Darren Lehmann backs Ashton Agar’s all-round skills, Australia aim for 3-0 sweep
Ashton Agar and Steve O’Keefe have been included in the Australia Test squad for the game in Sydney against Pakistan as they aim for a 3-0 whitewash.cricket Updated: Dec 31, 2016 12:47 IST
Darren Lehmann views Ashton Agar as a “genuine all-rounder”, indications that Australia are putting him in line to be part of Tuesday’s final Test against Pakistan in Sydney.
Agar, 23, is on track to play his first Test since his unheralded debut in the 2013 Ashes series in England, where he scored 98 in his first Test at Trent Bridge batting at No.11.
But the West Australian left-hander is now being assessed as a “genuine” all-rounder, impressing selectors Greg Chappell and Mark Waugh and has a first-class batting average of 26.
Agar was added to a 13-man Australia squad Friday along with fellow spinner Steven O’Keefe with one of them likely to partner Nathan Lyon on a spin-friendly SCG pitch for the “dead” third Test.
Lehmann said after Friday’s innings and 18-run second Test series-clinching win over Pakistan in Melbourne that if Australia went into the final Test with two spinners the team would also need an all-rounder.
Selectors have also included Zimbabwe-born all-rounder Hilton Cartwright in the Sydney squad, but Lehmann highlighted Agar’s all-round qualities.
“He’s made Shield hundreds and batted well for us in that (Ashes) Test match at 11,” Lehmann told reporters. “He’s certainly got the talent to be a batting all-rounder or a spinning all-rounder, either way.
“We wanted a left-armer to go away from all their right-handers as well to give us options. He also got 10 wickets in a Sheffield Shield game in Sydney. He’s improved, we get feedback from (WA coach) Justin Langer and the guys have been watching him, they’ve been impressed with him,” Lehmann said. “If you play two spinners you normally need an allrounder, so that’s what we’re looking at.”
O’Keefe fitness challenge
Agar says he sees himself as an all-rounder to fit the mould Australia are seeking.
“I guess I’ve been selected in this squad as a spinner, but I think I’m capable with bat and ball,” Agar told reporters Saturday.
On potentially batting at No.7, Agar added: “I think I would be able to if I was given that opportunity. You just have to make good decisions, and that’s what I’m learning more each time I’m batting in first-class cricket, is the best players consistently make good decisions.”
Lehmann said O’Keefe had to stay fit after the 32-year-old’s recent run of injuries.
O’Keefe injured his hamstring in the first Test against Sri Lanka and was set to replace Lyon in the third day-night Test against South Africa in Adelaide last month before succumbing to a calf injury.
“He wouldn’t want too many more injuries, he’d want to make sure he’s playing cricket,” Lehmann said. “That’s the greatest thing we have now, we’ve got young players coming through who are fit and well. Steven did a really good job for us in Sri Lanka before he got injured, did a good job last year in Sydney as well. He knows he’s got to be fit and ready to play each and every game.”
Lehmann praised Lyon’s bowling in the second innings of the Melbourne Test where he snared the crucial wickets of Younis Khan, captain Misbah-ul-Haq and in-form No.6 Asad Shafiq to crack the game wide open.
“I thought Nathan Lyon was outstanding, he bowled consistent line and length, which was up and down in the previous few Test matches,” Lehmann said. “Three or four balls an over have been there, but today (Friday) was a lot better. He got through the middle order and so I’m pleased for him.”