Agar into the Australian Test Squad: how did that happen?

Regular readers of this blog will have read my rants about the work of Cricket Australia’s National Selection Panel. I have griped for years, even before I had this blog, that form in red ball cricket seems to count for little at the Cricket Australia Selection table and have even been left to ponder whether Cricket Australia ought just fold the first class competition for all of the relevance it has to the selection of the test team. I am sad to say that again this morning I find myself griping and pondering the same things again after the elevation of Ashton Agar to the Australian squad for the 4th test in Sydney.

Agar’s stat line in first class cricket this year does not make for happy reading: 7 wickets at 45.14 in 4 games is, frankly just not good enough. Add that lack of form to a first class career stat line of 62 wickets at 44.00 with a strike rate of 81 balls per wicket and the head scratching that started when pondering Agar’s selection on current form starts to draw blood.

If there were no other spinners playing in first class cricket in Australia at the moment then this selection might make more sense. However there are other spinners plying their trade around the country who appear to be vastly more qualified to play in Sydney against India. The three main contenders are:

  • The form leg spinner: Fawad Ahmed has been in excellent form for Victoria this season with a stat line of 18 wickets at 30.72 and a strike rate of 51 balls per wicket. His first class numbers, 95 wickets at 32.16 with a strike rate of 54.3 balls per wicket, make for much more pallatable reading than those of Agar and he has been in the Cricket Australia system before.
  • The best left arm orthodox bowler in the country: Steve O’Keefe is the best left arm orthodox bowler in Australia. No ifs, no buts, no maybes. 141 wickets at 25.81 with a strike rate of just under a wicket every 10 overs in a first class career makes for excellent reading. This summer he has done his job for New South Wales with the ball with 9 wickets at 28.44 gives him the best average of our sample of bowlers. Again he has been in the Cricket Australia system before too which has to be in his favour.
  • The young leg spinner: Cameron Boyce, seemingly, has been anointed as Australia’s next leg spin hope given his selection for T20 honours this year where he performed excellently. His first class record is worse that Agar’s however he seems to be following the currently accepted path to the top team via the shortest form of the game so his non-selection is a surprise.
In the context of these three contenders is there a cogent argument for Agar’s elevation to the team? I am struggling to find one. Of course my search for a cogent argument has been focused on the immediate cricket reasons for his possible selection: I neglected to include the fact that he has a significant profile in the game begat by his 98 runs on debut and the fact that he looks like the lost member of One Direction.

Surely though this selection can not be all about profile? Darren Lehmann does not strike me as a coach who would accept such a selection. Then again Lehmann was at the helm during the disaster, 98 runs aside, that was Agar’s debut 2 tests so he must have played some role in his return here.

I just do not understand it and am left again to ponder why Cricket Australia continues to pay for the Sheffield Shield to be run when it does not use the form coming from that competition to reward those players playing in it.

For what it is worth, I think there is zero chance that Agar will play in Sydney and have no doubt he will be released to his BBL team during the game. That is cold comfort one suspects to those others who are more deserving of selection, particularly Steve O’Keefe.

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