Chris Rogers: An Ashes hero born in Australia, made in England

Short-sighted and colour-blind, with a technique that was never easy on the eye, Chris Rogers probably though his international career was going to be limited to a solitary Test match at Perth against India, where he had compiled just 19 runs in two innings.

Hayden returned in the next Test to make his third hundred of the series, and Rogers, averaging 40 in first-class cricket that summer, had his national contract terminated.

Even up to that point, his career had been an unusual one for an Aussie. There is comparatively little first-class cricket played in Australia, and yet Rogers has in total amassed 296 FC matches (and 24,417 runs), impossible had he stayed in Oz.

As an 18-year-old, Rogers made the trip around the world, and spent the summer of 1996 playing for North Devon, where ex-Test player David Shepherd had taken to umpiring.

He enjoyed it so much that he returned the next year. He had learnt much from his first spell and he set the league record for runs in a season.

He spent 2002 scoring millions (well maybe not millions) of runs for Exeter, and he was soon recognised on the county scene, one which he rather enjoyed.

Rogers clearly realised the value of batting on English wickets, and it pushed him into the eyeline of the Western Australia selectors.

He made his debut in 1998, against an England XI. At Perth, he made just 14, and managed to nick off to Mark Ramprakash’s box of nonsense spin bowling.

And so there was some serendipity that having made his debut against England at Perth, he should come full circle and make his first and final Test appearance at Perth.

It seemed like this journeyman pro, built on the pitches of Devon, and then Derbyshire, Leicestershire, and Northants, should be given his reward and then allowed to play as much first-class cricket as he could.

But his appetite for runs was by no means sated, and his hunger for the game was merely exacerbated by the one chance to wear the baggy green.

The following English and Australian seasons to his Test debut, Rogers, unceremoniously dropped by his country and having moved to Victoria, made 2,567 runs at an average of 64, including carrying his bat for 248* against Warwickshire – the rest of the side made just 229.

‘Bucky’, as he is often known after sci-fi hero with whom he shares a surname, was just going to keep scoring runs.

He came to England every summer, and every summer bar one (a rare blip where he averaged just 38) he scored well over a thousand runs and averaged over 50. ‘If I keep scoring runs, they can’t ignore me forever,’ he must have thought.

And eventually, at long last, Bucky got his second bite, selected for the 2013 Ashes series, and as he had ever since that Perth Test, he chowed down on cricket.

When it came to playing at Lord’s, the ground of his latest county, there can hardly have been a dry eye in the house, English or Australian, when he put his name on the honours board.

In a period where Australian batsmen have struggling to knuckle down, resist the big drive, and battle against the moving ball, Rogers has stood alone as a fighter, reminiscent of Simon Katich or Paul Collingwood in his belligerence and power of will.

His Test average in England before the Oval Test is a shade over 50. It puts him above people like Ponting, Clarke, and Gilchrist, and within touching distance of Border and Langer. He is an Australian at home in England.

Featured image courtesy of Rhondda via Flickr

Hometown favourites: Taylor’s conquered demons means Black Caps are the World Cup’s dark horses

It’s difficult for me to remember a time in my life when the words ‘New Zealand’ and ‘cricketing force’ have been appropriately used on the same sentence. There have been some truly wonderful players, and on occasion, instances of mediocre England sides getting rolled over by the brilliance of Stephen Fleming, Chris Cairns, or even Dion Nash.

However, not since before I was born have they genuinely struck fear into the hearts of world class opponents. They have won just one Test series against England since 1987, beating Nasser Hussain’s side 2-1 thanks to 19 wickets from Cairns and no England batsman making a century (Alex Tudor came closest, stranded on 99*).

Now the six-time semi-finalists (and zero-time finalists) have a World Cup partially on home soil, and they have a side brimming with talent and hope.

This didn’t happen overnight though, nor is simply a white-ball revolution. This New Zealand is so much more.

Go back a little more than a year. New Zealand are preparing for the visit of the West Indies, against whom they will play three Tests, 5 ODIs, and 2 T20Is.

Ross Taylor, perhaps the most talented batsman the country has seen since Fleming, is battling with demons inside and out: sacked as captain in a storm of controversy, isolated within his own team, and over a year without a Test match hundred. He couldn’t socialise, he couldn’t sleep, and he couldn’t buy a run.

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He rang his long-time mentor and former NZ cricketer Martin Crowe, desperate for some advice about how to wind down, and more simply how to sleep.

“I asked him to slowly explain a typical night before an important match,” Crowe writes. “I repeated it back to him. He realised he had stopped living a normal life.

“While away overseas on tour, he was living a cricketing nightmare. In other words, his nights were spent fretting on what he thought he was the only thing he had left in the game – his batting. He had forgotten about himself.”

Ross Taylor World Cup Pre

And in some ways so had the whole team. They had won just one of the last 13 Test, the one win coming when Taylor scored a hundred in Colombo. It wasn’t confined to red-ball cricket either; they had suffered the ignominy of a 3-0 whitewash at the hands of Bangladesh, culminating in failing to defend 307 in Dhaka. That time a Taylor hundred was in vain, and felt worthless.

Crowe offered the stricken Taylor some advice, encouraging him to avoid cricket at all costs once the team left the ground, recharging between days of play, with a glass of red wine, or good food, letting the stresses of Test cricket ebb away into the evening.

He texted Crowe the night before that first Test match of the 2013/14 summer saying he was having dinner and a glass of wine with some friends. Crowe smiled, and wondered if he was on the verge of something special.

Taylor was, as were New Zealand. He made 217 unbeaten runs, and although they would draw that Test in Dunedin, they won the next two, and Taylor scored a hundred in each.

It triggered a run in which they have lost only two of their last Test matches, and the form has translated directly into ODIs.

They drew 2-2 with the West Indies after the Test series, before beating the World Champions India 4-0 (back-to-back hundreds from Taylor). Since that night when Taylor rang Crowe, NZ have a 17-6 record in ODIs.

They don’t rely on Taylor either. His best friend Martin Guptill has proved to be a more than capable opening partner for Brendan McCullum, who has finally accepted that a man of his ability has to open the batting in the short form. Kane Williamson at three now averages over 45 in ODIs and Test matches, and Grant Elliott and former Australian Luke Ronchi recently produced a ODI record 267-run stand for the sixth wicket.

With the ball, it must be said, NZ look at times vulnerable. The recall of Daniel Vettori tells of their inability to find a suitable spinner (Adam Milne doesn’t look ready), but a mixture of Mitchell McClenaghan, the effervescent Trent Boult, and some overs from Elliott and Corey Anderson may be enough to defend some of the scoreboard pressure created by their explosive batting lineup.

On Valentine’s Day, they will open the World Cup at the Hagley Oval in Christchurch. If NZ fans want to help out on Friday 13, I recommend finding Ross Taylor and making sure he’s having the nicest evening possible. If he sleeps easy, then you might just find that the hosts make that elusive final at last.

[Featured image courtesy of Michael McGimpsey via Flickr. In-text image courtesy of Getty Images. Infographic made by me. Yes indeed ladies and gentlemen.]

England vs Sri Lanka: Day 1 Verdict

A glorious day, and a green pitch. Crowds flooding in from all parts of the city, and indeed the world. The heat is intense, the pressure on the home side even more so, the captain walks out to do his country proud. I am talking of course about Alistair Cook doing this morning on cricket’s greatest stage what Thiago Silva will do later this evening on football’s.

The England captain was inserted by his opposite number, in conditions that look summery above, but distinctly spring-like below, and the Sri Lanka attack of steady seamers exploited the early conditions ideally, before England fought back with all the grit which their winter performances lacked, as Root and then Prior put Sri Lanka to the sword in style.

The Debutants

Three men made their bow in international cricket, but none will have felt out of place. Chris Jordan and Moeen Ali were both part of England’s World T20 squad in Bangladesh, while Sam Robson, the captain’s new opening partner, is a Middlesex player familiar with the surroundings of Lords. It was the local man whose day started the earliest, and he spent more time on camera sitting on the balcony, discussing the quality of his coffee; his day will come. Ali had the most successful day, looking serene batting at 6, despite coming in with England precariously poised at 120-4. He played with total confidence, leaving well and playing better, even biffing his first ball against spin in Test cricket for 6 over mid-wicket. It was spin that was his undoing though, and he hung his well-bearded head for a while when he nicked a big loopy half-volley to the jubilant Mahela Jayawardene at slip of the same spinner, Rangana Herath. Chris Jordan we will see in earnest with the ball tomorrow.

The Unsackable Cook

While Cook hasn’t scored a hundred in 21 innings, and in that time averages just 25, he will probably not have felt under much pressure. The changes made to the team mean that he is now totally unmovable, barring injury or illness. Paul Downton, the new England managing director, said in his tea-time interview with Sky Sports that this was Cook’s opporutnity to create “his team”. His chop on to his stumps with 17 to his name was a lazy, self-inflicted delivery, when England needed him to navigate the difficult first session. Before he can build his team, he will need to reconsider his own game. He will need a hundred before the series is over if he doesn’t want to face questions about his own role.

Prior’s Redemption?

Who’d be Matt Prior? He had as bad a winter as any England batsman, made the decision to have an operation on a long-standing Achilles problem, and while still in recovery, a week before the Test squad announcement, the young pretender to his gloves scores a truly magnificent international hundred at the home of cricket. There could not have been a louder siren sounded to the England selectors that Jos Buttler wanted more, and that he was the man in form. However, almost before the hype had started, Chairman Cook deflated it, telling the press that Buttler “isn’t ready” for Test cricket. Is that what he means? Or is it that his old lieutenant Prior is more dangerous as an enemy? Had Prior’s second-ball LBW decision been a millimetre straighter, Cook’s decision-making would have been further questioned. But Prior survived, albeit he continued to look nervy and shaken, as though relearning the game, attempting to run himself out at least once, but he did make 50, and should turn it into a hundred tomorrow.

Our Joe Root

There was one overwhelming positive from the day: the return of Joe Root. He smashed Australia to all parts at Lords last year, but that will have felt many years ago when he came in a 3 down for not many this morning, with ball nibbling around. He seemed, like Prior, to be working on his technique in the middle – the worst place to do so – with conscious efforts to put his foot down the pitch and get forward. There was still a classic back foot punch or two, and he was almost trapped on the crease by Matthews’ gentle medium pacers once or twice. However, he also manoeuvred the ball expertly around, and played some genuinely fluent shots when England were under serious pressure.

First Day Nightmare: A Journalism Work Placement Part 1

It is one of those generally accepted truths among students that internships and work experience involve two things: making coffee and photocopies. At The Cricketer magazine, someone else makes the coffee, and they don’t have a photocopier. In some ways, it’s just two fewer things for me to cock up.

My only previous work experience came last summer, when I endured a difficult week working at a local daily newspaper, on the newsdesk. Modern newsdesks are not what they used to be – there are far more screens than the golden era of newspapers – and most people working there and scrambling about either trying to embed in their current job or hang around long enough to find another one. Although I learnt a lot about how to write and report, it took 2 days for anyone except HR to take any notice, and they made no effort to hide the fact that I was a total inconvenience to them. It was an emotionally draining five days.

I had put pressure on myself to make a better stab at this placement; I have read The Cricketer since I was a boy and my early teenage years were spent cutting out pictures of my favourite cricketers and sticking them up all over my bedroom(You’re a weirdo…Ed.), so I arrived at Great Portland Street to start a two week placement at the world’s leading cricket magazine with a few butterflies in my stomach, and having had very little sleep. However, my nerves were quite ill-placed. The publishing assistant showed me round, introduced me to everyone by name, I shook some hands, and then he dumped me on my desk and went downstairs.

The man sitting opposite me was my editor, it transpired, which was a little intimidating. However, the size of my iMac meant that hiding behind it only required a little slouching. There were only two others in the office, and all three of them disappeared into a meeting for half an hour soon into my first day, which provided me with an excellent opportunity take an inordinate number of selfies and to steal everything I wanted to steal. (You’re aware this is pretty incriminating, right?)

On their return I was tasked with a few bits of information gathering to write up, and the opportunity to ring up any number of professional (ex-)cricketers for some minor interviews. It’s fair to say I cocked all of them up: I fail to get anywhere near enough copy of the interview, had to do three rewrites, and then simply failed to grasp the concept of one piece of work. Even so, everyone was very accommodating, and my mistakes were duly pointed out and corrected.

Day Two went considerably better…

Pietersen’s sacking was the right move at the right time

Anyone in the vicinity of Twitter yesterday will have been aware of Piers Morgan’s outrage at the sacking of Kevin Pietersen from the England Test team, never to return, so it would seem. He branded the decision to discard Pietersen from the England set-up “the worst in English cricket history”; some might argue that Nasser Hussain’s decision to put Australia in to bat in 2002 was worse, but that is of course, beside the point. The Pietersen sacking is certainly the most controversial.

Pietersen's personality has often made him hard to love.

Pietersen’s personality has often made him hard to love.

It is by no means the first time that Kevin Pietersen has found himself at the centre of negative controversial: his introduction to the team as a South African national upset many from his birthplace, he was only able to retain the England captaincy for one Test match, and then there was the infamous “textgate” in South Africa once again. Graeme Swann claimed that the wounds from that incident healed over time, but like a wife who takes back her cheating husband, it was never the same.

KP was one of the central figures of the England dressing room which it would appear, totally collapsed in the heat of Australia. There were many reasons for England’s dreadful tour Down Under, but there can be no doubt that a disparate group of players was one of them; the contrast between themselves and the Australians under one of their own, beloved Darren Lehman, was remarkably evident.

The logic behind removing Pietersen is startingly simple: for once, the ECB are learning from past mistakes. They are aware of how damaging it can be to blood young players in losing, toxic teams, and appear to have realised that when you are at rock bottom, which they believe they are, you have nothing to lose. They are looking much further ahead than India in the summer, or even the 2015 Ashes. Paul Downton wants to build a new generation of English cricketers.

At the very very heart of it is talent recognition. There is a very promising crop of young cricketers coming through county cricket, led by players like Ben Stokes and Joe Root who have now established themselves in the side, but apparently despite the circumstances, not because of them. Downton and the rest of the ECB want those two, both jovial and professional personalities, to become the new leaders of the side, who will play in all formats and provide a more receptive environment of which Gary Ballance, Tymal Mills, Scott Borthwick, Rhys Topley and others can make themselves established members.

With Pietersen and Swann, both huge egos, still sitting in that changing room, that would have been impossible – there simply wouldn’t have been room for players to come in and feel comfortable. It smacks of the old days of the England dressing room under Nasser Hussain when you kept your head down when things were going wrong, lest it be bitten off.

There is no denying that Pietersen could have played another couple of years of Test cricket, nor that he is an exceptional cricketer. Unfortunately though, if you cannot be part of a team, you will never be one of the great cricketers. His removal sends a clear message that will resonate through English cricket: no-one is bigger than the team. As for Piers Morgan, he needs to reread his own Twitter profile, which has no personal description, merely a quote: “One day you’re the cock of the walk, the next you’re a feather duster.”