Mitchell Starc’s hopes of playing in his home Test have been given a boost by reports of a well-grassed SCG square, as spinner Ashton Agar declared he was ready for another recall to the baggy green.
Starc’s and Agar’s chances of lining up in Sydney hinge largely on the type of pitch prepared by first-year curator Adam Lewis. The ground has not staged a Shield game this season but sported a lush centre for last week’s Big Bash League game between the Sydney Sixers and the Adelaide Strikers.
The SCG deck, under the watch of former curator Tom Parker, has been a mixed bag in recent years. The last Ashes Test played at the ground finished in three days, drawing criticism from Darren Lehmann for being too lively, while the strip produced the following year was derided for being too flat.
Adding to the unpredictability, has deployed spin twins the past two years at the venue, which has traditionally been the country’s best for slow bowlers.
“You don’t know what you’re going to get in Sydney. One day it could be green, one day it could spin a bit,” said captain Steve Smith, who rated a Shield pitch produced there last summer as poor.
Selector Mark Waugh has indicated the hosts are not committed to playing two spinners despite adding Agar to a now 14-man squad.
Starc’s hopes will rise if a pace-friendly wicket is produced but, with an important tour of South Africa in February, he is unlikely to be risked on an unresponsive surface for fear of aggravating a heel problem.
The left-armer started running again on Saturday but, with the team having New Years Day off, is unlikely to resume bowling until ‘s main training session on Tuesday.
If Starc were to play, he would almost certainly replace Jackson Bird, who failed to take a wicket in Melbourne, as part of a three-pronged frontline pace attack with support coming from all-rounder Mitchell Marsh.
A spin-friendly track would result in Agar returning for Bird. The left-armer’s selection ahead of Stephen O’Keefe for the second time in six months shows he is now clearly the country’s No.2 spinner.
Agar’s first-class record of 125 wickets at 39 is inferior to fellow left-armers O’Keefe and Jon Holland but aged 24 he is the youngest of the three and considered an investment for the future.
“Ashton Agar played in Bangladesh in the Test match there. He bowled pretty well. He is an emerging young cricketer, I think. He has got a lot of talent. We just stuck with him with continuity having played in Bangladesh,” Waugh said on Channel Ten.
“I think he is bowling pretty well at the moment even though it’s in T20 cricket. I think he is quite confident in the way he is bowling. He is a young guy. I think it’s a good opportunity to get him back into the Test make-up.
“I don’t know whether he will play. It will depend on the pitch, obviously. There is a lot of grass on the square at the SCG so it’s probably not a typical SCG square and maybe pitch but he is in the mix to play.”
Agar burst to prominence in the 2013 Ashes when the then 19-year-old made a stunning 98 on debut batting at No.11, but he has not kicked on. Now 24 and with 47 first-class games under his belt, Agar believes his game has developed.
“Definitely, I’ve just grown up a lot since then,” Agar said. “Life experience and cricket experience, as anyone does.
“I’m 24 now so I guess I’m still reasonably young but you can’t really say that anymore.
“The time’s now and I’m just going to give it a good crack.”
Agar says he is match-hardened despite having played only one Shield game this season after fracturing a finger on the one-day international tour of India in September.
“I bowled 50 overs in the first innings on a pretty unresponsive wicket but bowled tightly and picked up a few wickets so I’m confident with my red-ball form,” Agar said.