Marsh Sheffield Shield 2019-20
Agar following in footsteps of greatness in breakout summer
South Australia bowler Wes Agar has transformed into a lean, mean, wicket-taking machine this summer and is now a key figure in the Redbacks pace attack
13 February 2020, 06:23 PM AEST
A meeting with fitness trainer Stephen Schwerdt on the opening day of South Australia's pre-season in June was the moment an overweight Wes Agar had been dreading.
"I rocked up the first day and he said, 'Give us a look under the bonnet'," the fast bowler told cricket.com.au. "I was a bit reluctant to lift my shirt up. He had a look and just nodded.
"He said, 'A bit to go'."
That was eight months ago. Agar has since shed six-and-a-half kilograms and more than 30mm of body fat. More importantly, his more athletic frame has allowed him to take more wickets this summer than (51 @ 21.25) any other bowler across all three male domestic competitions. His Redbacks coach Jamie Siddons this week likened him to Pat Cummins.
On Monday, he followed in the footsteps of Ricky Ponting, Brett Lee, Matthew Hayden and David Warner in being awarded the prestigious Bradman Young Cricketer of the Year award.
"You stand there hearing the names of the people who have won the award before me and you almost feel a bit out of your depth," Agar said.
That has a been a constant theme for the recently-turned 23-year-old who, before this breakout summer and even during it, has struggled to convince himself he is good enough to make it as a professional cricketer.
Like his older brother Ashton, Wes grew up in Melbourne but moved interstate as a teenager for an opportunity at state level. He headed to Adelaide as a 17-year-old, which paid off in the form of a berth in Australia's 2016 Under-19 World Cup squad (which ultimately withdrew from the tournament in Bangladesh due to safety concerns) and a rookie contract with South Australia.
Agar was touched by the welcome he received from the Redbacks.
"South Australia has a knack for making players who aren't necessarily from there feel like they're at home," he said. "It's a really close brotherhood between a lot of the players."
But after showing glimpses of his immense potential when he took eight wickets in five games in his debut 50-over campaign, he moved home to Melbourne for personal reasons at the end of the 2016-17 season.
Victoria, too, saw Agar's upside. After training with the squad and impressing in Premier Cricket for Melbourne University, his native state added him to their contract list for the 2018-19 summer.
But it just didn't feel right for Agar who, after playing a pair of one-day games for Victoria, was benched for their game against his former side.
"Nothing against Victoria, but it didn't feel like home for me. Being there just didn't feel right," said Agar, who remained part of the Adelaide Strikers squad in the KFC Big Bash after his departure from SA.
"It hit me hard when we played a one-dayer against South Australia, that they actually beat us in, I was sitting there watching and it felt like watching my brothers play against me.
"That just didn't sit right with me. From there I realised where I wanted to be and where I wanted to play my cricket was in South Australia."
Agar gladly accepted a contract from the Redbacks ahead of the ongoing season. An important milestone achieved, but his date with Schwerdt – a former Australian rules footballer with the Adelaide Crows turned feared strength and conditioning guru – was a swift reality check.
"He is unbelievable in getting people not only fit, but motivated to be fit and stay fit and be healthy," said Agar. "He struck a note with me over a couple of chats and it really kicked me into gear to get fitter, to get moving, and luckily I have.
"He used the example of if you have a backpack and you put some extra weight in it, how much harder it is to run for a long period of time?
"In four-day cricket you're carrying that extra weight for so much longer. You can get away with it in T20 and one-day cricket but in four-day cricket it just gets you.
"He worked me hard – he makes you want to work hard because of the praise he gives you when you do work hard. We're getting paid a lot of money to do what we love and we almost owe it to the game and ourselves to be in the best condition we can be."
A slimmer Agar took 11 wickets in SA's Marsh One-Day Cup campaign, topping World Cup squad members Kane Richardson and Adam Zampa despite playing two fewer games, and forced his way into the Sheffield Shield side.
His dual abilities to trouble top-flight batsman with his pace for extended periods and move the ball off the wicket have proved lethal, snaring 23 scalps at 21.34 to sit equal-second on the leading Shield wicket-taking charts heading into the back-end of the season, which resumes Friday.
"He's a bit like Cummins so it's pretty exciting," Siddons said ahead of SA's Shield clash with Western Australia. "He's around that pace and he just doesn't miss the length.
"We loved that about him before he left for Victoria, and we were very happy to have him back.
"We thought that might be a few years down the track, so he's progressed really quickly … He's probably still a year or two away from his best."
Wes's success has not diminished the frequency of him seeking advice from Ashton, whose own extraordinary introduction to international cricket makes him uniquely qualified to take queries on how to handle pressure.
In turn, Wes has this summer twice dismissed the brother three years his senior, as well forcing him to get stitches on the bridge of his nose after innocuously hitting a ball that left Ashton with blood streaming from his face in a Marsh Cup game.
"I've had his number a few times this year," laughed Wes. "He's been a great big brother and a great mentor."
And while Siddons says he sees a bit of Cummins in his star quick, Agar has based his game off a different Australian paceman.
"Personally, I love the way Josh Hazlewood goes about his cricket," he said. "I love his run-up and ball trajectory off the wicket and the way he gets the ball to carry and nip off the seam.
"I like to model myself off his game. If I could be half as good as any of those blokes, I'd be a very happy man."
Wes Agar, 2019-20 season
Marsh Sheffield Shield
M: 5 | Wkts: 23 | Ave: 21.34 | BB: 5-53 | Econ: 2.57 | SR: 49.7 | 5wi: 1
Marsh One-Day Cup
M: 5 | Wkts: 11 | Ave: 20.72 | BB: 5-40 | Econ: 5.30 | SR: 23.4 | 5wi: 2
M: 12 | Wkts : 17 | Ave: 21.47 | BB: 4-33 | Econ: 8.90 | SR: 14.4