Ashton Agar eyes Ashes return four years after memorable debut

first_imgFor a long time, Ashton Agar had the debatable distinction of being both a ‘where were you when’, and a ‘where are they now’. I had the rare fortune to be at Trent Bridge for his Test debut in the 2013 Ashes, when a dewy-eyed kid with his team in deep trouble started playing shots like an elegant stork. We watched in increasing disbelief from the open windows of the overflow press box, the delight of Australian and eventually even English spectators building in volume through the afternoon as an unknown teenager picked as a left-arm spinner went on to the highest score by a No11 batsman, before being caught in the deep two runs short of his century.He pulled off his helmet, hair flopping as adorably as a Labrador’s ear, and essayed a one-shouldered shrug and one-sided smile that said: “ah well, bit of fun, wasn’t it?” The heartstrings of the cricket world were plucked in Joanna Newsom whorls. From Melbourne, my girlfriend texted, “I’m leaving you.” Had Ashton not been as far away as I was, she may have come good on the threat. There’s no guarantee he will play, as Mitchell Starc is reportedly pushing to be allowed back from missing Melbourne with a bruised heel, and bowled off a full run-up in training two days before the Test. But even Agar’s presence in the squad indicates that for selectors, the 24-year-old is the future. It simultaneously implies the end of 33-year-old Steve O’Keefe’s international career, a situation which the more experienced left-armer has largely brought on himself.Selectors originally tried this swap in Bangladesh in August. Usman Khawaja, who has struggled on Asian decks, also replaced Shaun Marsh, who had just played two worldly innings in India. Captain Steve Smith said that Khawaja’s pick was about preparing him for the Ashes, and Agar’s was about looking towards India in four years’ time. This turned out to be arrogance that bit Australia on the arse, as Bangladesh rolled Australia in Dhaka. Khawaja was immediately dumped and O’Keefe got an emergency flight in.While Agar kept his place thanks to Josh Hazlewood’s injury, he was clearly bumped down to the status of third spinner. Aside from a couple of Cummins bursts, O’Keefe bowled almost unchanged through the second innings at Chittagong, while Agar got five overs and was employed to help Nathan Lyon and O’Keefe switch ends.But with a humiliating series loss averted, and the Ashes already wrapped up, O’Keefe is back on the outer after a bizarre year. He started it perfectly with his first Test win, helping beat Pakistan in Sydney, then produced his incredible twin innings of 6 for 35 to rout India in the first Test of that tour in Pune.Australia stayed in the four-Test series until the final day thanks to O’Keefe’s headstart, but on return to Australia he inexplicably got himself drunk beyond all reason and verbally abused a member of Australia’s women’s team at a Cricket New South Wales function. Especially given recent efforts to make cricket a welcoming sport for women, it was an appalling run of events. Share on Pinterest He seemed in all respects a lovely young feller, and he proved a thoughtful one as well. When I interviewed him two years later for The Saturday Paper, in England again for an ODI series, his abiding memory of that innings was about someone else. Often forgotten at the other end was Phillip Hughes, on 81 not out.“It’s by far the most special moment of my life. And now to have shared that with Phil, now that he’s gone, has just made it that much more special,” he said.“I don’t believe that it would have happened without him at the other end. He batted like a genius. He got through a really tough time before that, when the ball was doing quite a bit.“I probably cost him a hundred, to be honest.”It was indeed close to Hughes’ best for Australia, and could have been match-winning had he got his milestone. England won by 14 runs. Agar played again at Lord’s, but his bowling limitations couldn’t compensate for promise with the bat. So he became like Patrick Cummins: a teenager picked from nowhere on a high-pressure tour, who snatched the spotlight with a barnstorming performance, then wasn’t seen again for years.Cummins did injury rehab, while Agar chipped away for Western Australia. Over the years he made a few national squads and limited-overs sides, without recapturing that start. Magic by its nature has a short half-life.The year of eventual returns was 2017. Cummins finally emerged from his cocoon for two Tests in India, then Agar joined him for two in Bangladesh. Now he’s been picked in the Sydney Test squad in the traditional second spinner’s spot, potentially coming back to the Ashes four and a half years on. Support The Guardian Share on Facebook … we have a small favour to ask. More people, like you, are reading and supporting the Guardian’s independent, investigative journalism than ever before. And unlike many news organisations, we made the choice to keep our reporting open for all, regardless of where they live or what they can afford to pay.The Guardian will engage with the most critical issues of our time – from the escalating climate catastrophe to widespread inequality to the influence of big tech on our lives. 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Ashes 2017-18 Trevor Bayliss backs Mason Crane for England debut in final Ashes Test Share via Email Jimmy Anderson calls for big hundreds and 90mph Ashes X-factor Topics Share on Twitter The Ashes Read morecenter_img Reuse this content Australia cricket team While the state body fined him $20,000, it probably cost O’Keefe closer to a $1million; given the timing, it’s hard to believe the display wasn’t a factor in him losing his national contract when the next round came through. He offered contrition, but noted himself that words didn’t mean much until he could back them up with actions.Whether he’ll get to do any part of that in Australian colours is the question. Smith rates him as a bowler – the two were housemates and played masses of domestic cricket together – and as per the desperation stakes in Bangladesh, you have to imagine that if the Ashes were on the line, O’Keefe would be the one picked. This is his home deck, where he takes his first-class wickets at 23. Agar has played there once, and while it produced his best bowling figures in a ten-wicket haul, O’Keefe took eight for New South Wales and won the match.The more experienced bowler could yet be recalled if the stakes are high – if India has a good tour next summer, or when Australia visits Pakistan in the Emirates. But with no other subcontinent engagements planned for several years, the pickings will be slim. For now, it’s back to the future, and despite a first-class record that is more promise than delivery, Agar has been told that he’s it. No doubt he’ll take it with a half-shrug and a half smile, then walk on. Sign up to the Spin – our weekly cricket round-up Cricket Share on LinkedIn Read more Read more Share on Messenger features Share on WhatsApp Since you’re here… Australia sportlast_img read more