Sport

Ashton Agar on his Ashes debut and 'the perfect moment'. By Geoff Lemon.
Credit: GETTY IMAGES / CRICKET AUSTRALIA

Back on deck: Ashton Agar, 21, cricketer

My first memory would be in my backyard. I remember wearing mum’s hockey shin pads, and my grandma throwing balls to me. I had this yellow wooden bat. One of my little brothers was being born at the time, so I might have been three.

I’ve always wanted to play cricket for Australia. At times during the winter I wanted to play footy for St Kilda, but cricket was the burning desire. It always felt so far away, then all of a sudden it was really close.

When I was batting at Trent Bridge [in the 2013 Ashes series] I was totally entrenched in the moment, and obviously I had Phil Hughes at the other end. Every ball he came down to me and said, “Focus on the next ball.” I had such a good time, and that’s why I played well, because I was really enjoying it.

It’s by far the most special moment of my life. And to have shared that with Phil, now that he’s gone, has made it that much more special. I don’t believe it would have happened without him at the other end. He batted like a genius. He got through a really tough time before that, when the ball was doing quite a bit, then he started scoring freely. I probably cost him a hundred to be honest. I owe a lot to him for that innings.

The best thing about cricket is you’ve got 10 other blokes on the field. You end up making your best mates from cricket. People say it’s an individual sport in a team environment, but you’re playing for each other out there. Then there’s the atmosphere of the crowd, the noise, the anxiety, it’s a massive roller-coaster, but at the end of the day it’s really fun. As a professional you live for the big moments.

The perfect moment is a massive cricket thing. Someone plays a perfect straight drive, or bowls a perfect off-break, and cricketers appreciate that because it’s the purest part of the game.

I’m still finding out what I want to do at university. We rely on our bodies, so if you get injured that can mean a career. If there’s something that interests you, it’s a distraction from the pressure. You feel less pressure studying because it feels like an achievement. We achieve a lot inside cricket, but not outside. If you don’t have that balance, you might grow to dislike the game. Then what happens?

People like intelligence as long as it’s used the right way. As long as you’re not arrogant, you’re not cocky. There are all types of intelligence: life smarts, book smarts, cricket smarts – they’re all well respected in the cricket community.

If you leave a positive legacy after you’ve played the game, that’s success. If you come out of the game with more mates than when you started, if you’re well respected as a person more than a player. Statistics are fantastic, but life’s important. This is what we do, we play cricket, but there’s the bigger picture.

You put your all into it, believe me. I love learning about the game, getting better. Every player wants to get better. I haven’t met one who doesn’t. It’s easy to sit down and type something on Facebook. It does hurt seeing players get criticised, especially on a personal level, and people have never met them, have no idea what they’re like, what might be going on behind the scenes. There’s a lot of judgement. We accept that. We have no choice. But it is disappointing sometimes.

I’m extremely competitive. It may not look like it all the time, because I smile, I show how much I enjoy the game, and that’s my character. Naturally I’m a little bit more relaxed. But I do get angry, I get frustrated, like anyone else.

I had a massive high at the start of my career, and the low was not performing for WA. I understand that people have it a lot harder than I do, and I really respect that. But you also have to acknowledge when you’re not feeling great. I did find it hard – being away from my family, not performing. But that’s normal. When I recognised that’s a natural emotion, I was fine. I’m better for that low time now, and better for that high time, because I know how to ride the wave.

This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on Sep 19, 2015 as "Back on deck". Subscribe here.

Geoff Lemon
is a writer and radio broadcaster.

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