Historic hat-trick and sweet revenge for Aussies
ASHES golden boy Ashton Agar now has a second signature moment to his career - a spectacular Twenty20 international hat-trick against South Africa at The Wanderers.
But what sets Saturday morning's stunning personal triumph apart from his unforgettable Test debut as a 19-year-old against England is the mental toughness and self-belief Agar has had to muster since becoming an overnight sensation nearly eight years ago.
Consistently chopped and changed out of international teams across all formats and often criticised for his performances at the top level, Agar took a brilliant five-wicket haul against the South Africans, including just the second T20 hat-trick by an Australian - proof that the good-looking, cereal box kid is a cricketer of real substance.
Often written off by detractors as a favourite child of the selectors, Agar has built up a resilience he isn't given much credit for - and his figures of 5-24 in a crushing 107-run stampede of South Africa was just reward for the journey he's been on since being thrust into the spotlight before he was ready.
For that reason, Agar says you can't compare his magical 98 on Test debut at Trent Bridge to Saturday morning's slice of bowling history.
"I don't think you can compare them both, but the feeling is the same," said Agar, who smacked an unbeaten 20 off nine as well in Australia's total of 6-196 batting first.
"You're just really happy.
"I am a bit lost for words really. It's a great feeling, it's a feeling you always wanted to have when you were a kid growing up. Doing it out there at a pretty intimidating ground, and against a good team, was really special.
"I've massively had to (develop resilience). That's always the biggest challenge for someone in international cricket. When you're in and out - just to keep putting yourself out there. You have to believe in yourself at the end of the day because you are the only person you have when you're performing out there.
"You have your teammates but only you can perform your true skill ... I guess I've just tried to keep putting myself out there and doing the best I can."
Best figures for @CricketAus in T20Is ✅— Cricket Australia (@CricketAus) February 21, 2020
First international hat-trick ✅
Only the second Aus T20I hat-trick & the first for 13 years ✅
20* from nine balls ✅
Player of the match ✅
Getting the match ball as a souvenir ✅
A decent night for Ashton Agar in Johannesburg!#SAvAUS pic.twitter.com/pjGhhhgC9J
Agar believes he could do a job for Australia in their Test series in Bangladesh later this year, but admits he feels he's behind Queenslander Mitchell Swepson and even NSW veteran Steve O'Keefe in the pecking order to join Nathan Lyon as a second spinner.
Saturday morning's much-hyped clash in Johannesburg was supposed to be about David Warner and Steve Smith's return to hostile South Africa for the first time since Sandpapergate.
Instead the Proteas were embarrassingly bowled out for 89 to illustrate the extent to which the two teams have traded places in the nearly two years since one of cricket's most infamous moments.
Agar's hat-trick was just the 13th in the history of international T20s and the second by an Australian since Brett Lee way back in 2007.
The West Australian's rampage started when he had South Africa's key batsman Faf du Plessis caught on the boundary by Kane Richardson, before following up next ball with a delivery that trapped Andile Phehlukwayo plumb lbw.
Then Agar was pinpoint perfect a third time when he took Dale Steyn's outside edge.
The ball snuck past wicketkeeper Alex Carey's gloves, before the left mit of captain Aaron Finch stuck out and nabbed a brilliant catch.
"Unbelievable," Agar said of his skipper's grab.
Agar has previously spoken about the mental challenges he's faced, and revealed the influence an Indian superstar had on Saturday morning's heroics.
"I had a wonderful chat with Ravindra Jadeja after the Indian series (last month)," said Agar.
"He's my favourite player in the world - I want to play cricket like he does. He's an absolute rock star - smacks them, gun fielder and spins the ball. But it's just his presence when he's out there.
"Watching him fielding with confidence, and then just talking to him about spin bowling - how he keeps trying to spin the ball, and when he's batting he has a really positive attitude too.
"I was pretty inspired by talking to him. I've got good people around me. I've got a wonderful fiancee, she's very supportive, and I have a great family, I'm very lucky. They're able to keep me really level."
Warner smashed his first ball back on South African soil for four, before he was out second ball of the innings.
Smith should have followed him for a duck, but made the most of an inexplicable fielding mishap from Dale Steyn to post a rapid 45 off 32 which, along with Finch's 42 off 27, set the tone for the night.
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