Nottingham: Ashton Agar probably doesn't know it, but he has big boots to fill.
In one sense he doesn't, as he became the 12th slow bowler Australia put out in a Test match after the exit of the great Shane Warne. Following in the footsteps of fellow left-arm spinners Michael Beer and Xavier Doherty should not be especially hard. Beer managed two Tests while Doherty will be hoping he can add to his four caps. In spinning terms, Agar, who has a Sri Lankan mother and rates Rangana Herath, Harbhajan Singh and R Ashwin highly, probably won't break a sweat going past some of those that came before him. (Complete coverage of the Ashes series)
But, as the first Australian teenager to debut in an Ashes game in 48 years, Agar will have his work cut out. He follows, albeit decades later, in the footsteps of Doug Walters, that larrikin batsman who loved a drink, a smoke, a game of cards and, more than any of those things, scoring runs. Stories of Walters' exploits are the stuff of legend, but 5357 runs from 74 Tests at an average of nearly 50 suggest that remembering Walters merely as a cheerful dasher is misplaced.
Where Agar's debut was understated, beginning with a forgettable low full toss that was crunched for four through cover by Jonathan Trott, Walters was a hero from the time he walked out to bat at the Gabba in 1965. Australia only made 443 in the first innings of that drawn Ashes Test, but 155 of those runs came from the blade of the young debutant. Walters followed this up with a hundred in his next Test, confirming that he was no flash in the pan.
Walters and Agar could scarcely be more different. When he was told of his selection for the Trent Bridge Test - in the understanding that the advance notice was only to allow his parents, Sonia and John, and brothers, Wesley and Will, to dash to Nottingham - Agar was as excited as any teenager would be when living out a dream, but kept his cool.
Walters, who is well known for having kept a bar open into the wee hours after being unbeaten on a hundred and going on to make 250 the next day, would be aghast to learn that Agar did not take a drink even on the day he picked up a hat-trick for Henley CC against North Mymms in the Home Counties Premier League in England in late May. Walters, who quit smoking at the ripe age of 64 after going through an estimated 785,300 cigarettes in four decades on the puff, might have been amused at the suggestion that Agar did not need any persuasion to concentrate on cricket to the exclusion of all else.
Although his first ball was a loopy offering, Agar settled quickly.
Tall for a spinner at over six feet, with the wiry athletic build of a fencer, a face that will have mums cooing and the hair of a shampoo-advert model, Agar lopes to the crease in a smooth canter that culminates in a straight-armed delivery of the ball that will have purists purring in delight. What's especially delightful is his ability to give the ball plenty of air despite being a tall man, something that cannot be achieved if you don't impart a lot of action with your fingers. A toddler can throw the ball up into the air, but it is the gift of being able to make the ball dip that allows spinners to get the ball temporarily above the eye-line of batsmen at Test level. Agar is blessed with this.
Seven wicketless overs for 24 runs hardly seems like something to write home about, but Agar's surprise elevation lacks the sense of desperation or wishful punting that has been the backdrop of many of Australia's recent choices of slow bowlers.
One reason for that is the presence of Darren Lehmann, the new Australian coach, who was himself a canny if underrated slow-left arm orthodox bowler. Agar's elevation may not be so much a verdict against Nathan Lyon, but the product of a clear-thinking coach who has the backing of the chief of the National Selection Panel, John Inverarity (coincidentally also a tall, left-arm spinner as Agar is) without the muddling input of a captain who has bigger fish to fry at the moment.
"Ashton was nervous today as you'd expect of a kid making his debut in an Ashes game," said Lehmann of Agar. "As the wicket wears, he'll come into the game more and more. As kids you aspire to wear the baggy green and you could see he had a tear in the eye when Glenn McGrath presented him his cap. It's a big moment for him. I've seen him bowl a lot last year in Shield cricket and I think he's an outstanding prospect. He knows he has a lot of work to do and that's ok. We were happy to take the chance with him with all their right-handers."
Right-handers or not, there was something about Agar that suggested that he belonged. The wider world may need a bit more convincing, and this will come in time, but as Lehmann put it, "he can bowl."