It would be easy to assume that Ashton Agar had been in fine form going into Friday’s T20I at the Wanderers, but after taking a hat-trick and 5 for 24 to bowl South Africa out for their lowest-ever score in the format, Australia’s spin-bowling allrounder revealed that he “was actually feeling horrible” in training ahead of the game.
“It was really exciting – obviously a highlight of my cricketing life,” said Agar in the post-match presentation. “My job was made a lot easier when I had Mitch Starc, Patty Cummins, Richo [Kane Richardson] and Zamps [Adam Zampa] doing the job before me.
“It’s funny, I was actually feeling horrible [coming] into the game. Obviously when the wicket turns a bit, [you] get a bit of assistance and your job’s made a bit easier, you get on a roll and you keep going.”
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After impressing in the home summer in T20I series against Pakistan and Sri Lanka, Agar underwhelmed in Australia’s series in India last month, taking two wickets in three ODIs while conceding 5.60 runs per over. But despite his struggles on that trip, he explained that an end-of-series chat with another left-arm spin-bowling allrounder had helped him to turn things around.
“I had a wonderful chat with Ravindra Jadeja after the India series,” Agar said. “He’s my favourite player in the world – I want to play cricket like he does.
“He’s an absolute rockstar: smacks them, gun fielder, and spins the ball. But it’s just his presence when he’s out there, watching his confidence… just talking to him about spin bowling, keep trying to spin the ball. When he’s batting he has a really positive attitude, and he takes that attitude into the field as well.
“So I was pretty inspired by talking to him. And I’ve got good people around me: I’ve got a wonderful fiancée – she’s very supportive, so I’m really lucky – and a great family. They’re able to keep me really level.”
Agar’s job was made easier by four early Australian wickets, with Starc and Cummins leaving South Africa three down after the Powerplay and Zampa striking in the seventh over. And Agar said that his burgeoning partnership with Zampa – the last five T20Is that they have played together have ended in Australia wins – has been a great help to his game.
“It’s developed massively,” he said. “We’ve always got along really well, we’re pretty no-fuss, away from the field we have similar interests, and we just get along well.
“So then going out into the middle, we both really enjoy talking about the game, speaking about spin bowling. I think we have a really good understanding of each other’s games. What we did well in Australia in the last T20I series [against Pakistan], we identified that if someone is getting wickets early, it’s their day to attack and the other one defends. It’s good to string a few games together with him.”
Agar’s hat-trick – his first since 2013, when he managed the feat playing English club cricket for Henley in the Home Counties Premier League – owed plenty to a superb slip catch by his captain, Aaron Finch, who dived spectacularly for the catch to dismiss Dale Steyn.
And while Agar suggested the catch demonstrated Finch’s “total skill” in the cordon, Finch himself suggested that it had simply been further proof that it was a day when everything went right for Australia.
“There was about a 10 percent chance of me catching that,” he said. “[Agar] bowled beautifully. He deserved all the rewards today. The length, and just a little bit of assistance in the wicket, makes a huge difference in T20 when you’re looking to go very hard.
“The way that we attacked the crease and bowled a really good aggressive length was crucial. We pride ourselves on not giving away width with the new ball, and making them hit good shots to good balls. If someone comes out and blasts you off good balls, you take your hat off to them – that’s what we’re all trying to do.”