After the Hard Yards

It has become a commonplace these past few weeks - not that it did England any good at all - that Australia aren't a great side. This is true; they aren't. Leaving aside the unpleasant reality of where that leaves the England side that they've just eviscerated, the current Australian team contains one great batsman, Michael Clarke (who also happens to be an excellent captain), and three men, Harris, Johnson and Haddin, who have given convincing short-term impersonations of era-defining influence. In the case of Harris and Haddin, age and fitness are against them, but, after their deeds of recent weeks, they will one day retire happy in the knowledge that they decisively defined the course of a series which, for all its deeply unsatisfying one-sidedness, has added an indelible chapter to the annals of Ashes history.

Another player who, for all his vast corpus of first-class runs, will look back on this as the time of his cricketing life, is Chris Rogers. Rogers, with his pinched, serious expression, his slight stature, his understated body language and his clunky, workmanlike left-hander's game, is nobody's idea of a hero, and, as a batsman, he is easy to underestimate. In the early part of this series, Geoff Boycott, who has made a career out of being unpleasantly disrespectful to people who deserve better, repeatedly described him as a limited (and, by implication and tone, very ordinary) player who would be lucky to last the series. The thought that he was merely continuing to grow into a role which he would have felt until earlier this year had passed him by for good, clearly didn't occur, although, to give him his due, by the time of Rogers' polished centuries at Melbourne and Sydney, even Boycott appeared to have developed an awareness that he could play a bit.

As a professional opening batsman who spent the best years of his career in the twin shadows of Hayden and Langer, Rogers has done the hard yards on both sides of the globe. In England, from the slow club tracks of Devon and Shropshire to the bleak, unconsidered county arenas of the east Midlands, and, more recently, to the broad and beautiful acres of Lord's; in Australia, from the hardness and pace of the WACA to the intimidating vastness of the MCG. There is little he hasn't seen or done, and, now in the autumn of his career, he has played a vital role in his team's regaining of an Ashes urn he would never have expected to be given the chance to compete for.

Parallels can be drawn and similarities observed between Rogers and Shivnarine Chanderpaul. Both are studiedly unflamboyant, often ugly, but with a suppressed class which can be hard to recognize and define. But there the similarities end: Chanderpaul made his Test debut at 19 and has spent most of his career in a poor side trying to stem the tide of defeat; Rogers made only one Test appearance before the age of 35, but, at 36, has played in a side which has won every game of a five Test series and humiliated its oldest foe.

England's players, brought low by a perfect storm of complacency, hubris, staleness, poor selection and Australian verve and excellence, will take time to recover from this. Chris Rogers will finally feel that he belongs, really belongs, at the game's top table.

For varying reasons, this has been a time which neither of them will ever forget.


Anonymous said...

"It has become a commonplace these past few weeks - not that it did England any good at all - that Australia aren't a great side. This is true; they aren't."

That's what so wonderful about the win. And hilarious to read about in the English press.

Talk about a perfect storm of good form at once. Plus Johnson - the freak that he is - turning back into the ICC Player of the Year 2009 for a string of matches.

I should think Chris Rogers will always think of himself as just that little bit blessed. It's like he's had the best midlife crisis of all time.

Graeme said...

I have to say that Bocott's disdain for Rogers struck me as very odd, given that Boycott spent the vaswt majority of his career making batting look incredibly difficult. It is rich to hear him rebuking batters for not rotating the strike and scoring singles, when I have so many memories of him remaining stuck on strike for over after after without making any attempt to score a run.

Brian Carpenter said...

Thanks, both, for the excellent and welcome comments.

Graeme, you're right about Boycott. It is 'very odd', although that's putting it very kindly.

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