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Is this the allrounder Australia needs?

Cricket

He’s a 23-year-old boasting a healthy average of 32.50 with the bat from the two Tests he played way back in 2013 – an average, however, skewed by the famous clutch 98 he ground out on debut, batting at No.11 against England in a remarkable partnership with the late Phillip Hughes.

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Ashton Agar hasn’t shut the door on being the solution to Australia’s allrounder problem, but says he wants to focus on being a frontline spinner first.

And while his name has been thrown around as a possible allrounder option as his West Australian teammate Mitch Marsh continues to struggle with the bat, Agar said his main priority was perfecting his left-arm orthodox bowling.

“My aim is to be a genuine allrounder but I want to contribute really well with the ball,” he said.

“Talking about a Test chance it’s hard to tell, but at the moment it looks like if it was going to come it would be as a spinner.

“I’ve still got work to do before that happens and I’ve still got to put consistent performances across the board and bowl really well.”

Agar claimed 10 wickets in the Warriors’ Sheffield Shield loss to NSW at the weekend, the second such haul of his career.

However, outside his career-best match figures of 10-141, the fixture also represented a significant step in his development as an allrounder as he was elevated to No.5 in the Warriors’ batting line-up.

“I loved that and I’ve been working hard towards that,” he said.

“That was really good that extra responsibility – I think I respond well to that.”

“I want to be the spinner for Western Australia first and foremost but I also want to play a big role with the bat.”

Agar’s development as a spinner in Australia is an unusual one, given he’s grown up on the paceman’s paradise at the WACA.

However, he believes it’s something he’s learnt to use to his advantage.

“It probably makes me a better bowler because you don’t get away with anything there,” he said.

“Hopefully, it will make me a more mature bowler and more accurate.”

No passion, no fight

Meanwhile, former opener Kepler Wessels hasn’t held back in assessing Australia’s capitulation to South Africa in the first Test in Perth, dubbing the effort a display with “no passion, no fight”.

Wessels, who opened the batting for Australia in the 1980s before returning to captain his native South Africa, also slammed Steve Smith’s captaincy as “unimpressive” and believes Mitch Marsh should be axed.

“They lacked quality, passion and the fighting spirit associated with Australian teams of the past,” Wessels wrote in a column for SuperSport.

“Their batting line-up has a frail look about it. If David Warner or Steve Smith don’t score heavily, the Aussies are in trouble.”

Set a fourth-innings record 539 for victory, Australia were all out for 361.

Only Usman Khawaja (97) and Peter Nevill (60no) showed any true grit in the chase after the middle order folded meekly and they missed a huge opportunity to post a big first-innings score after David Warner and Shaun Marsh had set a solid platform.

“As individuals, the Australian players are under huge pressure. They have lost four Test matches in a row,” said Wessels, who played 24 Tests for Australia during South Africa’s isolation from international cricket.

“This means that captain Steve Smith, in particular, is under the pump.

“His captaincy in this Test match was unimpressive.

“He isn’t in the best form with the bat either, which compounds the problem for him personally and for the team as a whole.”

Set to come under some of the most scrutiny in Hobart will be allrounder Mitch Marsh, who continues to struggle with the bat.

Marsh, who took two wickets for the match on his home ground in the series opener, averages just 23.18 in his 19 Tests batting in the middle order.

“They have a long tail with allrounder Mitchell Marsh batting at six,” said Wessels.

“If the Australian selectors had any sense they would pick six specialist batsmen and opt for four front-line bowlers.

“This will give their team a better balance under Australian conditions.”

As a unit we’re just not getting partnerships

National selector Mark Waugh challenged Australia’s top order to sharpen up mentally after he was left dismayed by their latest batting capitulation.

Waugh was still scratching his head 24 hours after watching Steve Smith’s side slump to a 177-run loss in the first Test in Perth after having South Africa on the ropes on day two.

“The facts are it was disappointing. I mean, we shouldn’t lose from that position, really,” Waugh said on Fox Sports’ Inside Cricket program.

“We’ve seen it happen probably three or four times in the last five Test matches where we’ve dominated day one, we’ve been ahead in the game and then I don’t know whether it’s a subconscious thing where we relax a bit.

“But South Africa played great. Full credit to them. But if our boys look at their performances, they’ll know they can do a lot better than that.”

Even South African great Shaun Pollock was “still trying to work it out” after the visitors inflicted the first defeat on Australia in the opening Test of the summer in 28 years.

And the Proteas did it without pace spearhead Dale Steyn, who broke down just one wicket into Australia’s second innings.

While ruing the inability of Warner and Khwaja to convert 97s into big hundreds, Waugh was reluctant to lay blame for Australia’s latest collapse.

“It was a combination of some good bowling and some poor execution with the bat; poor decision making,” he said.

“I think it’s a bit of a mental thing now, possibly. We’ve had it happen to us probably three or four times in recent times – in Sri Lanka. We go back to England, that was a while ago.

“So it’s probably both technical and mental … so you can’t do much about it. It’s up to the individual.

“They’ve got to work a their game and how to best to adapt to the conditions. We’re not probably adapting to what we’re seeing in front of us with the bat.

“Maybe we’re thinking about something else, but they’re not concentrating on that ball and what to do if the ball’s reversing or a left-arm spinner’s bowling.

“You’ve got to have your plans in if it’s that sort of bowling. At the moment it looks like we’re batting and hoping a little bit.”

Waugh also lamented the contentious second-innings dismissals of Smith and Mitchell Marsh as potential game changers, and isn’t giving up on Australia turning the three-Test series around.

“These guys are talented enough and, if you look at them individually, they’ve all make runs at different times,” he said.

“But as a unit we’re just not getting partnerships after the first one, really.

“We’re just losing wickets in blocks and having two new batsmen at the crease, which is always tough in Test match cricket.”

Former Test quick Ryan Harris says Australia have paid the price for moving the season opener away from traditional home fortress Brisbane.

Instead of braving a juicy Gabba deck, South Africa’s batsmen plundered a total of almost 800 runs at the WACA.

Australia are under pressure to perform in the second Test in Hobart starting on Saturday after slumping to their fourth straight loss.

“It’s very unusual. It’s foreign ground for us – we haven’t done it for a long time,” Harris said of Australia’s horror start to the series.

“That’s what happens when you move away from the Gabba, where we have had so much success, which they probably shouldn’t have done in the first place.”

Harris doesn’t want to see selectors make the same mistake and make major changes before the second Test.

Some will be forced.

Opener Shaun Marsh (finger) and seamer Peter Siddle (back) are already ruled out.

Batsmen Joe Burns and Callum Ferguson have flown to Hobart with Marsh out and a question mark over Adam Voges (hamstring).

Tasmanian quick Jackson Bird is on standby as cover with Siddle out but South Australia’s Joe Mennie is expected to make his Test debut in Hobart.

“They let themselves down with the bat (in Perth) and as per usual everyone (in the media) panics,” Harris said.

“The main thing is to keep stability in any side.

“You hear that you should drop that bloke or inject a new face. We don’t need that.

“There is no need to panic. I am sure we will bounce back.”

It’s about confidence

South Africa coach Russell Domingo, who helped his side recover from a subcontinent-induced slump in 2015, believes confidence will be key as Australia seek to square the three-Test series in Hobart.

Domingo’s contract was extended by Cricket South Africa in October but before that he was under immense pressure.

The Proteas last year failed to record a single victory from a two-Test tour of Bangladesh and ensuing four-Test tour of India.

They then suffered a 2-1 Test series loss to England at home, with the victory coming in a dead rubber after Hashim Amla resigned as captain.

South Africa relinquished the No.1 Test ranking and the heat was on Domingo to deliver. It’s exactly the sort of position Darren Lehmann will find himself in if Australia continue to struggle this summer.

“It’s about confidence,” Domingo said when asked about the hosts’ woes after their 177-run loss at the WACA.

“We came back from India and we took a beating there under tough conditions. A lot of players’ confidence was dented.

“We missed a couple of big players and when you have some players with low confidence and one or two top players not there, it makes things very hard.

“I am assuming they might be in that space at the moment.”

Domingo added it took “a bit of introspection to get out of that phase”.

“I don’t know what’s going on with their players and in their change room, but I know we were in that position a few months ago,” he said.

The series continues on Saturday when the second Test starts in Hobart, with the Proteas set to recall either Kyle Abbott and Morne Morkel in place of injured spearhead Dale Steyn, who will miss the rest of the series.

-AAP

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