Australia are still looking for magic solutions with their spinners. They tried many different of those solutions, and finally settled on Nathan Lyon for a while. Once he was biffed all around India by MS Dhoni, he was dropped for one Test, came back then took nine wickets in the last of that tour.
All the selection dilemmas ahead of the Ashes for Australia seemed to centre around their batting. The bowling seemed set in stone. Nobody seriously thought Agar would be a surprise pick, even if nobody was completely convinced by Lyon.
Agar didn’t have a bad day as it goes, his first three overs contained some flight, drift and dip, with just a hint of spin. There were a few shocking balls, and his second spell was worse. There’s definite potential there, but potential shouldn’t be enough to get you into an Ashes series.`
Darren Lehmann told ESPNCricinfo that "The main reason for the selection is taking the ball away from all their right-handers and we think this is a really important weapon in particular for this Test match on that particular wicket." To me, that smacks of wanting to pick any left-arm-spinner (or leg-spinner) and Agar being the closest to hand.
To put his inexperience in perspective, Agar has played six fewer First-class matches than Essex leg-spinner (and favourite of mine) Tom Craddock. They both average 29 in FC cricket, with virtually the same strike-rate and economy rate. Both of them have one five-fer, but Craddock has an additional 5 four wicket hauls. Craddock is a couple of years older, but in spinning terms, they are both similarly experienced.
Craddock had a great couple of days for Essex against England. If he’d done that in similar circumstances as an Australian against Australia, who’s to say he wouldn’t have made it into their team. The measure of the strength of England - and in particular their spinning stocks - is that they don’t have to make absurd gambles like that.
What happens if Agar doesn’t get any wickets in this match, as the seamers dominate the bowling? If Australia win he’ll keep his place, but what if he gets dominated by Pietersen at some point, like Lyon was by Dhoni? How many Tests before they discard him, and can they bring Nathan Lyon back again? It’s very much a huge gamble, and one that didn’t need to be made.
Agar's been compared to a young Daniel Vettori, in terms of his natural action and athleticism, his State coach Justin Langer telling ESPNCricinfo that "Besides his infectious personality and energy for the game, Ashton's strength comes in his natural and free style of play. Whether with the bat or ball his movements are reminiscent of the great athletes. Many young players today look very tense and mechanical in their movements. They often look 'over-coached' and are unable to move with freedom, power and speed. When you observe the great athletes there are few who look like this. While Ashton has much to learn ... his free movements give him the chance to fulfil his undoubted promise."
Again, this is all about potential. The comparisons to Daniel Vettori are valid in a sense. Vettori had only played two First-class games before he made his Test début, and was also picked on potential. The difference is in the men they replaced. Vettori came in for the veteran Dipak Patel, who was 38 at the time and reaching the end of his career, whilst Agar is in for 25 year old Nathan Lyon.
Vettori was a gamble with only upside, they could always bring back the veteran Patel, but by dropping Lyon for the second time in a couple of months they may have fatally undermined his confidence. Is that a price they can afford to pay for the potential of Agar?