May 022013

You don’t need a Pom who lived in Australia for 18 months to tell you that Australian cricketers are tough characters.

But as a Middlesex member who regularly watches the team, I can say that Chris Rogers certainly is.

As you all know, he is a bloke who has scored a double-century against his own country, and who made his Test debut the match after the maelstrom around the Harbhajan Singh and Andrew Symonds racism dispute.

That aforementiond innings of 209 came from only 219 balls for Leicestershire against an attack containing Brett Lee, Jason Gillespie and Stuart MacGill in the momentous summer of 2005.

It occurred only a few days before that gripping first Ashes morning at Lords, and gave him the kudos of featuring in the highest opening stand against Australia in England in nearly a century.

Not much ruffles him.

It can even be argued that a sledge from Matthew Hayden in a Pura Cup game in 1999 added to Rogers’ motivation in winning a baggy green.

With Chris batting in only his fifth first-class match he stroked an early boundary, then looked in the direction of his teammates in the pavilion. Unfortunately at that moment they happened to be less than animated.

Hayden then shouted that the opening bat couldn’t have had any respect from his teammates if no-one clapped.

The jibe may have stung but it also steeled him to ultimately becoming the 399th man to wear the famed baggy green, when he debuted in 2008 against India at the WACA.

Reflecting the teak toughness of the era Rogers was told “Don’t stuff up” prior to his disappointing display. He fell for 4 and 15, both times against man-of-the-match Irfan Pathan.

But, as you guys were ruling the world at the time with 16 wins on the trot up to his debut, Australia had players to burn, and to his disappointment he was discarded.

In an interview shortly after the game that saw the famous run ended by one of India’s finest wins, he said: “I do remember the pure elation of being picked and the soul-crushing disappointment of failure and losing. What happened in the middle still feels like it passed in the blink of an eye”.

It was to be his only Test – so far at least. When he lost his Australian contract at the end of that summer he was told to get more runs.

He did.

Duly scoring over 5000 first-class runs between 2008 and now, his actions were crowned by being recalled to the Australian Test squad for the forthcoming Ashes.

Incidentally as I have tickets to four out of the five forthcoming Ashes Tests including Lords, and having seen us being crushed in the flesh by one of your best ever vintages on the 2002/03 tour, I am withholding my opinion on your squad until I see them play in English conditions.

Having suffered in too many ways for too long at the hands of Australian cricket I would never dream of underestimating an Aussie Ashes team.

My first glimpse should be at Taunton late June (taking my eight-year-old son to our ICC group clash at Edgbaston doesn’t count, unless you view it as a pre Ashes marker similar to the 20/20 blitz down at Southampton in 2005).

Rogers has certainly proved that hard work pays off.

In Middlesex’s impressive return to Division One of the County Championship last season he hit 1,086 runs (ave 40.22). His three centuries and a score of 98 in a summer of appalling weather saw his efforts lift us to a notable third place.

An important 138 on the final day dashed Lancashire’s hopes in late May, on a pitch where 13 wickets had fallen the day before.

Against the eventual Champions Warwickshire, the week after the Olympics, he hit an important 109 at their Test match ground.

On that note, I have to say it is such a shame we won’t see any Ashes cricket played at Edgbaston this summer. Even with the ground being England’s bearpit, and memories of 2005 still fresh, money talks – as horsetrading and higher bids from other venues put paid to their hopes.

I am reminded of a visit to Lords in the summer of 2011 when Rogers scored a fluent 145 against promotion rivals Northamptonshire. They included an impish if ageing Chaminda Vaas, who took eight wickets in the game.

Rogers did not get out to him in either innings.

Chris is a pro with great experience of English conditions who has never let anyone down in the County game. He is still well-regarded at Derbyshire where he scored runs in a struggling side.

He was even given their captaincy during a fruitful 2008 summer. In 2006 he accumulated 1352 runs for Northamptonshire including a career-best 319 versus Gloucestershire.

Hayden, not for the first time, got his sledging wrong. Rogers is popular, down to earth, and even Middlesex supremo ‘Grumpy Gus’ Frasier is pleased for him, although that may be more to do with the fact that Chris may only miss four county matches during the Ashes.

That fact could be crucial in the Championship, as my beloved Middlesex have made a flying start with two wins out of two.

With the first Ashes Test at Trent Bridge only two months away, it has been instructive to see Rogers hit two 50s in an early victory away to strongly fancied Nottinghamshire. He also outscored a certain EJM Cowan who is currently playing for Notts.

Recalling an opener with a solitary cap who has faced only 27 balls in Test cricket to be in contention to play in the unforgiving intensity of an Ashes series may not be the way I remember Australian selectors doing business.

Yet as ‘Buck’ told Cricinfo after his only Test, “I prayed I would get at least one more chance to sing the winning song and prove to myself I belonged in Test cricket.”

As an England fan who has sat with the Barmy Army in Oz, I want nothing more than to see Buck failing in his ambition to sing the Southern Cross, in your next ten Tests at any rate.

But as a Middlesex follower and cricket lover, in salute of one of the county game’s unsung heroes, I wish you luck Chris. I really do.

First Posted 03 May, 2013 2:41PM AEDT

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