Chip Le Grand and Pia Akerman, in The Weekend Australian, 13 July 2013, where the title reads “Cricket’s new face, Ashton Agar, has a serene smile.”
THE face of Australian cricket has always been hard set. Ricky Ponting’s furrowed brow. Steve Waugh’s defiant stare. Allan Border’s stubborn resolve. The Chappells and their killer gleam. The new face of Australian cricket wears a broad smile that has captured the hearts of a sleep-deprived nation. That it shone as brightly in the moments after Ashton Agar got out for 98 as it did when he was chasing an improbable century on debut evokes Kipling’s famous line about triumph and disaster and treating those two imposters just the same. Back home in Melbourne, it reminded Agar’s high school maths teacher and cricket coach of the advice he gives every kid that takes block for De La Salle College. “You want the opposition to walk off the ground wanting to hate you but not having a reason,” says Marty Rhoden, a teacher and coach to all three Agar brothers. “He is so level-headed and grounded. You notice the first thing he did when he ran back on to the ground after taking off his pads was to go up to (his brothers) Will and Wes and apologise for getting out.”
As England discovered on a sun-baked pitch in Nottingham, 19-year-old Agar is something different from your usual Test newbie. Whether he holds his place in the team and goes on to have a long career will depend on his success at the bowling crease more than his anomalous status as the highest scoring No 11 in the history of the game.
But it is less what Agar did than the poise with which he did it that has everyone talking. “I was in tears,” says Maggie Lynch, a close family friend who has watched the Agar boys grow into young men. “I was so excited for him. But I was thrilled at how relaxed he looked. He has the most beautiful smile.”
Lynch has seen the same smile many times on the face of Ashton’s mother, Sonia, who for the past 10 years has done volunteer work for a program she runs at the Monash Medical Centre providing language and support for pregnant refugees.
Sonia moved to Australia from Sri Lanka when she was about 10 years old. Her parents were both strongly connected to Melbourne’s Sri Lankan community, Sonia less so, though she is renowned for the rich, spicy curries that draw her sons – and many of their friends – inside the house at mealtimes. Agar has inherited his mother’s passion for social justice. At his old high school, history teacher Kate McIlroy still uses a Year 9 assignment he completed on indigenous civil rights as a model for students.
International cricket can be a brutal, unforgiving sport, especially the way Australia prides itself on playing. Yet in Agar there was almost a serene quality to how he slapped the English bowlers around two nights ago. “That is exactly what he is like,” McIlroy tells The Weekend Australian. “You could see he was freaking out a bit, but he was gentle and he was calm and that was our experience of him at school.”
Gentle. Kind. Intelligent. And yet capable of bludgeoning a cricket ball high into the Trent Bridge stands. Justin Langer, the coach of Agar’s West Australian state team, describes him as the most natural young cricketer he has seen for a very long time.
“He’s so loose and relaxed,” Langer says. “His arms are like a hose in a swimming pool. All the great athletes, if you think about it, they’re really loose. That’s why he was able to play through the leg side, through the offside, play the hook shots, hit back over the top, and play along the ground. That’s always exciting. As long as he just stays loose and keeps smiling he’s got a huge future ahead of him.”
Agar’s past tells us a little of how he can play this way. His big backyard in Bentleigh, with its sandy loam soil and abundant sun, would have made a spectacular garden. Instead it has fielded countless family matches between John Agar, a talented cricketer, and his three boys Ashton, William and Wesley. William, 17, is school vice-captain of De La Salle College and captain of the First XI. Coach Rhoden says his immediate concern with Wesley, 16, is getting him to finish his maths homework but it will surprise no one if next year he also emerges as a school leader.
John Agar runs his own air-conditioning business, which he manages around his sons’ sport. Sonia Agar is heavily involved at the boys’ school. When Ashton turned 18 last year, he had a party with his mates in the backyard together with his mum and her friends, who were celebrating Sonia’s 50th.
Yesterday morning, Lynch received a short text message from Sonia, still flushed with the excitement and drama of Ashton’s first Test innings. It read simply: “Maggie, we are very blessed.”
With the Agars all in England, at the invitation of Cricket Australia, to be there for Ashton’s first Test, two wooden cricket bats yesterday stood guard outside the front door of the family home in a quiet street. An old set of stumps wrapped in duct tape sits surrounded by tennis balls in the front yard. Neighbours say the Agar boys also liked to play in the street and were well accustomed to retrieving the ball from one particular paperbark tree.
A short bike ride along the train track is the Agars’ second home, McKinnon Oval, where the local cricket club plays. Photos of the McKinnon under 14s team from the 2006-07 season reveals a beaming, slightly chubby boy in the front row. “He is longer and leaner than when he was a young fella, but he still has that same smile,” says Ken Clark, who coached Agar from when he was six until he left to play district cricket.
ALSO SEE “Aussie Born To Lankan Mom Makes Impact At Ashes,” in http://www.thesundayleader.lk/2013/07/14/aussie-born-to-lankan-mom-makes-impact-at-ashes/
DAVID CRUSE of St Sylvesters’ Kandy is a shining example of multi-cultural Australia. After migrating to Melbourne with his family and marrying Kathy the young married couple took over the KNOX TAVERN in Wantirna and made it into a thriving function centre and dining restaurant. In this capacity the Knox Tavern hosted countless Sri Lankan touring teams. Recently the Cruse couple sold out and their story took another romantic turn. The gossip is that they have set up house in Sri Lanka. David certainly invested in Kushil’s good works and is making a contribution in money and kind to the revival of sport in the north. It is quite apposite that he is featured standing next to Kushil and Skanda at Kilinochchi, with Skandakumar lauded as “Chief Guest.” For those in the dark Skandakumar of Royal College has retired to the hills after serving as a Director of George Steuart’s for many years. More to the point, he played cricket for the Tamil Union and Sri Lanka in the 1970s and also provided insightful commentary from the TV box in the 1980s — even putting Kim Hughes in his place during an on-field interview in 1981 (as I vividly recall).