Amid the gloom of yet another poor ODI batting effort last night Australia could take solace from bright performances by two cricketers they desperately need to shine in all three formats this year.
Glenn Maxwell (62) and Ashton Agar (40) joined up with Australia 5/90 in the first ODI in England yesterday and added a modicum of respectability to the score via some clever strokeplay and assertive running between the wickets.
Australia’s new-look pace attack later did their best to defend a well-below par total of 214 by reducing England to 3/38.
Maxwell and Agar are two of the most naturally gifted players in Australia, but we are yet to see either man fully harness their talent.
Both cricketers have great responsibility in England this month in an Australian ODI side decimated by the absence of six members of their best XI. Even more importantly, that pair also looks set to play a huge role in Australia’s next Test series in the UAE in Pakistan.
With Steve Smith, David Warner and Cameron Bancroft banned for a year due to the ball-tampering scandal, Maxwell appears to be almost a lock for that Test series, particularly given his impressive Test efforts in Asia last year. He can all but cement his place for the Tests against Pakistan by flourishing in this series. Maxwell was perhaps a tad fortunate to be playing in this series opener in London, having averaged just 26 with the bat in his previous 20 ODIs.
The absence of Smith and Warner gave him an opportunity and he showed very encouraging signs last night. Rather than looking to hit his way out of trouble, Maxwell patiently waited for the right balls to attack. Even while batting well within himself the Victorian still scored at a swift rate, with 62 from 64 balls. This ability to adapt his game to the match situation is something that too often has been missing from Maxwell’s ODI batting.
Last night Maxwell gave himself time to adapt to the pace of the pitch and to get a read on the England attack before indulging his attacking instincts. He was 19 from 30 balls when he cut loose – in the space of six balls Maxwell hammered 20 runs off of England’s spinners. A scything off drive was followed by a thumping pull shot and then back to back versions of perhaps Maxwell’s signature shot, the inside out lofted drive over the offside for six.
All four shots were played with complete control, a by-product of the fact Maxwell had allowed himself to get set. Australia will hope this series, and maybe even this innings, can be a turning point for Maxwell, who was on the verge of ODI stardom in 2015 but has since gone backwards. They’ll also be optimistic that the tour of England can act as a launching pad for Agar, who announced himself as a prodigious talent in the UK on Test debut nearly five years ago.
New Australian coach Justin Langer has long had confidence in Agar’s batting ability, regularly batting him in the top six for Western Australia and for the Perth Scorchers in limited overs cricket. In Langer’s first ODI in charge of Australia he oversaw the promotion of Agar to number seven. The move marked a major change of tack for Australia, who have long fielded only four bowlers, with the final ten overs delivered by an assortment of batting all-rounders.
In picking five bowlers Langer and his fellow Australian selectors placed great responsibility on the shoulders of Agar. Not only was he Australia’s sole spinner yesterday but he was also tasked with holding together a long-shaky Australian middle order.
While an innings of 40 is hardly cause for celebration, the calm and composed manner in which Agar batted was heartening. He remained patient and concentrated on picking the gaps and timing the ball rather than looking to bludgeon. His first genuinely loose stroke was the one which brought about his downfall as he pre-meditated a sweep shot to a well-flighted delivery from Adil Rashid which was too full to execute that stroke.
Agar’s main role remains as a spinner, but there’s no doubt he has a great deal of talent with the blade and the temperament to exploit it. If Australia continue to play five bowlers against this very strong England team, Agar will have to contribute heavily with the bat for the tourists to be competitive. Australia’s ODI batting is a hot mess.