There were quite a number of eyebrows and many questions raised just before the beginning of the first Test at Trent Bridge when Glenn McGrath handed over a brand new baggy green to Ashton Agar.
“Ashton Agar, really?”, “Why was he there in the squad?”, “Is Darren Lehmann trying to pull a fast one by blooding in a 19-year-old?”
All sorts of reasoning ensued. Perhaps this is a memo for Kevin Pietersen who has had his problems against the left-arm spinners. Rangana Herath, Pragyan Ojha and even the “pie-chucker” Yuvraj Singh have caused trouble for the big man.
By the end of the second day, Agar was making headlines in the cricketing world. Batting at number 11, he had smashed a free spirited record breaking knock of 98. Even the Poms were captivated by his disarming smile.
With the ball though, his premier profession, he was, at best, steady. He did pick up two wickets on a wearing pitch in the second innings but quite clearly he was a work in progress and some harsh critics also went to the extent of saying that he undid the good work of the seamers.
In the second Test at Lord’s, his dismissals made him look more like a tail-ender with the bat – a typical mix-up with the partner followed by an edge to the keeper to a ball angled across him – and was out-bowled by the part timer Steven Smith. The novelty had worn off, and after registering another score of 98 – 0 for 98 in 29 overs in England’s second innings – he was dropped from the team for the third Test.
All this while, as the Australian cricket followers were getting used to the highs and lows of Agar, supposedly Australia’s lead spinner, Nathan Lyon, was left sulking, almost with a sense of betrayal.
It also didn’t help that the most consistent of the dozen or so Australian spinners since Shane Warne, Lyon, in his last Test against India at Delhi, had finished with a career best 9-wicket haul including a seven for in the first innings.
With an average of 32.40 in 24 Tests, Lyon isn’t one to give sleepless nights to Test line-ups, but has been decent with his efforts. He is a bowler in the classical mould who has no air of mystery surrounding him. To take wickets, he has to outfox the batsman with his flight. His guile and subtle variations with the length are his sole allies.
But what has hampered the honest off-spinner the most in his career so far is the fact that he lacks his captain’s confidence.