Western Australia cricket officials feel Agar can be a consistent threat at Test level and become Australia’s version of Moeen Ali. © Getty
Four years ago, Ashton Agar was thrust into a position few Australian cricketers can relate to. After scoring a record near run-a-ball 98 batting at No.11 as a shock debutant in the first Ashes Test at Trent Bridge, the then 19-year-old became somewhat of a teenaged prodigy.
His heroics was a desperately needed tonic during a forlorn period for Australian cricket – who were in the midst of losing six straight Tests – and, accordingly, Agar suddenly became a household name. Even non-cricket fans in Australia recognised him, such were his heroic deeds.
However, inevitably, Agar’s success was short-lived and he was dropped after the next Test. His left-arm spin bowling – the chief reason why he was selected ahead of incumbent spinner Nathan Lyon – was rather innocuous and, predictably, he couldn’t recapture the magic with the bat.
Agar’s 15 minutes of fame was over and, back then, it was hard to know if the selection gamble was worthwhile. It was entirely legitimate to ask whether Australian selectors had been negligent to throw a teenager into the firing line. For such a conservative cricket country, which historically makes players toil for years in the Sheffield Shield in a bid to make them ready for the rigours of international cricket, punting with a youngster like Agar was fraught with danger.
You felt Agar, who had played Test cricket but hadn’t yet even voted in a State or Federal government election, was thrust into the team in a desperate effort by selectors to light a fuse into a turgid Australian team still reeling from the fallout of coach Mickey Arthur’s shock sacking on Ashes eve.
Amazingly, Agar was able to rejuvenate Australia briefly before flaming out and being relegated to the sidelines. For someone so young, it loomed as a tough ask to be able to handle his newfound fame and cult status. Testament to his whirlwind change of fortunes, Agar had planned to study law at university in Perth before those plans were shelved as a promising cricket career beckoned.
It’s strange to say a 19-year-old’s career was delicately poised but there were fears Agar was destined to become a one-hit wonder or a trivia footnote. However, the lanky, boyish-looking Victorian-turned-Sandgroper always had maturity beyond his years. Perhaps the selectors deserved more credit; they probably sensed Agar had the temperament to handle the pressures of being a teenaged Test cricketer and the associated expectations of being a ‘Boy Wonder’.
I vividly remember interviewing Agar not long after he had returned from the Ashes and being impressed by his eloquence and innate confidence. He took the newfound stardom in his stride and thought the whole thing a bit of a lark. But he was impressively introspective and able to grasp his unique situation, which would have tripped over many others. “It is fun that more people have recognised me and to receive more attention,” he told Cricbuzz in September of 2013. “I put things in perspective and am really lucky where I am. So many people would love to be in my position.”
It was there and then that I knew Agar would be heard of again; he was not going to flame out unable to handle the suffocating expectations. Of course, Agar needed guidance and, fortunately, there were many good people around him. One of those was Justin Langer, his coach at WA and the Perth Scorchers.
In Langer, Agar found the perfect mentor to ensure his cricketing career heads in the right direction. © Getty
Langer, famed for his mental tenacity, took Agar under his wing and became an invaluable sounding board. “He’s been really helpful and told me to concentrate on my cricket,” Agar said at the time. “Lots of good people surround me and keep me grounded.” The former Australian opener was captivated with Agar knowing he had the ability to become a budding star all-rounder. More importantly, Langer knew Agar had the mental fortitude and work ethic to ensure his career wouldn’t be derailed.
Guided by the right coach and setup, Agar had the ideal platform to hone his precocious skills. It was a rollercoaster ride for a while but Agar eventually starred for the Scorchers, the Big Bash League powerhouses, where Langer – always keen for tactical trickery – often used him in the top order of the batting to much success.
Reminiscent of Langer at the crease, Agar fights for his wicket and has a knack of scoring vital runs. He is also a dynamic fielder and has already snared several outstanding catches in his career. Ultimately, Agar’s success in carving out a Test career will come down to his spin bowling. There is a prevailing belief in some circles that Agar has more upside with the bat and the ball – his bowling average is a mediocre 40 in first-class cricket – but his bowling has shown improvement in recent times, including a career best 10-wicket haul against New South Wales at the SCG late last year.
WA cricket officials are adamant Agar can be a consistent threat at Test level and become Australia’s version of Moeen Ali. It’s a sentiment shared by Australian selectors, who have had Agar around the traps recently, including touring India earlier this year.
It has taken four years but it seems Agar is on the cusp of ending his Test wilderness. As Australia departed for Bangladesh on Friday (August 18), Agar seems almost certain to make his Test comeback – possibly in the first Test starting on August 27. With Steve O’Keefe’s Test career seemingly over, Agar has become the likely backup to Lyon. After impressing with four wickets on the final day of the intra-squad match in Darwin, Agar has almost sealed a Test spot – something that didn’t always seem a foregone conclusion during the past four years.