Left-arm spinner Ashton Agar was back in his element as the rowdy WACA faithful encouraged him to grab a five-wicket haul in the final against South Australia as Western Australia looked poised to successfully defend their Marsh Cup championship. Although he was unable to get his brother Wes Agar out, he managed to stump Spencer Johnson to secure the 181-run victory, setting up celebrations among the WA players and a sizable 2700 spectators.
Ashton Agar proved why he is Australia’s second-choice white-ball spinner behind Adam Zampa after SA got off to a quick start chasing a daunting 388, and looms as a key player in their World Cup plans later in the year. Infuriating the SA hitters with his typical accuracy, he finished with 5 for 64, his best-ever Marsh Cup numbers.
It was a much-needed boost for Agar following the ignominy of returning from Australia’s Test tour having been rejected for selection. Agar struggled in the nets and was quickly passed by uncapped offspinner Todd Murphy and left-armer Matthew Kuhnemann, who was parachuted into the touring team, after travelling to India as Australia’s second spinner behind Nathan Lyon.
“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.”
Agar, 29, struggled against South Africa at the SCG Test in January, taking just nine wickets at 52 in five Tests. Agar has a modest first-class average of 42 and has played for Western Australia in the Sheffield Shield very occasionally in recent years due to his international white-ball commitments.
Since 25-year-old offspinner Corey Rocchiccioli has had a breakout Shield season, where he has bagged 24 wickets at 30 from eight matches, there is increased competition among WA’s spin ranks.
Agar was not prepared to abandon red-ball cricket despite some speculation that he may have been destined to be a short-form specialist. “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.”
The decision to fly back home was a wise one, as Agar is now ready to return to India for the ODI phase of the tour, more confident and having spent valuable time in the middle.
Agar hoped the three-match series would serve as a launching pad as he focused on the World Cup, where he should team up with Zampa and play a significant role in favourable circumstances.
“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.”
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