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At 35, Simon Katich was pensioned off after an Ashes series. At 35, Chris Rogers was recalled for one. He is making the most of his unexpected second chance.
December 29, 2013
Chappell: Australia persevered and England wilted
"The Man of the Match is ... Mitchell Johnson."
So said Mark Nicholas on Channel Nine's post-match presentation on the MCG outfield. Mitchell Johnson, again. Not Chris Rogers. More than a few onlookers at the ground turned to their neighbours with querying looks. It was not that Johnson was an unworthy winner - he took eight wickets including the match-turner, Alastair Cook lbw for a fluent 51 in the second innings. But Rogers is the feelgood story; many of the fans wanted him recognised.
Nearly 40,000 of them had treated Rogers to a standing ovation when he drove through cover to bring up his century. He raised his bat, soaked up the adulation. This was a man who last year was nearly axed from Victoria's contract list, not because of his performances but because at nearly 35 he was not considered a likely Australian player. The focus of some state teams has shifted from winning competitions to producing international cricketers.
And really, who'd have thought in the 2012 winter that Rogers would ever play international cricket again? A year earlier, Simon Katich had been moved on by the national selectors as they looked to younger batsmen. Ricky Ponting and Michael Hussey were still around. Even Rogers himself was starting to think of a coaching career. But Hussey and Ponting retired, and a senior batsman was desirable for this year's Ashes tour. Rogers fell into favour and into the team.
In England this year, Rogers often pulled out as the bowler was running in, distracted by the merest hint of movement in the region of the sightscreen. The running joke was that he was used to playing in empty stadiums, not before Ashes crowds. Fifteen years as a state and county pro conditions you to certain things. Slowly, Rogers is becoming more accustomed to being the centre of attention. He was the highest scorer in a Boxing Day Test that brought 271,865 spectators across the four days.
His 116 was his 64th first-class century - Michael Clarke and Shane Watson combined haven't made that many. Rogers delivered Australia into a position from which they could not lose this Test. The target of 231 was potentially tricky; Rogers made sure 200 of them were scored before he fell. Notably, he batted with intent and did not become bogged down like Michael Carberry did for England on day three, or like Rogers himself has in some innings.
Rogers' late cutting was deft and deliberate, helped by Alastair Cook's reluctance to post a third man. His short-arm jabs through the leg side were productive. He raced through the 90s in 12 deliveries; in Chester-le-Street this year he spent a nervous 19 balls on 96 before reaching his maiden Test century. The coach Darren Lehmann said after the Melbourne Test it was the best Rogers had batted since the Old Trafford Test - before his Chester-le-Street ton. In Manchester, like Melbourne, Rogers was positive.
His hundred came from 135 balls and even included an upper cut over the cordon for four. "Yeah yeah yeah!" Rogers called whenever he pushed balls through midwicket or cover, which was often. Modern bats and modern batsmen can make mis-hits fly away for boundaries; Rogers' bat sounds as clunky as Dennis Lillee's aluminium version. His 116 featured ten threes; only five were scored by the rest of Australia's batsmen combined throughout the Test.
The cover-drive that Rogers struck on 98 reached the boundary and even he seemed surprised, for he ran the first two hard to make sure of the hundred. There was excitement and relief, for Rogers had been dropped on 19 when he edged Stuart Broad between the keeper and first slip. He also had a scare on 81 when the ball lodged between his leg and the flap of his pad, and in turning around he flicked it near his stumps. It would have been a dead ball, but was a nervy moment nonetheless.
Rogers has found some odd ways to get out already since returning to the Test team, notably his lbw off a rank Graeme Swann full toss at Lord's. But Rogers will end 2013 as the only Australian batsman besides Michael Clarke (and the retired Hussey) with a Test average of 40-plus for the year. He seemed destined to be a one-Test wonder when he played against India in 2008. Since his recall, Rogers has made 700 runs at 41.17 with two hundreds and five fifties.
He is lucky. At 35, Katich was pensioned off after Australia's home Ashes debacle, which was far from his fault. At 35, Rogers was recalled for an Ashes tour at a time when Katich was still piling up county runs. One awkward-looking veteran opener eventually replaced another. Rogers is the proof that Katich was unlucky, that age no longer seems to matter.
But fate has landed Rogers here and will soon send him to South Africa. Beyond that, who knows? The next Ashes is only 18 months away and Rogers could be there. Stranger things have happened. He may even pick up a Man of the Match award along the way.
Brydon Coverdale is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. He tweets hereFeeds: Brydon Coverdale
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