Ashton Agar has declared the time has come to forge a permanent spot in Australia's one-day line-up a year out from the World Cup.
Agar, 24, remains in the bubble of Test and one-day international selection but has yet to enjoy a consistent berth either as a frontline spinner or as a spinning all-rounder.
He famously made 98 on Test debut at No.11 at Trent Bridge in 2013 but has managed only three Tests since, including the two on the short tour of Bangladesh last year. The last of his four one-day internationals was against India in Indore last year.
Former selector Mark Waugh has long appreciated Agar's all-round skills, and he is firmly in contention for next year's World Cup in England, having been selected for next month's five-match one-day series in England. However, there is a strong internal challenge before him now that Nathan Lyon, arguably the world's best Test spinner, has been given another chance in the 50-overs arena.
A strong series, beginning on June 13 at The Oval, would help the West Australian's claims for selection for the Test series against Pakistan in the United Arab Emirates in October. What is in his favour is that new coach Justin Langer knows his game as well as anyone.
"Definitely performing well can help your chances for tours that come after this. I just have to do everything as well as I can," Agar told Fairfax Media.
"I actually like having two spinners there because you can bounce off each other, you can work together and you know someone always understands what you are doing. We (he and Lyon) have quite a good understanding of how each other goes about their business. If anything, it's a positive having another spinner there."
The Melbourne-born left-arm spinner has improved with the ball in recent years, and says he has greater "game awareness", whether that be control and consistency or understanding the conditions and opposition batsmen. Injury played a role in restricting Agar to only four Sheffield Shield matches last summer (12 wickets at 37.75) but he will head into camp in Brisbane with several of his England-bound teammates this week, ready for what he hopes will be a major year in his career.
Agar felt he had reached a critical juncture last year, and that remains the case.
"I sort of said that to myself before the Bangladesh Test tour – I realise that was a really big opportunity for me. I had been given a CA contract. I knew that was an important point in my career. I just had that feeling. People always tell you that you are young and that sort of stuff, but I guess I have been around for a little while now in domestic cricket and I have been fortunate enough to play a few games for Australia. The time really is now," he said.
"There is no point thinking about age or anything like that. From when I was 19 when I played my first Test to 24, that's gone really quickly. But the good thing is, there has been a lot of cricket between then, a lot of experience."
When questioned whether he sees himself as a specialist spinner or all-rounder, Agar maintains "that is a really hard question to answer".
"Whatever I say I am, you really can be … what I really want to be is just an all-rounder and someone who could fill that frontline spinning role and someone who could play a role with the bat as well and in the field. I am just trying to be a cricketer that can be used in any situation," he said.
Agar was one of four spinners chosen on the Test tour of India last year but did not play. That opportunity came in Bangladesh. He claimed five wickets through two innings in Dhaka in Australia's shock 20-run defeat, but barely bowled in the second innings in Chittagong, when Lyon and Steve O'Keefe bowled the tourists to victory. He was 12th man for the SCG Ashes Test last summer but overlooked for the ill-fated Test tour of South Africa, when Victorian left-armer Jon Holland joined Lyon.
Agar maintains he is not the "finished product" but would have the "inner voice" and confidence required to carry the spinning hopes should they come his way.
"You just have to be ready. You have no choice, and that really comes down to self belief. When I am going well, I know I can do that. I just need to believe that in myself. I think I have built up a good amount of self confidence … if I was called upon to do that, I would certainly back myself to do that," he said.
Jon Pierik is a sports writer with The Age, focusing primarily on AFL football, cricket and basketball. He has won awards for his cricket and basketball writing.
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