Worth the wait for Chris Rogers
About a year ago, Chris Rogers sat on the Lord's balcony and pondered his future in Australia. More to the point, he pondered whether there was one. Told he was unlikely to gain a Victoria contract at the age of 34, Rogers began considering options in other states and even overseas: South Africa or New Zealand loomed as possible destinations to prolong his undersung first-class career.
Rogers had long given up serious thoughts of an Australia recall. His one Test, against India in January 2008, receded half a decade into the distance. Though prolific as ever for Middlesex, he was now contemplating the end of his days walking out to bat in his home country. As Rogers put it, "There's been such a strong push for youth for a period of time that I felt like I was being pushed out the back door a little bit."
But then a strange thing happened. He received word that the national selector John Inverarity, in England for Australia's ODI tour, wanted to talk to him. A phonecall and a meeting followed. Cricket in England was discussed, and Australia. Thoughts were shared on various players, numerous trends.
It was the first time Rogers had heard from a member of the national selection panel since the brief call five years ago telling him he would debut in Perth as an injury replacement. The conversation with Inverarity wasn't a call-up, or even the promise of one. But it was contact. For the first time in years, Rogers dared to hope again. Victoria soon came calling with a contract offer; pastures new could wait.
"The chat with John was one of the moments I think that made me pause," Rogers told ESPNcricinfo. "Particularly at that time, because I got told around then I was unlikely to get a contract for the Vics, so that made me stop and think that I still had something to offer.
"Then when my name wasn't really bandied about this year I started to wonder again, but when Invers named the Australian contracted squad but then mentioned my name, that was a moment I thought 'I am quite a chance here, I don't see why he'd mention me otherwise'. From then until now I've been pretty hopeful. I was starting to chew the nails a little bit but the phone call came through so it was very nice."
Rogers' hope, and another summer of unobtrusive, consistent run-making for the Bushrangers, has now reaped the sort of genuine opportunity he has sought ever since his Sheffield Shield debut: an Ashes tour. To win a place, all Rogers needs to do is continue following the sound fundamentals that have pushed him to 19,107 first-class runs at 50.01.
Save for Michael Clarke, no-one in the squad knows more about building a score, and even the captain would defer to Rogers' English experience, which amounts to more runs at a better average than England's vaunted leader and opening batsman Alastair Cook. This is not to say Rogers is coveting an opening spot. Having waited this long, he will bat anywhere.
"I got hinted that a part of the experience I bring is my knowledge of the conditions over here and players and those kinds of things," Rogers said. "It might help along the way, so it would be nice to be a part of that, have a bit of a voice and hopefully I can offer everyone something at different times. I'm sure quite a few of the guys have played a bit over here, but I've been lucky enough to play more than the rest. I don't think people understand that conditions in England are quite foreign to Australia.
"I'm not going to be turning down opportunities at this stage of my career, and the chance to play for Australia, I'd do anything. I'd like to be up the top, I think it fits me better, but I'd naturally bat anywhere and do a role the team asks me to do. I just have to wait and see how that all pans out."
An oddity of Rogers' selection is that despite being the oldest member of the squad, he has played the least international cricket - even James Faulkner, uncapped in Tests, has a collection of limited-overs appearances. "It's an interesting one," Rogers said. "In one respect I am bringing a lot of experience to the side but in another I haven't been on that stage, apart from one game, so it might take me a little bit of time to get used to the hype and the support and all those things that go with it."
It is no surprise, then, that something which enthuses Rogers about the Ashes is the chance to spend more than one crowded week around the Australian team. He has never toured before, never been 12th man, never witnessed the ebbs and flows of a full series. His one previous appearance was the convoluted match that followed the acrimonious, "Monkeygate" Sydney Test. Amid all the behind-the-scenes discussions that were had about Andrew Symonds, Harbhajan Singh and the team's triumphalist aggression at the SCG, Rogers could not recall even having a team meeting. This will be different.
"I look back at it and it was just a bit of a whirlwind week," Rogers said. "I don't remember a lot about it, and it almost happened in the blink of an eye and then that was it. I've never been on an Australia tour or been around the squad for a period of time, so that's going to be nice, just to be a part of that and just take the opportunity to enjoy it rather than just be blown away by it all really."
Most of all though, there will be a sense of fulfilment. Rogers' every net session, every Shield or county match, every wandering commute from ground to ground, now feels more purposeful in retrospect. It has all been worth it.
"I guess as you get older, you know the end's near and you don't take anything for granted. As an Australian and the person I am, I tend to fight for everything I can get. Over this last period it's been a case where anything that comes my way, I try and take it.
"I look back and think there were moments when I got quite dispirited and had given up all hope, but it's such a relief to be a part of a squad that's going to be touring England. Just the determination to keep going and play well and enjoy my cricket has been rewarded. I've been here for the last two Ashes series and it's taken the country by storm … to be a part of it is something I'll cherish forever."
Daniel Brettig is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. He tweets here