Agar, the opener, wants to 'thrive than survive' as Australia seek right balance

Also included: the story of how the allrounder found inspiration for his bowling in the middle of a hip hop concert

Ashton Agar opened for the first time in T20I cricket  •  Cricket Australia via Getty Images

Ashton Agar opened for the first time in T20I cricket  •  Cricket Australia via Getty Images

Ahead of Australia's five-match T20I series against Sri Lanka, in their return to the format since memorably lifting last year's World Cup, a bold plan was hatched for allrounder Ashton Agar to open the batting.
Having played just one match during the championship run, Agar was told by Australia's brains trust that an opportunity might present itself at the top of the order as they gear up for a T20 World Cup title defence on home soil in eight months time.
The 28-year-old had never opened in international cricket before - he made just 2, batting at No. 3 against New Zealand in a T20I in 2018 - and had little success in the role for Perth Scorchers briefly in 2013. He has, however, opened in club cricket in Perth and in the past, publicly campaigned for the gig at Scorchers.
Agar, generally a No. 7 or No. 8 whose clean striking is perfect for finishing innings, consulted Australia T20 captain Aaron Finch and Marcus Stoinis, who opens the batting for Melbourne Stars, about how to tackle the promotion.
"(Their) main message was not to over-complicate things," Agar said. "Stay still and play good shots. Trust your swing as much as you can."
With frontline spinner Adam Zampa rested for the third match against Sri Lanka in Canberra, Agar got his chance and opened the batting alongside Ben McDermott. Earlier, he delivered a trademark strangling job with the ball, where he picked up 1 for 14 off four overs to replicate his usual deeds with BBL champion Scorchers.
It didn't quite go to plan with the bat as Agar made just 13, but he gave a glimpse of his hitting ability with a six over deep midwicket off menacing spinner Maheesh Theekshana before being dismissed lbw next ball on review.
"My mind was racing given it was a new experience," Agar admitted. "I was a little nervous. It's a totally different experience with the ball swinging around in the powerplay.
"It's something new to think about, another area to improve on. It was fun."
'My mind was racing given it was a new experience. A totally different experience'
No. 7 Ashton Agar on opening the batting for Australia
The experiment might have felt left field, but it underlined Agar's versatility and provided another intriguing option for an Australian team seeking the right balance. Having so memorably announced himself with a record 98 at No. 11 on Test debut in the 2013 Ashes, Agar's batting has perhaps been under-utilised at the top level having scored three centuries in first-class cricket.
His all-round prowess could prove invaluable ahead of a challenging trio of tours to the subcontinent this year starting with Australia's historic visit to Pakistan next month. But if he is selected for the first Test starting on March 4, he knows it will be because of his left-arm spin.
"I'm going over there thinking that I'll get a chance to play the first Test if the wicket presents an opportunity to play three spinners," he said. "(My) inner feeling is that I'm ready. I feel like I'm bowling as well as I have."
Agar has only played four Tests with the last being in Bangladesh in September 2017, and earlier that year he found inspiration for his bowling in the unlikely surrounds of a hip hop concert in Perth.
"I remember watching one day this UK rapper, Loyle Carner, one of my favourite musicians," Agar said. "He was on the stage and owning the stage and it was beautiful, I thought 'this is so cool, he just has such a great presence' and we were all there to watch him.
"I was thinking to myself 'I'd love to do that' but at that moment I realised 'I've actually got the chance to do this all the time, every time I play cricket'."
From then on, Agar vowed to trust his gut instincts just like when he was a youngster and his experience - he's clocked up almost a decade as a professional cricketer - has made him feel more comfortable in what can be an uncompromising role.
"I'm not worried if a ball goes for four or six… (I'm) taking a positive approach to taking wickets," he said. "If I were to take the conservative route and just try to survive in this game, I think it would be a pretty miserable existence.
"It's much nicer to thrive than survive."

Tristan Lavalette is a journalist based in Perth