Ashton Agar on being sent back from India – ‘It’s a ruthless environment, and that’s how it should be’

With Western Australia on the verge of defending their Marsh Cup title successfully, left-arm spinner Ashton Agar was back in his element as the rowdy WACA faithful willed him on to take a five-wicket haul in the final against South Australia. He was unable to remove Wes Agar, his brother, but sealed the 181-run win by having Spencer Johnson stumped, to trigger scenes of celebration from the WA players and a strong 2700 crowd.

After SA got off to a fast start chasing a daunting 388, Agar showed why he’s Australia’s second-choice white-ball spinner behind Adam Zampa, and looms as an important part of their World Cup plans later in the year. He bowled with trademark accuracy to frustrate the SA batters and finished with 5 for 64 in his best-ever Marsh Cup figures.

It was a much-needed boost for Agar after the ignominy of returning from Australia’s Test tour having been overlooked for selection. Having arrived in India as Australia’s second spinner behind Nathan Lyon, Agar struggled in the nets and was quickly leapfrogged by uncapped offspinner Todd Murphy and left-armer Matthew Kuhnemann, who was parachuted into the touring squad.

“I felt I wasn’t bowling as well as I needed to be,” Agar said after the Marsh Cup final as he reflected on his departure from India. “It’s a very clear direction for me now to just work on it and improve.

“I harbour no ill will or ill feeling at all. I’m very well supported in that (Australian) camp and they’ve kept in constant communication with me, so it’s all in a good place.

“I’ve been a professional cricketer for ten years now, so I’m far more resilient than when I started. It’s a tough game, it’s a ruthless environment, and that’s how it should be because it’s the pinnacle of the sport.”

The 29-year-old Agar has only claimed nine wickets at 52 in five Tests, and went wicketless against South Africa at the SCG Test in January. Due to his international white-ball commitments, Agar has rarely played for WA in the Sheffield Shield in recent years and sports a modest first-class average of 42.

There is growing competition within WA’s spin ranks as 25-year-old offspinner Corey Rocchiccioli has enjoyed a breakout Shield season, where he has claimed 24 wickets at 30 from eight matches.

“I don’t have a lot of cricket coming up. I’ve chucked my name in the ring for The Hundred… I would like to play cricket in the winter. But the next big target is the World Cup”

Ashton Agar

There has been some belief that perhaps Agar’s destiny lay with being a short-form specialist, but he was not ready to pull the plug on red-ball cricket. “I’ve always wanted to play as much as I could for Australia in whatever format that is and just take my opportunities when they come,” he said. “Playing for Australia in all forms, of course, I still want to do that. But my focus is just on cricket, you just play what’s in front of you and you try and do as well as you can.”

Returning home proved a wise call with a rejuvenated Agar set to head back to India for the ODI leg of the tour with a confidence boost and having spent valuable time out in the middle.

Agar was hoping the three-match series could prove a springboard as he set sights on the World Cup, where he should to play an important role alongside Zampa in conditions that should suit him.

“Zamps is entrenched as the white-ball spinner. It all depends what we’re doing – playing two spinners or just the one,” Agar said about Australia’s possible makeup at the World Cup. “If I do play, I usually bat at eight and try to get my ten overs out. I’m certainly looking forward to the World Cup.

“I don’t have a lot of cricket coming up. I’ve chucked my name in the ring for The Hundred… I would like to play cricket in the winter. But the next big target is the World Cup.”

Tristan Lavalette is a journalist based in Perth

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