect, if he gets the chance, he will worry danger man Kevin Pietersen in the second dig. The quicks have done all the damage so far, but Agar could yet play a big role at Nottingham.
All Australians wish him well.
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