Agar over Swepson for Bangladesh Tests

Ronan O'Connell Columnist

By Ronan O'Connell, Ronan O'Connell is a Roar Expert

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    Ashton Agar’s greater accuracy and superior batting should see him picked ahead of leg spinner Mitchell Swepson for Australia’s first Test against Bangladesh later this month.

    The 23-year-old Swepson was drafted into Australia’s squad for the two-Test tour on Saturday as a replacement for injured pace spearhead Mitchell Starc.

    Starc will miss the series due to a foot injury, while fellow express quick James Pattinson has also been withdrawn because of a back complaint, with swing bowler Jackson Bird his replacement.

    Bird is very likely to sit out the first Test as Australia follow the selection model comprising two frontline quicks and two specialist spinners, which worked well during their impressive Test tour of India in March. Josh Hazlewood and Pat Cummins are automatic selections for the pace roles, while Agar and Swepson will compete to partner first-choice spinner Nathan Lyon.

    Australia’s spin department has been weakened as a result of the decision to omit quality left-arm tweaker Steve O’Keefe as a punishment for off-field indiscretions. O’Keefe’s unrelenting accuracy was invaluable for Australia in India as he took 19 wickets at 23, giving up a miserly 2.46 runs per over, which made him more economical than either Lyon or Indian star Ravi Ashwin.

    It is accuracy rather than sharp spin that is the key to success for slow bowlers in Asia – as much can be gleaned from the enduring success of finger spinners Rangana Herath and Ravi Jadeja. Neither Herath nor Jadeja put heavy revolutions on their deliveries as this is not necessary on dry Asian pitches, which typically offer plenty of help to tweakers in the form of unpredictable degrees of bounce and spin.

    If a slow bowler keeps landing the ball in the right area, eventually one will surprise the batsman by turning more or less, bouncing lower or higher than expected. Asian pitches do not offer the same rewards to more attacking and less accurate spinners.

    Leg spinners tend to fall into this latter group – they get far more revolutions on their deliveries, causing them to dip and turn more, but typically cannot maintain anything close to the same accuracy as a good finger spinner.

    Fine players of spin know that a leggie normally will offer them at least one release ball per over. This makes wrist spinners far easier to combat on dry pitches than finger spinners like Herath, Jadeja and O’Keefe, who so rarely drop short or overpitch.

    (Image: AFP, Saeed Khan)

    This has been a significant issue for Swepson during his brief first-class career – an inability to maintain pressure on the batsmen. His wicket-taking prowess is supreme, as evidenced by his outstanding strike rate of 48.6 from his 14 matches. But Swepson bleeds runs, which is not unusual for a leggie, particularly one so inexperienced.

    In the last Shield season he was enormously expensive, giving up 4.35 runs per over, slightly more than his career mark of 4.04. Agar, by comparison, conceded just 3.11 runs per over last season, which mirrors his career average.

    Like fellow left-armer O’Keefe, accuracy has always been the greatest strength of the West Australian. Even when he was vaulted into the cauldron of an overseas Ashes series as an ill-prepared 19-year-old, Agar still gave up only 2.95 runs per over across his two Tests.

    What Agar doesn’t possess is the same level of penetration as Swepson. On hard Australian decks there is no argument Swepson is the more dangerous bowler thanks to his ability to coax life out of any surface. Similarly clear is Agar’s ascendancy on dry pitches.

    While Agar’s first-class record – 114 wickets at 40 – is decidedly ordinary, what that doesn’t show is that he is a far better bowler away from the spinners’ graveyard that is the WACA. Even Australia’s two best slow bowlers, Lyon and O’Keefe, both have averaged more than 50 in first-class cricket at the WACA, which is the worst venue for spinners in world cricket. Agar also averages 50-plus in Perth, compared to a respectable 33 across every other first-class venue where he’s played.

    Last summer he showed just how effective he can be on a parched surface as when grabbed a 10-wicket match haul against NSW on a spin-friendly SCG track. Agar also enjoyed a fine tour of India two years ago for Australia A.

    In his sole first-class match on that tour Agar took 3-94, including the wickets of Indian superstar Virat Kohli, and two players with recent Test experience for India – opener Abhinav Mukund and keeper-batsman Naman Ojha.

    Agar then went on to dominate the 50-over tri-series between Australia A, India A and South Africa A in Chennai. The 23-year-old was the standout bowler of that tournament, taking 12 wickets at an average of 12 from four matches. With his height and renowned accuracy, Agar is perfectly suited to exploiting the variable responses of the Test pitches in Bangladesh this month.

    His languid batting offers him another major advantage over Swepson, who averages just 11 with the blade in first-class cricket. Were Australia to pick Swepson ahead of Agar, it would leave them with three genuine number 11 batsmen in Swepson, Hazlewood and Lyon, plus Cummins who looked uncomfortable against spin in India.

    That would be the weakest tail Australia have fielded in recent memory. Australia will miss the lower order input of Starc, who averages 24 with the bat in Tests in Asia and made crucial runs in India this year. His absence should all but ensure Agar gets the nod ahead of Swepson for the first Test in 19 days from now.

    Ronan O
    Ronan O'Connell

    Ronan O'Connell has been a journalist for well over 13 years, including nine at daily newspapers in WA. He now traverses the world as a travel photojournalist, contributing words and photography to more than 30 magazines and newspapers including CNN, BBC, The Toronto Star, The Guardian, The South China Morning Post, The Irish Examiner and The Australian Financial Review. Check out his work and follow him on Twitter @ronanoco

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    The Crowd Says (71)

    • August 8th 2017 @ 6:09am
      Derek Murray said | August 8th 2017 @ 6:09am | ! Report

      Thanks for the detailed analysis Ronan. Completely agree it must be Agar of the spinners selected but leaving O’Keefe out is a joke. The “planning for the future BS” that Smith came out with today doesn’t cut it. We’ve picked plenty of older players in the past 5 years and there isn’t a good reason for picking a bloke with a 15 run inferior FC average under any circumstances.

      I know people hate Michael Hooper for supporting Kurtley Beale during the texting saga but I’d prefer that from a skipper than tossing a quality problem child under a bus like Smith has done with SOK.

      If Lyon is injured this summer I know who I’d prefer drafted in as the number one spinner for the Ashes.

      • August 8th 2017 @ 8:45am
        jameswm said | August 8th 2017 @ 8:45am | ! Report

        Didn’t Smith and SOK used to room together?

        SOK really has done himself no favours. Some level of punishment is justified.

        • August 8th 2017 @ 10:56am
          George said | August 8th 2017 @ 10:56am | ! Report

          I thought he’d been punished already. His non-selection on top of that isn’t really justified.

          • Roar Guru

            August 8th 2017 @ 10:57am
            Rellum said | August 8th 2017 @ 10:57am | ! Report

            He is unavailable for NSW so I would think by default that makes him unavailable for Aus.

            • August 8th 2017 @ 11:44am
              jameswm said | August 8th 2017 @ 11:44am | ! Report

              Voluntarily unavailable? Or injured?

              • Roar Guru

                August 8th 2017 @ 11:52am
                Rellum said | August 8th 2017 @ 11:52am | ! Report

                He is suspended from the BBQ cup. I would imagine he cannot play for Aus until that suspension has been served.

              • Columnist

                August 8th 2017 @ 6:08pm
                Ronan O'Connell said | August 8th 2017 @ 6:08pm | ! Report

                Rellum you may be right about that.

                But if you are, I don’t know why Smith or the selectors wouldn’t have used that as a perfect reason for why SOK wasn’t selected for Bangladesh instead of coming out with ridiculous excuses about needing to blood Agar now for the next tour of India in four years.

                They looked to be scrambling for any excuse as to why they didn’t pick SOK for Bangladesh. If he was unavailable for selection because of his NSW ban surely they would have just said that?

              • August 8th 2017 @ 6:33pm
                George said | August 8th 2017 @ 6:33pm | ! Report

                Exactly.

              • Roar Guru

                August 9th 2017 @ 12:00pm
                Rellum said | August 9th 2017 @ 12:00pm | ! Report

                I don’t know why Ronan, that may not be the reason. It should be the reason and they should state it, but CA and cricket in general are not what I would call quick thinkers or a creative bunch. The nonsense they spout at times, tying themselves in knots is embarrassing.

                Many players over the years have suffered at the hands on selectors for non cricketing reasons. I am sure Uzzi suffers at the selection table because he has criticised the panel.

              • Roar Guru

                August 10th 2017 @ 1:19pm
                Chris Kettlewell said | August 10th 2017 @ 1:19pm | ! Report

                If that’s the case too, they should actually say the suspension is from all state and national matches until after the BBQ cup, not just say suspended from the BBQ cup.

          • August 8th 2017 @ 12:22pm
            George said | August 8th 2017 @ 12:22pm | ! Report

            But why?

    • August 8th 2017 @ 7:26am
      Mike Dugg said | August 8th 2017 @ 7:26am | ! Report

      My team for Bangladesh

      Renshaw
      Warner
      Khawaja
      Smith
      Handscomb
      Maxwell
      Wade
      Agar
      Cummins
      Hazlewood
      Lyon

      • August 8th 2017 @ 8:45am
        jameswm said | August 8th 2017 @ 8:45am | ! Report

        That’s what it will be. I would have a different keeper, but otherwise the same.

        • August 9th 2017 @ 10:25pm
          Chris Love said | August 9th 2017 @ 10:25pm | ! Report

          I would have got rid of Wade long ago. Time to bring back Peter Nevill. I think there is no doubt that our best available team to tour any sub-continent country involves Nevill and SOK

          What I want to know is, why wasn’t international duties mentioned when SOK was sanctioned for his indiscretion? The NSW ban was mentioned but nothing about Bangladesh. SOK is easily Australia’s premier tweeker. It’s a travesty he hasn’t player more international cricket and the selectors have to take a large part of the blame for that.

      • August 8th 2017 @ 7:29pm
        Nudge said | August 8th 2017 @ 7:29pm | ! Report

        That’s most likely the side but don’t be surprised if Cartwright bats at 6 and Maxwell misses out. With 2 recognised quicks and 2 spinners they may look to Cartwright to bowl 10 overs a day. He doesn’t need wickets just 10 overs 0 for 25-30 would be fine. Cartwright is also more likely to play in the ashes before Maxwell so giving him a couple of tests is only going to help him. Plus he has a brilliant first class average of around 52 or so.

    • August 8th 2017 @ 8:03am
      Basil said | August 8th 2017 @ 8:03am | ! Report

      Pretty much agree Mike (for the 1st Test anyway).

    • August 8th 2017 @ 8:03am
      John said | August 8th 2017 @ 8:03am | ! Report

      First class bowling average of 40 is terrible.

      • August 8th 2017 @ 8:05am
        Basil said | August 8th 2017 @ 8:05am | ! Report

        …but the guy with the 23 average and won us our first Test in India for a while has been a naughty boy.

        • August 8th 2017 @ 8:26am
          twodogs said | August 8th 2017 @ 8:26am | ! Report

          And will pay the penalty many times over for the same offence.

        • August 8th 2017 @ 8:46am
          jameswm said | August 8th 2017 @ 8:46am | ! Report

          He was pretty innocuous in the other tests though. He did well on the rank turner that turned the game into a lottery.

          • August 8th 2017 @ 10:57am
            George said | August 8th 2017 @ 10:57am | ! Report

            As innocuous as Agar is 9 matches out of 10.

    • August 8th 2017 @ 8:32am
      rock said | August 8th 2017 @ 8:32am | ! Report

      To the people saying that leaving SOK out is inexplicable, wake up.

      SOK has had many many chances to smarten up off the field, but continually goes down the same grubby path. It is no one’s fault bar his own, professional sportsman know what is expected of them, that is why that get paid great money.

      He’s 32, not 22 and should have cleaned up his act long ago. No sympathy here.

      • August 8th 2017 @ 10:58am
        George said | August 8th 2017 @ 10:58am | ! Report

        So, where do you draw the line, age-wise (morally if not legally) when it’s okay to behave badly and not be ostracised for that?

        • August 8th 2017 @ 1:26pm
          Basil said | August 8th 2017 @ 1:26pm | ! Report

          23?

        • August 8th 2017 @ 5:42pm
          Nev said | August 8th 2017 @ 5:42pm | ! Report

          32 in this case

        • August 9th 2017 @ 12:09am
          James said | August 9th 2017 @ 12:09am | ! Report

          We should be drawing the line way before that, early highschool at the latest for goodness sake.

          • August 9th 2017 @ 4:50pm
            Armchair Expert said | August 9th 2017 @ 4:50pm | ! Report

            Agar has been found guilty twice and suspended for abusing an umpire in shield cricket.

            • August 9th 2017 @ 11:43pm
              Don Freo said | August 9th 2017 @ 11:43pm | ! Report

              Showing dissent (not abuse) in a Future’s League game and suspended for one 4 day fixture as a result. Not quite as dramatic as you paint it and not quite repeat public drunkenness.

              In fact, every Aussie captain in history has shown dissent.

              • August 10th 2017 @ 2:08pm
                Armchair Expert said | August 10th 2017 @ 2:08pm | ! Report

                To be precise Don, Agar was fined for swearing at an umpire in a Ryobi Cup game and suspended from a shield game for standing his ground and glaring at an umpire when given out in the future’s league.

              • August 10th 2017 @ 4:39pm
                Don Freo said | August 10th 2017 @ 4:39pm | ! Report

                Not that it matters but it was a Futures League game and it was for dissent.

                It IS written…precisely.

    • Roar Guru

      August 8th 2017 @ 8:36am
      Ryan H said | August 8th 2017 @ 8:36am | ! Report

      I like it. An 8-11 with Cummins, Lyon, Hazlewood and Swepson worries me, as Cummins is the only one who is really capable of scoring useful runs.

      Adding Agar into that all of a sudden gives it a lot more substance; which is needed given Aus’ two best lower order batsmen in Starc and Patto are missing.

      • August 8th 2017 @ 8:48am
        jameswm said | August 8th 2017 @ 8:48am | ! Report

        Yeah but the primary consideration is their bowling, and I agree with Ronan – finger spinners usually do better in the subcontinent.

        I also like our batting – 4-6 can all score runs against spin.

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