Is Agar a bowling or batting all-rounder?

Ronan O'Connell Columnist

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

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119 Have your say

    Ashton Agar has the ability and temperament to become an elite Test all-rounder. He’s just not ready yet for the challenge of a series in India.

    The young spin-bowling all-rounder was included in a 13-man squad for the third Test against Pakistan on Tuesday along with fellow tweaker Steve O’Keefe. That squad suggests Australia will play two spinners at the SCG.

    Given Pakistan play spin much better than pace, such a selection could only be designed to give the selectors a better look at their slow bowling options ahead of the upcoming four-Test tour of India.

    It is hard to get a sense of just what the selectors have planned for Agar. Do they see him as a specialist spin option or as a potential batting all-rounder?

    After being selected in the squad Agar told the media he believed he was capable of batting in the top seven for Australia.

    The Australian selectors have shown a willingness to make bold calls this summer. So it wouldn’t surprise me if at Sydney they include Agar as a fifth bowler batting at seven, pushing Matt Wade up to six even though the keeper can’t buy a run.

    The other way Agar could get a game is as one of two specialist spinners, with Australia resting one of their pace trio and including all-rounder Hilton Cartwright at six to offer seam bowling support.

    It remains to be seen whether veteran off spinner Nathan Lyon will keep his spot. He looked very likely to be dumped before finishing the Boxing Day Test with a flourish, snaring three crucial wickets on the final day as Australia rolled Pakistan to secure a thrilling win.

    Up until that innings, Lyon had been mired in the worst form trough of his career, averaging 67 with the ball in five Tests this summer.

    That day five burst may have saved Lyon’s place. Looking ahead to the tour of India, Australia’s best spin combination has always shaped as Lyon and O’Keefe, who bowled well together in the first Test in Sri Lanka before the latter was injured.

    But Lyon seems to have been put on notice by the selectors and it won’t be a shock if he is left out of the side at Sydney with both Agar and O’Keefe playing. That would be a better option than including Agar as a batting all-rounder. At this stage of his career, Agar undoubtedly is a better bowler than a batsman.

    A well-rounded cricketer, he is a very promising finger spinner and a gifted strokemaker. He is, however, short of Test standard in both disciplines. Right now Agar would be a bits-and-pieces Test player in the mould of Mitch Marsh – not quite good enough to play as either a specialist bowler or frontline batsman.

    This won’t be the case in the future, I would wager. Given sufficient time to develop in the Sheffield Shield Agar will become a quality specialist spinner, with his fluid strokeplay a mere bonus. It is three-and-a-half years since Agar’s extraordinary Test debut, when he clattered 98 against a strong England attack.

    Yet he is still only 23 years old, an age at which few non-Asian spinners are ready for Test cricket. Agar’s development will likely be even slower than the average spinner because of the amount of time and energy he spends honing his batting.

    Australia's Ashton Agar (L) is congratulated by England's Graeme Swann. AFP PHOTO/ANDREW YATES.

    It is unlikely we will begin to see the best of Agar for at least another three to four years. That doesn’t mean he needs to wait that long before being given a proper run in the Test team.

    But India is the most difficult place in world cricketer for an Australian Test spinner, let alone a rookie.

    Right now O’Keefe is comfortably a better bowler than Agar and there would be no need to play two left arm spinners in the same XI in India. Agar is not even the second best left arm tweaker in Australia, with Victorian Jon Holland having averaged just 20 with the ball over the past three Shield seasons.

    And if Australia are looking for a batting all-rounder who bowls spin then Glenn Maxwell is a superior option to Agar. Maxwell averages 40 with the bat in first-class cricket, is an underrated off spinner and has vast experience in Indian conditions, albeit in the shorter formats.

    Australia’s biggest weakness at present is their lack of runscoring at numbers six and seven.

    It is almost three years since the last time a number six batsman scored a Test ton for Australia. Meanwhile, keeper Matthew Wade and Peter Nevill have contributed a paltry 489 runs at an average of 20 in Australia’s past 20 Tests.

    It would be an almighty risk for Australia to promote Wade to six and have Agar at seven. Agar had a fine Shield season with the bat last summer, making his first two first-class tons. Yet he still only averages 27 with the bat in first-class cricket and has averaged just 19 in the Shield this summer.

    Agar’s time as a Test player will come. Rushing him will be a mistake.

    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 (119)

    • January 1st 2017 @ 8:16am
      qwetzen said | January 1st 2017 @ 8:16am | ! Report

      1. Pre-emptive clarification: I’m not advocating Agar, my observation here is that this increasingly aired argument of; “give [X] a couple of years to develop” is un-Australian. One of the tenets of Oz selection has always been; “If they’re good enough, pick ’em.” and I see no reason to change it to the English approach.

      2. Have CA adopted the celebrated Sydney Swans “no d***heads” policy? This would explain why SOK & Maxwell appear on the outer.

      3. Re Warne’s silliness over SOK. I have a theory. This being that too much work has been done on Warnies scalp and its affected his memory. He’s thinking of Kerry OK.

      • January 1st 2017 @ 11:12am
        Mahee Hossain said | January 1st 2017 @ 11:12am | ! Report

        Since when did Maxwell become a d***head? I’ve seen no evidence for this.

        • January 1st 2017 @ 4:45pm
          qwetzen said | January 1st 2017 @ 4:45pm | ! Report

          You mean apart from when he slagged Wade?

      • January 1st 2017 @ 12:20pm
        Armchair Expert said | January 1st 2017 @ 12:20pm | ! Report

        If SOK’s on the outer, it’s interesting how he’s in the current squad.

        • January 1st 2017 @ 4:54pm
          qwetzen said | January 1st 2017 @ 4:54pm | ! Report

          So he’s 32, has been slaying it in the Shield for 5 or so years, can bat a bit, plays for NSW, only has to displace Lyon and yet has a lousy 3 Tests. Doesn’t really read like he’s Flavour of the Month does it?

          • January 1st 2017 @ 5:59pm
            Felix said | January 1st 2017 @ 5:59pm | ! Report

            Reads like the rap sheet of a player that doesn’t deserve too many tests, he’s hardly been demanding a spot off Lyon.

            • January 1st 2017 @ 6:49pm
              John Erichsen said | January 1st 2017 @ 6:49pm | ! Report

              Yes, apart from O’Keefe’s far superior figures, there is nothing demanding he take Lyon’s spot.

              • January 1st 2017 @ 10:27pm
                TheCunningLinguistic said | January 1st 2017 @ 10:27pm | ! Report


      • January 1st 2017 @ 1:41pm
        Mike Dugg said | January 1st 2017 @ 1:41pm | ! Report

        Okeefe seems to get on fine with Smith. It’s Clarke who was the problem. Clarke was the problem with Khawaja too. Notice how Ussie is playing so well now with Clarke retired?
        With Clarke as captain, there was no way Okeefe was going to be selected even if he was banging down the door. That’s why we suffered through Xavier Doherty and Lyon. Since Clarke has gone, Okeefe has played 3 tests and would’ve played at least 6 more were it not for injury and the cancellation of the Bangladesh tour

        • January 1st 2017 @ 6:25pm
          JoM said | January 1st 2017 @ 6:25pm | ! Report

          Of course he gets on fine with Smith, they shared a house at one stage. Clarke never had a problem with Khawaja, he has been playing better since Lehmann took over. His problem was Arthur.

    • January 1st 2017 @ 8:27am
      BurgyGreen said | January 1st 2017 @ 8:27am | ! Report

      I’m not as convinced about Agar’s bowling talent as you are, Ronan. Time will tell but I think he will struggle, at least in India at this stage. Better off picking O’Keefe, who is an accomplished first-class spinner.

      Batting Wade at 6 is laughable but it will probably happen. Surely if he fails again with the bat, they’ll have to drop him?

      • Columnist

        January 1st 2017 @ 11:25am
        Ronan O'Connell said | January 1st 2017 @ 11:25am | ! Report

        “I’m not as convinced about Agar’s bowling talent as you are, Ronan. Time will tell but I think he will struggle, at least in India at this stage. Better off picking O’Keefe, who is an accomplished first-class spinner.”

        This is exactly what I suggested in the article Burgy!

        • January 1st 2017 @ 11:31am
          BurgyGreen said | January 1st 2017 @ 11:31am | ! Report

          Sorry, that wasn’t very clear. I did read and enjoy your article.

          We agree that Agar isn’t a good enough bowler right now. Where we differ is that I’m not sure he ever will be. Talented with the bat though.

          • Columnist

            January 1st 2017 @ 12:01pm
            Ronan O'Connell said | January 1st 2017 @ 12:01pm | ! Report

            I don’t think Agar will ever be a match-winning Test spinner – such bowlers are incredibly rare in non-Asian countries….NZ have literally never even had one, England have had only one (Swann) in the past 30 years, and Australia have had just two (Warne and MacGill) in the past 40 years.

            I do, however, think that Agar could become a very reliable Test spinner who plays his role well supporting a strong pace unit, in the manner of a Vettori or Lyon at his best.

        • January 1st 2017 @ 1:51pm
          Craig Swanson said | January 1st 2017 @ 1:51pm | ! Report

          “I think he will struggle in INdia”
          I say who are both wrong. Agar has already proven himself with the ball in India..18 months ago on an A tour. Check out his results. Got more wickets in games he played than even the local spinners. What happened to research before posting boys?.

          • January 1st 2017 @ 2:51pm
            Felix said | January 1st 2017 @ 2:51pm | ! Report

            Would this be the one day tri series with South Africa you are referring to? Either way he wasn’t bowling at Kohli et al was he?

            • January 1st 2017 @ 4:11pm
              Rob JM said | January 1st 2017 @ 4:11pm | ! Report

              In india, kholi played and agar took his wicket.

              • January 1st 2017 @ 6:06pm
                Felix said | January 1st 2017 @ 6:06pm | ! Report

                Cheers, I found the series you’re talking about now, all I could find earlier was the ODI’s that followed.

    • January 1st 2017 @ 8:51am
      Pope Paul VII said | January 1st 2017 @ 8:51am | ! Report

      Ask Dan Liebke

    • January 1st 2017 @ 9:04am
      John said | January 1st 2017 @ 9:04am | ! Report

      Surely Jon Holland is a chance to tour india?

      • Roar Pro

        January 1st 2017 @ 9:12am
        boonboon said | January 1st 2017 @ 9:12am | ! Report

        Yes a chance but currently injured which is why he wasnt considered for Sydney

      • January 1st 2017 @ 1:43pm
        Mike Dugg said | January 1st 2017 @ 1:43pm | ! Report

        Holland is a left armer which is the same as Agar and Okeefe. He is a poor batsman and didn’t look much good in Sri Lanka. Plus being injured at the moment as he has been consistently over the last few years doesn’t help

    • January 1st 2017 @ 9:11am
      James Jackson said | January 1st 2017 @ 9:11am | ! Report

      I kind of loved how KP held Mark Waugh’s feet to the fire regarding the number 6 position last night, whereby he was incredulous as to why Maxwell was not being talked about for India. He plays spin well, can bowl efficient offspin and is indeed one of our best fielders.

      If Lyon, SOK and Maxwell can bowl in tandem with Starc and Hazlewood then suddenly we have some good options in our attack while fielding one of our strongest batting line ups to play in India. If Renshaw struggles then Smarsh can come in

      • January 1st 2017 @ 11:09am
        BurgyGreen said | January 1st 2017 @ 11:09am | ! Report

        It was a bit harsh on Mark Waugh, I almost always agree with his opinions and I get the feeling that he’s a fan of Maxwell but the other selectors (especially Lehmann) aren’t.

        • January 1st 2017 @ 2:14pm
          James Jackson said | January 1st 2017 @ 2:14pm | ! Report

          Fair call, I didn’t have that understanding of the situation.

        • Roar Guru

          January 1st 2017 @ 11:56pm
          Chris Kettlewell said | January 1st 2017 @ 11:56pm | ! Report

          It certainly would have helped if Maxwell had been able to score some decent runs in the first half of the shield season. He won’t get another chance to play first class cricket before the squad leaves for India unless he’s continued to be left out of the ODI squad, and if the selectors don’t even want to pick him for ODI’s it’s hard to see them looking at him for the tests. But personally I’d be tempted to take Maxwell to India and have my lineup likely as three quicks plus SOK and Maxwell at #6 being the second spinner. I think it’s probably the best team for India. Not sure who the third quick would be though. Bird’s done okay in the last couple of tests, but I can’t help but think that he’s not the best option for the third quick in India.

    • Roar Pro

      January 1st 2017 @ 9:31am
      boonboon said | January 1st 2017 @ 9:31am | ! Report

      What I think is funny is that Agar with a first class batting average of 26 is being talked about as an opener but O’Keefe with a first class average of 29 is only being talked about as a spinner. I don’t see how Agar bats above O’Keefe in any team you select. Also with Starc averaging 25 in test cricket then he too should be considered a test all rounder. Perhaps though these all make sense only as a unit. While giving away a number 6 batsmen where we have seen very little runs anyway what we could do is have Wade at 6 who averages 38 is first class cricket (more then Maddison) then instead of 1 strong batsmen at 7 then a tail we have a run of bowling allrounders. O’Keefe at 7(Ave 29), Agar at 8(Ave 26), Starc at 9 (Ave 25), Hazelwood at 10 (Ave 16) and Gary at 11 Ave 14 in india meaning we bat deep and get an extra bowler with 2 quicks and 3 spinners

      • January 1st 2017 @ 12:15pm
        Don Freo said | January 1st 2017 @ 12:15pm | ! Report

        What years are you including in your averages? What Wade or SOK did 5 and 10 years ago with the bat is not what they have done in the past few years.

        Career averages a never relevant at selection time. Current performance is.

        Play Wade at #6 if he has been selected for batting superior to Nevill’s. If he can’t provide it…draw a line through his test future.

        • January 1st 2017 @ 1:45pm
          Mike Dugg said | January 1st 2017 @ 1:45pm | ! Report

          Don Freo, I agree. What Agar did last season with the bat doesn’t matter. This season he is batting poorly

          • January 1st 2017 @ 8:45pm
            Don Freo said | January 1st 2017 @ 8:45pm | ! Report

            He barely batted last season. You are arguing with yourself.

            This season he has twice the batting average of SOK.

        • January 1st 2017 @ 2:09pm
          Rob JM said | January 1st 2017 @ 2:09pm | ! Report

          SOK is a good defensive tail ender while Agar is an agressive bowling allrounder still learning his game. SOK has never scored a first class hundred, while agar scored two last year along with his test 98! He is a no 7 batsmen at this point, similar in skill to M Marsh and Faulkner. Unfortunately we dont have a keeper who can bat no6, so these guys need to improve their batting or bowling to make the team on one strength alone.

          • January 1st 2017 @ 2:20pm
            bearfax said | January 1st 2017 @ 2:20pm | ! Report

            SOK scored 99 and 87 in the 2014-15 Shield season. Hardly scores to dismiss. He averaged 35.5 that season

        • January 1st 2017 @ 6:52pm
          John Erichsen said | January 1st 2017 @ 6:52pm | ! Report

          Line through His test future. Wade has barely scored a red/pink ball run in two years.

        • Roar Guru

          January 1st 2017 @ 11:58pm
          Chris Kettlewell said | January 1st 2017 @ 11:58pm | ! Report

          I’m a fan of O’Keefe, but early in his first class career he averaged 50+ with the bat and his average has continually dropped since then, while Agar’s seems to be going the other way. So I’d suggest that right at the moment Agar would definitely be the better batsman, but both are really the type who’d just help to strengthen the batting in the tail rather than counting as a genuine all rounder. I wouldn’t bat either ahead of Starc at the moment. Probably should promote Starc ahead of Wade too!

      • January 1st 2017 @ 12:23pm
        Armchair Expert said | January 1st 2017 @ 12:23pm | ! Report

        On top of that Boon, SOK has a better defensive batting technique than Agar, who seems hit or miss to me and more of a one day hitter.

      • January 1st 2017 @ 2:17pm
        bearfax said | January 1st 2017 @ 2:17pm | ! Report

        Don, SOK has consistently been averaging between 22-25 per wicket for the past three years. His batting average over since the beginning of the 2014-15 Shield season has been a little over 27.

        • January 1st 2017 @ 3:37pm
          Don Freo said | January 1st 2017 @ 3:37pm | ! Report

          Yes…on the way down. Not much chop. Mind you, I don’t care about SOK’s batting. I am challenging the relevance of figures from 4, 5 and more seasons ago.

          It is strange that every time Agar is mentioned, people mention SOK as if they are in competition. One is beginning his career and one is on the downward trend. One was a batting all rounder who is now a bowler only (a la Brad Hogg), the other is a bowling all rounder

          Even as left arm orthodox bowlers, they are poles apart in style. One relies on bounce, flight and turn, the other on accuracy and change of pace. If they play in the same team, they offer great variety.

          • Roar Guru

            January 2nd 2017 @ 12:02am
            Chris Kettlewell said | January 2nd 2017 @ 12:02am | ! Report

            I do agree there. If I was looking to play two genuine spinners in India I’d rather have both O’Keefe and Agar than take Lyon even though Lyon spins it the other way. The fact that Lyon’s struggling so much lately, is terrible in sub-continental conditions and is much better against left-handers and the Indian batting lineup is very right-handed dominant, is plenty against him, and with SOK and Agar such different bowlers, even though they are bowl left-arm orthodox spinners, that having both together isn’t the worst idea in the world. But that being said, all spin bowlers are in competition. For the most part there is only one place in the team for a spin bowler, and in India only two, and for the most part the selectors if picking two they’d prefer to pick two bowlers who spin it opposite directions, it means even as completely different bowlers, two left-arm finger spinners are always going to be “in competition” no matter how different they are.

      • January 1st 2017 @ 2:21pm
        James Jackson said | January 1st 2017 @ 2:21pm | ! Report

        You need a highly competent 6/7 for the structure of the team during collapses and other situations which require a professional of sorts. If you simply have 4-5 fair-weather batsman down the order, you may end up with no one to take leadership in a lower-order partnership – someone who knows when to close up shop, when to go and how to build an innings overall.

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