It’s bloody nice to have cricket back in Australia.
The first round of the Sheffield Shield wrapped up yesterday with two nail biters that came down to the last ten overs and showcased a high-standard of cricket that bodes well for the season to come.
What were some of the interesting things that came out of the first set of interstate matches?
Ashton Agar states his case as Australia’s Test all-rounder
Ashton Agar has recently established himself in Australia’s limited overs teams but it has unclear whether his ability extends to the longer forms of the game. Agar was long ago selected in Australia’s Test team as a front-line spinner and batted 11. Yet if he is to wear the baggy green again, it is more likely to come as an all-rounder.
Agar probably does not have enough penetrative capacity to be a front-line spinner at Test level. He offers great control, which is why he is a quality short-form option, but a test-match spinner needs to be more than someone who can simply occupy an end.
Agar’s first-class bowling average of 40, combined with a strike rate of 79, is unlikely to cut it at the next level.
Agar has instead developed his batting to the extent that he becomes an option as an all-rounder for Australia. His first-class batting average of 29 does not look promising at first glance, but his raw figures ignore his improvement in the last two-to-three years.
In last year’s Sheffield Shield, Agar averaged a very healthy 52 over his five games. Obviously he has started this season very promisingly with an excellent century against South Australia.
There are signs as well that Australia considers Agar to have all-rounder potential, as they used him at seven in the recent one-day series against England.
There is more to do for Agar to translate that potential to Test matches but Australia have long searched for a consistent all-rounder who can bat at six and offer wicket taking ability. Agar is not quite there yet, but more performances like this will have him in the conversation.
Australian spin-stocks look good for the future
Outside of Michael Neser’s quality five-for in the first innings against Tasmania, the best bowling performances in the first round came from the spinners. This was despite the Adelaide wickets offering minimal assistance for the tweakers.
Agar himself bowled with great control and took advantage of what rough was available in snagging six wickets for the match including a five-for in the first innings. Mitchell Swepson was excellent in the second innings as Queensland pushed for victory and took four valuable wickets.
Then there was Lloyd Pope, as we got to see the young wrist-spinner take five wickets including a few absolute peaches.
Nathan Lyon is well established as Australia’s top spinner and none of the names mentioned above are a threat to him yet. However, even though Lyon has been remarkably durable throughout his career, it is encouraging to have potential backups in the event of an injury.
What will be interesting to watch throughout the coming Shield season will be how these potential back-up options can iron out the kinks in their game.
As said above, I think of Agar more as a potential all-rounder but if he is to be a top spinner then he needs to work on his pace in the air. Like Lyon, Agar is not a huge turner of the ball but Lyon has a masterful ability to utilise pace and bounce to become a threat to the World’s best.
Agar bowls with a flatter trajectory and accordingly gets less bounce from the pitch.
Swepson’s control remains his greatest concern. A good spinner needs a stock delivery on which they can rely upon at times when conditions do not necessarily suit. Swepson’s leg-spinner is good but it hasn’t always provided him with the consistent control to enable him to bowl extended spells.
His second innings performance was very encouraging in this respect.
In a situation where Queensland were running out of balls, Swepson was able to be consistent enough to be constantly threatening and got the deserved wickets. Swepson will play better teams than Tasmania, so I can’t wait to see if his performances are sustainable.
Pope has a long way to go. His issues are like Swepson’s on steroids. Pope struggles to bowl one ball in a row with any degree of consistency. But that’s ok as he is 20 years old and very talented. His best balls are better than any other current Australian spinner, even Nathan Lyon.
What I am waiting for is when the game starts to slow down for him. Right now it feels like he is trying to bowl that best ball, every ball. The long-form game needs patience and Pope will develop that as he gets more comfortable at this level.
For this season, I just hope that South Australia stick with Pope no matter what and give him the chance to find his game at this level. He could be worth the wait.
Josh Inglis announces himself to Australian selectors
In the non-Marnus division, Josh Inglis was possibly the most impressive batter over the first round. He came in at a slightly precarious time for Western Australia, with the score at 5/215 and the new-ball being due in less than ten overs.
In the vein of a long-line of counter-attacking Western Australia wicketkeeper-batsmen, Inglis took control of the situation and hit a superb 153 not out and took the game away from South Australia.
Inglis first announced himself with his performances in last season’s Big Bash League. He was the lone batter to finish last season in the top-10 for both runs and in strike rate.
As such, Inglis was touted as a potential future selection for Australia in the limited-overs game. Yet his game hasn’t always translated as well to white-clothing. Although last round showed how good Inglis can be in the longer game.
Inglis should now be seriously considered as a potential Australian Test representative. Tim Paine is the owner of the gloves but is turning 36 in December and only has a limited amount of time left in the game. Alex Carey is clearly the next person on the list, but his recent dropping from the T20 team indicates that selectors are keeping him on a short leash.
Carey has been the more consistent batter over a longer period and Carey’s overall figures are better than Inglis. However, Carey has never scored as many runs in a first-class innings as Inglis did in this first round.
Carey’s glovework was also very poor in the recent limited overs series against England. In comparison, Inglis was very clean with the gloves against South Australia and didn’t conceded a single bye over roughly 200 overs of work.
In the second innings, Inglis also went up to the stumps to the medium-fast bowling of Matt Kelly and looked excellent. Standing up to faster bowlers is the true Test of a quality glovemen and Inglis may already be a better keeper than Carey.
As such, if Inglis maintains his strong batting form there is a genuine conversation about who is best placed to fill Tim Paine’s shoes as Australia’s Test wicketkeeper.
Marnus Labuschagne is brilliant
That is all. He’s really, really good. There is nothing quite like watching a sportsperson at the top of the game emphasise their quality and Labuschagne made a reasonably strong Tasmanian attack look decidedly average.
The greatest disappointment from the first round is that I have to wait six days to potentially see Marnus bat again. I guess the IPL will have to do until then.