Australia’s first Test selections show promising intent

Date: July 12, 2013 / Posted by Glenn Mitchell

It was a selection that not many saw coming – well not for the first Ashes Test at Trent Bridge at least.

At 19 years of age and with a mere ten first-class matches behind him, left-arm finger spinner Ashton Agar was handed his baggy green by Glenn McGrath an hour before the start of an eagerly awaited series.

Making your Test debut at any time would cause the butterflies to flutter but being accorded the honour as a teenager at the start of an away Ashes series takes some topping.

Michael Clarke looked to calm the young man’s nerves as quickly as possible by introducing him into the attack after just 15 overs.

His first ball – a shin high full toss – was despatched for four before completing his maiden over with five ‘dot’ balls in a brief spell of 3-0-8-0.

He finished with figures of 7-1-24-0 in England’s modest first innings total of 215 and certainly did not look overawed by the situation.

On a pitch that lacked carry on the opening day he is likely to be called upon more extensively in England’s second innings.

Agar’s parachuting into the First XI came at the expense of incumbent off-spinner Nathan Lyon.

There is no doubting that Agar was on the selectors’ radar shortly after he stepped out for Western Australia in his first-class debut at the SCG in January.

But even he would never have expected such a meteoric ascension to Test cricket.

Just 167 days after his entry into first-class ranks he has become Australia’s 434th Test cricketer.

The selectors chose him in an extended tour party to India in March but it was more for the experience rather than being seen as a genuine chance of selection.

But now he finds himself firmly in the spotlight.

He was not in the original tour party but was added after impressive showings in the Australia A lead-in matches, as was Steve Smith.

Interestingly, both men played under the tutelage of Darren Lehmann who was the ‘A’ coach before being promoted to fill the vacancy as Test coach upon the sacking of Mickey Arthur.

They were both added to the squad after Lehmann took over the top job.

And both are playing in this opening Test – a sign that Lehmann has had a major say in the team’s make-up.

Agar’s inclusion is a bold and forthright declaration by Australia – ‘we are here to win’.

There is no doubt that Agar was given the nod due to the plethora of right-handers in the England top order – a situation that is not always the norm these days.

And then of course, there are the much publicised failings of Kevin Pietersen to left-arm finger spinners – an argument that rankles with the man himself.

Whilst Lyon can be steady, by all accounts, Clarke was keen to have a spinner who could take the ball across the right-handers.

Agar’s selection is predicated by Australia’s desire to have its spinner take wickets rather than be a bowler to tie up one end while the quicks rotate from the other.

Whilst Agar’s first-class record is solid – 31 wickets at 29.4 – it is perhaps as much his performances with the bat that swung the selectors’ faith.

As a tail-ender he batted with incredible calm and self-belief late in the Western Warriors season.

He eked out three half-centuries, with many of them coming in pressure situations – none more so than his three-hour unbeaten 71 that gave the Warriors an unlikely two-wicket win over Tasmania at the WACA Ground.

He showed with his dogged and focused knocks that he is a man who can thrive under pressure and when the odds are against him – commodities that are very much required by finger-spinners.

Smith was rewarded for his showing in India, where he was seen by many as a surprise selection.

Aside from Clarke early on, Smith looked the most competent batsman in the side.

Admittedly, the conditions and bowling attack that confronted him in India will not be replicated in England, but there is no doubting that what Lehmann saw of him during the Australia A tour he liked.

Smith was sparring with David Warner for the final batting spot at number six.

In the days leading up to the first Test there was a strong indication from the media in England that Warner was going to get the nod.

It would have been a significant gamble given his one-month suspension in the lead-in to Trent Bridge following his late-night altercation with England batsman, Joe Root.

His three innings on tour prior to his indiscretion had produced scores of 0, 0 and 9.

In the end the risk was considered too great and Smith was handed a chance to make the spot his own for the remainder of the series.

By stumps on the opening day his selection had already shown merit with his unbeaten 38 shining like a beacon in Australia’s total of 4-75.

The decision has also signalled to Warner that a return to Test ranks is no immediate certainty.

Just after the first ball was bowled in anger at Nottingham news came through from Cricket Australia that Warner was about to be flown to Zimbabwe for the Australia A tour.

He remains in the Ashes squad, albeit whilst on another continent.

He will have the opportunity to play two-first class matches before the third Ashes Test.

By then there may still be no spot for him in the batting order – Clarke and the selectors will be hoping that is the case.

The bold selection of Agar and the choice of Smith over Warner show that the Australian team’s philosophy is about winning and not just putting up a decent account of itself.

The majority of the talk ahead of the series has been what England’s winning margin will be.

It may still be the main focus for many but Australia’s selections for the series opener show that they are looking to attack and also reward those who are maintaining the team ethos.

First published on The Roar – theroar.com.au – on 11 July 2013