The Investec Ashes 2013

Bridging Watson's concentration gap

Daniel Brettig in Nottingham

July 7, 2013

Comments: 28 | Text size: A | A

Shane Watson and Chris Rogers will begin the Ashes as Australia's opening pair, Worcestershire v Australians, Tour Match, New Road, 1st day, July 2, 2013
Chris Rogers, Shane Watson's opening partner for the first Ashes Test, believes he can help Watson focus better © Getty Images
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Players/Officials: Chris Rogers | Shane Watson
Teams: Australia

Shane Watson's chances of finally dominating an Ashes series in the way his talent has always suggested will hinge on avoiding the lapses that have conspired to leave him with only two Test centuries in 41 matches. So long as he can stay at the other end, Watson's opening partner Chris Rogers believes he can help close the concentration gap that has kept the allrounder from turning good into great.

Opening with Watson for the first time against Worcestershire at New Road, Rogers was awed by the crispness and power of his new partner's strokeplay. But he was also alert to the fact that Watson can make batting appear so natural that comfort becomes his enemy - a shot played too presumptuously or too soon has often resulted in his demise.

"I was trying to drive him," Rogers said in Nottingham ahead of the first Test. "Only because he was in many respects far better than their attack but his challenge is to bat for long periods of time, which he certainly has the skill and the temperament to do. It's up to him now. Hopefully if I get the chance I can help with that a little bit as well.

"He was outstanding - I haven't seen a bloke down the other end hit the ball as well as that for a long time. So it's a good sign, he's in excellent form and I thought we got on well and communicated well, so that was a good start for us."

That communication included Rogers advising Watson to be careful loading up to play cross-bat strokes against shorter balls on a wicket that was given to the occasional variation in pace. The next short ball duly behaved oddly as Watson swayed out of the way, drawing a smile and nod of appreciation towards the non-striker. Watson still rattled to three figures before lunch, enhanced concentration reaping a first-class hundred for the first time since the 2010 Mohali Test match.

Contrast that with Rogers' 60 first-class centuries, including two in England so far this summer for Middlesex, and there is plenty for the Watson the hare to learn from the tortoise. "I think with batting it's about keeping in your own little bubble and making sure your focus is strong and that you're setting yourself to bat for a long time," Rogers said. "Over my career that's been one of my skills, so maybe I can just give a little bit of insight into that.

"You can't concentrate [constantly] for that amount of time and it's about focusing. That's a skill as well. To bat long periods of time you have to be able to do that there's no doubt, and there's techniques to that, and at times I've been able to do that well."

This is not to say that Rogers is after an unofficial coaching commission within the team. He has enough on his mind readying himself for a first Test match since 2008. "I think the fact Darren Lehmann and Michael Di Venuto [the batting coach] have been in and about England and able to pass on plenty of info has been good," he said. "I've been able to do my own thing and just help out when and if required."

Daniel Brettig is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. He tweets here

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Posted by H_Z_O on (July 9, 2013, 11:00 GMT)

@ScottStevo Hey! We did not have a "much worse" side in 2005. The top 5 bowlers in terms of averages and strike rates were Warne, Jones, McGrath, Fred and Hoggy. Pietersen scored the most runs, Strauss the most centuries, Vaughan the highest score. We scored more centuries as a team (5 to 3), more fifties (14 to 9). Four of the top five run scorers were English. Any way you split it we were the better side.

Would McGrath being fit throughout have made a difference? Probably. But there's no way to know how much of one, and it's unlikely we'd have gone from being the better side to being "much worse" even with McGrath being fit.

The 2009 series was an interesting one. Your bowlers took the most wickets but we had the bowler with the best strike rate (Onions) and he missed two Tests because of tactical reasons. Harmison played two and did well. The batting was impossible to explain. You scored more runs, more centuries, and only two less fifties. We just seemed to seize opportunities.

Posted by kensohatter on (July 9, 2013, 5:05 GMT)

I would prefer to see Rogers and Cowan open and if required have Watson handle the second new ball at 6. This may also mean he can bowl. I am convinced Rogers is a stroke of genius selection and that England underate the threat he poses.

Posted by ScottStevo on (July 8, 2013, 20:55 GMT)

@Neil Robinson, then why is it that Watson did so well as opener in 09? He didn't convert enough, but he got Aus off to good starts.

Posted by ScottStevo on (July 8, 2013, 20:52 GMT)

@Snick_to_backward_Point, that's okay as England have proved they're not much better than NZ (who are a team getting stronger) anyway. Drew in NZ and should've lost the first test over here when setting a miserly target of 200 and a bit. I think the NZ series was a good indication of the average results this English side have posted over the past 18 months. Loads of hype, few results. The excuse - complacency. An overly arrogant way of stating the obvious, they're nowhere near as good as the English think they are. Undoubtedly, England have a good side, but it's no surprise seeing Prior getting player of the year award for the amount of times he bailed out your much vaunted top order's numerous failures in '12. If the Aus batting do ok, we'll be in the hunt in this series. Still underdogs, but this series will be well contested. Eng won in 05 and 09 and they had a much worse team than Aus both times - so it's not unimaginable.

Posted by Snick_To_Backward_Point on (July 8, 2013, 15:10 GMT)

D Pen - less an estimation and more opinions based on reality. The vaunted Aussie bowling has been struggling to bowl out county sides in their warm ups, there's disarray in the dressing room with Lehman hastily dishing out plasters to stem the bleeding and aside from Clarke who's back may go at any second there is zilch in the batting department to get worried about. It;s not over confidence just reality. New Zealand are a better side than Australia right they're THAT bad IMO.

Posted by Broken_F-ing_Arm on (July 8, 2013, 1:52 GMT)

@FFL hmmm can you justify Rogers "troubling form", because the last I deem we he was the county comps leading run scorer with a average in the mid 70's.

Posted by handyandy on (July 7, 2013, 20:24 GMT)

Cowan is a stop gap opener at best. If he isn't required to open then he doesn't belong in the team. Khawaja would be a better prospect at first drop.

Big question marks over Warner and Hughes as well. I would prefer to see Smith get a go in front of one of them.

You have to have Rhino in the team ... he is our best bowler. I would certainly pick him in front of Siddle.

Posted by Kevinguitar on (July 7, 2013, 20:06 GMT)

looking forward let see who wind the ashes this time......

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Daniel Brettig Assistant editor Daniel Brettig had been a journalist for eight years when he joined ESPNcricinfo, but his fascination with cricket dates back to the early 1990s, when his dad helped him sneak into the family lounge room to watch the end of day-night World Series matches well past bedtime. Unapologetically passionate about indie music and the South Australian Redbacks, Daniel's chief cricketing achievement was to dismiss Wisden Almanack editor Lawrence Booth in the 2010 Ashes press match in Perth - a rare Australian victory that summer.
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