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Feature

'It gives me flexibility' - Agar opts for freelance life while still committing to Australia

The spinner explains he decided not to take a domestic contract with WA to maximise playing opportunities globally while he remains intent on playing for Australia

Alex Malcolm
Alex Malcolm
20-Apr-2024
Ashton Agar picked up the second-most economical figures in the history of BBL, Sydney Thunder vs Perth Scorchers, BBL 2023-24, Sydney, January 9, 2024

Ashton Agar is going freelance after opting not to take a WA contract  •  Getty Images

Ashton Agar has become the latest Australian player to make the bold decision to become a freelance global gun-for-hire, and he couldn't be more excited about it.
But the 30-year-old says he remains committed to trying to play for Australia in all three formats, including Test cricket, and playing domestic cricket for Western Australia when he's available despite opting not to sign a state contract for 2024-25.
The decision was made following lengthy and collaborative consultations with WA's general manager of high performance Kade Harvey, WA coach Adam Voges, Australia coach Andrew McDonald and chairman of selectors George Bailey after Agar did not receive a Cricket Australia contract for 2024-25.
It was driven partly by the lack of cricket Agar played at the back end of last summer following the BBL. He found himself playing just three Marsh Cup games and grade cricket after the BBL finished in late January, as Corey Rocchiccioli had established himself as WA's No.1 Sheffield Shield spinner.
Agar did briefly head to South Africa to try and play as a replacement player in the SA20 but did not get an opportunity, before his contract with CA and WA meant he was required to return for the end of the Marsh Cup.
Not taking a domestic deal for next summer will free him up to play overseas during the Australian domestic season given he won't be under contract, as tournaments such as the SA20, the ILT20, the PSL and the BPL all fall in the summer window.
"The timing was right," Agar told ESPNcricinfo. "There's a lot of things that have been taken into account here. Obviously coming off my Cricket Australia contract and not playing the last couple of games for WA in the red-ball space and just assessing the cricket landscape over the last couple of years and seeing the way that cricket is trending and the way my cricket has been trending, this decision just made a lot of sense to me.
"To not take a state contract gives me the flexibility to take opportunities that may pop up around the world.
"It allows me to still play for Western Australia. But it doesn't lock me into just playing state cricket. And I think as someone with aspirations to play at the highest level, which is international cricket, for as long as possible, playing cricket as much as you can is the only thing that gets you there."
WA will still support Agar in terms of allowing him to be part of their squad when he is in Perth. He will have access to the facilities, coaches and medical staff, which is something he is incredibly grateful for.
"Playing for Australia doesn't mean you have to have a state contract at that time. You just need to be putting your best foot forward for whichever team you're playing for."
Ashton Agar is committed to play for Australia despite not taking a WA contract
He would also still be eligible for an upgraded state contract if he plays four Marsh Cup games and will still put his hand up to play Shield cricket if the opportunity arises.
"My chats with Kade Harvey and Adam Voges have been that whilst I'm not going to be a WA-contracted player, when I'm available to play one-day cricket, I'll still play one-day cricket for WA and they will support me as a WA cricketer," Agar said.
"I've been told I'm going to have that support network around me and I'm super grateful to Western Australia for allowing me to still have that privilege. That means a hell of a lot.
"I think the beauty of this decision, it allows me to be available for everything. Obviously, if there's a white-ball [franchise] opportunity that comes up I'm able to take that now. But if there isn't and I am available to play a Shield game for WA, of course I would take that opportunity. This decision is all about playing as much cricket as possible."
Agar feels no ill will towards Rocchiccioli's rise, especially after the offspinner has spoken emotionally and glowingly of Agar's influence on his own career. Despite making the choice to go freelance, Agar still wants to help the younger generation of WA spin bowling talent when he's around.
"I really love that role of trying to mentor guys like Corey Rocchiccioli, like Hamish McKenzie and even Cooper Connolly to an extent as well," Agar said. "It's something that's really exciting for me."
Agar has taken inspiration from Tim David who has forged an exceptional freelance career without holding an Australian domestic contract. David has become a staple of Australia's T20I side even after being allowed to miss what would have been his first series for Australia in early 2022 to fulfil a contract in the PSL.
Australia's current selection panel have shown they have no issues picking players who aren't part of the domestic system, with David making his ODI debut last year having played just one Marsh Cup game.
Agar's situation, however, is more akin to that of Matthew Wade who was able to mix Shield and Marsh Cup commitments for Tasmania in recent years with franchise opportunities, while still being part of Australia's T20I team including being a stand-in captain.
The selectors have also shown they are prepared to pick white-ball specialists for Test tours in certain conditions without playing Shield cricket. Glenn Maxwell was called up for the Sri Lanka tour in 2022 without playing Shield cricket and was very close to playing. Maxwell would likely have been on the India Test tour last year had he not broken his leg and he remains in the frame for the Sri Lanka Test tour next year despite not playing any Shield cricket last summer.
Agar has not played a first-class match since his last Test in January 2023. He did go on the tour of India but came home after not being selected for the first two Tests to get some games in for WA ahead of the ODI series. Rocchiccioli's emergence has made it difficult to find opportunities since.
Whilst Agar understands the realities of the decision to go freelance, he is confident that he would not be precluded from selection for an overseas Test tour even if he was not playing Shield cricket.
"My chats with Andrew McDonald and George Bailey have all been about playing as much cricket as possible," Agar said. "Playing for Australia doesn't mean you have to have a state contract at that time. You just need to be putting your best foot forward for whichever team you're playing for.
"Taking this step probably means I'm going to be playing a bit more white-ball cricket than red-ball cricket. And that's just the reality of this decision. But the Australian selectors have shown over recent history that they're willing to pick guys based on conditions and that's a really exciting thing.
"If there was a subcontinent tour and my skillset was required, and I was playing well at the time, then I think maybe I still would be a chance for that and that's quite an exciting proposition regardless of how much red-ball cricket I've played at the time."
Agar is essentially betting on himself and is invigorated about exploring what opportunities could come his way. He is currently preparing for the T20 World Cup at home in Australia and appears set to be part of Australia's 15-man squad as the second spinner alongside Adam Zampa. He did explore flying to India to train with an IPL franchise but the travel schedules of the teams made it too difficult.
He is hopeful of potentially signing an MLC or Hundred deal for later in the year but now also has the flexibility to sign deals in the SA20, ILT20, BPL or PSL either side of his BBL deal with Perth Scorchers.
He is also working hard on his batting with personal batting coach Viv Paver and WA's batting coach Beau Casson to become a true allrounder in T20 cricket. Agar's batting potential has been evident since his stunning 98 on Test debut in 2013. His best BBL innings, 68 off 34 in 2016, came batting at No. 5 and he has even opened the batting for his country in two T20Is in 2022, as Australia looked for ways to find him a role in the top seven to give them a fifth specialist bowler in the XI.
He said he learned a lot from that experience and has taken inspiration from watching Sunil Narine's late-career batting renaissance in the IPL this season.
"I love seeing him opening the batting and playing with such freedom," Agar said. "I think we've actually got quite similar bat swings. Getting that opportunity would probably be the next step. Having a real crack at the top of the order would be something I'd love to do. But there's a hell of a lot of work that has to go in into that.
"I really think I can bring value to teams with the bat. But it's up to me to keep putting in the work. This opportunity now gives me the chance to specialise a little bit more: take it away from the red-ball style of batting and really get specific on what I need to do to be a really effective hitter in white-ball cricket all throughout the order."

Alex Malcolm is an associate editor at ESPNcricinfo