Thursday, 18 August 2022

We?re so proud of our Ashes star

Last week, Henley Cricket Club, Brian Kenworthy's phone wouldn't stop ringing as one of his players made history in the Ashes at Trent Bridge.

AS chairman of Henley Cricket Club, Brian Kenworthy is usually preoccupied with making sure its home ground is not under water or the toilets haven?t broken.

Last week, his phone would not stop ringing as one of his players made history in the Ashes at Trent Bridge.

Ashton Agar, 19, broke the all-time Test record for the highest score by a number 11 batsman after earning a last-minute call up for the Australian squad for the Test series against England.

Mr Kenworthy, 52, said it marked a ?meteoric? rise for the left arm spin bowler, who played three league games for Henley earlier this season.

?We?re very proud of Ashton and it?s wonderful that a guy who was at our club, albeit for only a few matches, is now playing Test cricket,? he said. ?It?s great for the guys in our team who have rubbed shoulders with him. It?s amazing how popular we?ve become as a club since his stunning debut.?

Agar arrived in England in May as part of an exchange training programme facilitated by Hampshire Cricket Club.

He was one of six academy players to be brought over for the summer to gain experience in the Home Counties Premier League and was selected at random to join Henley.

Mr Kenworthy, who lives near Abingdon, said: ?We were asked what we wanted and we said a spin bowler.

?There were two spin bowlers so they drew it out of a hat and we were lucky enough to get Ashton.

?When I got the call from Hampshire saying he was coming I said ?fantastic? but I didn?t know at that point who Ashton was or how good he was.?

Mr Kenworthy carried out some research on his performance statistics and also followed Agar?s progress when he was part of the Australia squad that toured India in February.

He said: ?He played a game for Australia against India A and on the first day he bowled he didn?t get any wickets and got smacked out the ground.The next day he got three wickets and it showed he had good character.?

Mr Kenworthy, who first met Agar at Hampshire?s Rose Bowl ground, lent him an Audi A3 so he could travel to Henley from his Southampton base on Tuesdays and Thursdays for practice and Saturdays for matches.

He said Agar, who was nicknamed ?Scotty? for his resemblance to Australian golfer Adam Scott, was a ?very nice guy? and fitted into the Henley changing room seamlessly.

Mr Kenworthy said: ?He was very laid back and friendly. It?s very easy for a guy from Australia to come over and be arrogant but he never gave it the big ?I am?.

?There wasn?t an opportunity to do much with him but we got to know him a bit over the month he was with us.

?Everyone got on with him. There was a joke that the other Australian players were being lent old bangers but he was getting an Audi. It just so happened I had this car that wasn?t going to be used for the summer.?

Following his first practice session with the first team, the squad went for a meal at Strada in Bell Street. He also stayed at captain Bjorn Mordt?s house the night before one match.

Mr Mordt, 35, said: ?He?s such a nice kid and what he?s done has been fantastic. Ashton plays the game in the right spirit and he?s a level-headed guy.

?He fitted into our team straight away and helped coach some of the youngsters. It was a privilege to work with him.

?When he came round we had dinner on a Friday night. He was very quiet and unassuming but he talked about his mum and dad a lot.

?Ashton took his cricket very seriously. He never drank alcohol, it was all about training hard.

?He found England cold in the beginning and he always had a long jersey on ? even when others were warm he was still freezing.

Agar?s first game for Henley was in a friendly against Aston Rowant, in which he took two wickets and hit 54 runs, his highest total for the club.

He would go on to take seven wickets in his three league games against High Wycombe, Welwyn Garden City and North Mymms.

In the last match he took a hat-trick of wickets, all by leg before wicket decisions.

Mr Mordt, from Zimbabwe, admitted he had never seen a player achieve a hat-trick in a game he had been involved in.

He said: ?I?ve seen them on TV but never while playing cricket. That was probably the highlight of his Henley career.

?It wasn?t a matter of if he was going to play for Australia, it was just when.

From his Henley days I could see he could bat but he?s probably exceeded his own expectations. It?s a shame he couldn?t get 100 ? that?s the first time I?ve ever wanted Australia to get a century!?

Agar, who batted at number five for Henley, had a bowling average of 12-and-a-half runs per wicket and conceded three-and-a-half runs per over.

Mr Kenworthy said they were very good statistics, adding: ?He was a very useful addition to the side. He bowled in all three league games but only batted once.

?He bowled well but he wasn?t necessarily a standout player.? Agar left the club at the end of May to join the Australian A squad and Mr Kenworthy said he had followed his progress since then.

But he admits he was shocked when he found out one of his former players had been selected in the Test squad on the eve of the opening day.

Journalists had been struggling to research Agar?s background when they were pointed in Henley?s direction by former England captain Alec Stewart, who knew club officials after speaking at the club?s annual dinner at Phyllis Court Club.

Mr Kenworthy said: ?I was at my desk when I got a call from John Nelson, our president, telling me the news. We were as surprised as anyone when it was announced he was making his Test debut.

?I think at some point we thought he would and he was clearly in their thoughts because of his selection in the Australia A squad and playing with the Test squad in India.

?Being 19, the thing that?s more surprising is he?s a spin bowler ? they have to learn their trade so they are usually a little bit older than batsmen before they make their debut.

?Before he joined Henley I read a report online by an Australian national paper saying it would be totally wrong to pick him for the Test squad at this stage because it wouldn?t be fair on him.

?It said the risk was that rather than developing him it would spoil him. That made me think maybe he won?t make the squad.?

Agar quickly went from an unknown quantity to a household name when he hit 98 runs on Thursday last week to break the Test record for a number 11 by three runs.

Earlier in the day, he had broken the record for the highest number of runs by a last man on Test debut.

He also surpassed the record 10th wicket partnership, which was 154.

Mr Kenworthy said: ?It?s been a meteoric rise for him. What proved it for me was when all these hardened sports writers were rushing around asking who he is ? he wasn?t on their radar.

?Initially we were disappointed we were losing him to Australia A but we?re delighted with how he?s done.?

Mr Kenworthy admitted he found himself temporarily supporting the Aussies. He said: ?I?m an England fan but I wanted him to get his 100.

?I might never get the chance to get a Test match century again and it?s a real shame he didn?t get those two extra runs.?

Mr Kenworthy said the media attention was not something he expected when he took over the role from Paul Bradbury last summer.

He added: ?I was more concerned about the grounds being under water again or the toilets being broken.

?I never expected someone who had played for us was playing for Australia in the Ashes.?

Agar coached his Henley teammate Gurveer Singh, another left arm spin bowler, during his time at the club.

Mr Singh, 21, said: ?He was a very positive and enthusiastic young kid but very disciplined. We?re similar types of bowlers, although he?s taller than me. But because he had played at such a high standard of cricket he had a very good insight into how to play the game.

?He told me to settle my nerves down when you are bowling and also to be brave, not being afraid to toss it.?

Mr Singh, who is in his second season at the club, said it was a great feeling watching his former teammate breaking records.

He said: ?I was like ?wow, that?s unbelievable?. First of all he?s 19 and playing for Australia but for him to have played for Henley was brilliant.

?I play for this club and I can?t believe Ashton Agar was part of it.?

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