John Townsend: The rise and rise of Ashton Agar, teen spinner with his feet on ground
The Aussie Angle: Just over a year ago he was playing second XI club cricket
Wednesday 10 July 2013
Ashton Agar is getting used to meteoric change. Two days ago he was an expectant teenager preparing to travel to South Africa to further his cricket education with Australia A. Today, he is an unexpected element in Australia's attempt to reclaim the Ashes.
Given that England appear set to produce dry pitches all summer to provide a fertile environment for their own world-class spinner Graeme Swann, Agar harbours prospects of remaining in the team after making a shock debut at Trent Bridge.
The 16th teenager to play for Australia and the second-youngest spinner since fellow 19-year-old Gerry Hazlitt made his first appearance more than a century ago, Agar was hardly over-awed by his entry to Test cricket.
His first delivery might have gone for four, courtesy of a crisp Jonathan Trott cover drive to a ball that hung in the air for a moment too long, but thereafter there was little to suggest that he was out of his depth.
Yet he had bowled just 400 overs in adult cricket when he came to England to play for Henley several months ago and that inexperience was also evident in his two brief spells that sketched his promise without delivering anything more significant.
Agar has been in an elevator to the top of Australian cricket for the past 12 months.
Just over a year ago, he was playing second XI cricket for the Melbourne club team Richmond when he took up an offer to move to Perth in an attempt to strengthen Western Australia's limited spin stocks.
Several months later, and due to a shoulder injury to the two-Test spinner Michael Beer, Agar was elevated into the WA team.
Runs followed, then wickets, and it was soon apparent that WA had a special, though raw and untried, talent.
It was one that attracted the eye of the national selector John Inverarity, who saw the young bowler at close range when he umpired a State practice match early last summer. Inverarity was a successful left-arm spinner himself and knows what it takes to succeed in the art of beguiling batsmen with flight and pace and spin.
Inverarity was also planning ahead and knew that Australia's effort to wrest back the Ashes would require a slow bowler capable of denying runs to England's potent top order but with the firepower to sting them as well.
Agar had other qualities that appealed to Inverarity, who remains a strong advocate for cricketers having balance in their lives as well as the ability to bring different skills to the team.
Agar had them all. A law student who put his studies on hold to concentrate on his fledgling playing career, Agar also bats robustly, fields with vigour and brings the enthusiasm of a youngster who can still barely believe that Christmas is coming every day.
WA and Australia have been seeking to fast-track Agar's cricket education since he moved to Perth.
He travelled with the local Twenty20 franchise Perth Scorchers on their ill-fated Champions League trip to South Africa last October but confined his activities to the essentially orthodox – net bowling during the day and a quiet meal at night.
Then, after his promising start for the Warriors, when he claimed 19 wickets in five Sheffield Shield matches as well scoring two half-centuries, he was added to the Australian squad that travelled to India in February.
Agar's role was ostensibly as a net bowler but he impressed so much in that role that the merits of a remarkable Test debut were debated by the national selection panel.
That didn't happen, perhaps for the good, given the slaughter inflicted on the Australian attack, but the taste of international cricket did nothing to affect Agar's equilibrium.
"There has been a bit of hype around but I will just try to keep my feet on the ground and strive to do my best for WA," he said on his return to Perth. Now he will attempt the same for Australia.
John Townsend is Cricket Writer at 'The West Australian'
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