Rogers and Smith seek Perth lift
Chris Rogers and Steven Smith have a few things in common, not least that 2013 has been a year of second chances for them. Smith was recalled to the Test side after two years out, Rogers for the first time in five years. Both scored their maiden Test hundreds on the Ashes tour of England and returned entrenched in the side having been among the team's better performers. And both have been outshone in this series by Michael Clarke, David Warner and Brad Haddin.
But there's one big difference as they prepare at the WACA, where both want to pull their weight with the bat. There could hardly be a better venue for Rogers, nor a more challenging one for Smith. As a Western Australia cricketer for ten years before moving to Victoria, Rogers piled up runs at the WACA and has made 13 first-class centuries there in his 3653 runs at 48.70. Smith's six first-class games there have yielded 172 runs at 17.20, making it his worst Australian venue.
There is a caveat, though. Batsmen can find it difficult to get used to the pace and bounce of the WACA, and after his first six games there Rogers was, like Smith, averaging below 20. In his seventh, something clicked, and he scored unbeaten centuries in both innings against South Australia, and never looked back.
"It's one of the hardest places in the world to bat but also one of the best, if you can negotiate the first 20 balls or so," Rogers said in Perth on Wednesday. "You can score 360 degrees on this wicket. Some grounds you can't. It's great cricket. You can play all the shots. It's exciting. Hopefully we can get through that new ball and we get a big score."
Smith would do well to speak to Rogers about how to adjust to the WACA, and specifically how to get through those difficult early stages. His first-class scores at the ground read 4, 0, 6, 8, 70, 7, 36, 19, 22, 0, and he knows that one of the keys to him succeeding in Perth will be to avoid the temptation of flashing early, and being prepared to leave the ball based on length.
"My game now is more suited to this wicket than it previously has been," Smith said. "My patience now has changed a bit. Going out there, it's pretty key to watch the ball closely and leave well early. That's going to be part of my game this week. I've heard from all the boys that it's one of the best places to bat in the world when you get in. Hopefully [I can] get through my first 30 balls and go from there.
"The bounce is always pretty consistent here in Perth, so it is one place where you can leave a lot on length. Their bowlers have bowled quite a shortish length so far in this series, we probably could have left a lot of balls that aren't going to be hitting the stumps. If they continue to bowl those lengths here it's going to be even easier to leave. Hopefully I can watch the ball closely and get through early and then be able to cash in later on."
One advantage Smith has over Rogers is he has at least played an Ashes Test at the WACA before, Australia's sole victory in the otherwise disastrous 2010-11 series. Rogers has played England XIs in Perth before, but never in a Test. In fact, it was against England that Rogers made his first-class debut at the WACA 15 years ago. On that occasion, the part-time offerings of Mark Ramprakash were sufficient to have him caught behind.
That must seem a world away for Rogers, now 36. In fact, his Test debut at the WACA against India nearly six years ago also seems an age ago. Back then, Rogers was a Western Australia batsman filling in for an injured Matthew Hayden, knowing full well that his appearance could be a one-off. Now, he returns as a Victoria cricketer established in the Test team, and perhaps about to play in a winning Ashes side.
"It feels a lifetime ago. It was a crazy time," Rogers said of his Test debut. "I can't really even remember much about it. I remember ripping my baggy green cap. It was too tight. The one I've got at the moment is my second one. It was a long time ago. Lots of things have changed.
"To be in this position, the mood in the camp to be so good, everyone's getting on so well, and to feel like we're accomplishing something, after losing so many Tests, now to be a part of something special is a great feeling.
"Back then even though I was 30, it still felt like it was the initial stages in my career in many respects. Now it's at the back end. I've got nothing to lose. If it all ends tomorrow then so be it. I've had an amazing time over the last few months so I'm just taking everything as a bonus and loving every minute of it."
Brydon Coverdale is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. He tweets here