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

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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.

Safe standing must return to British grounds

Safestanding

Wolfsburg’s safe standing rail seating, courtesy of Jon Darch of safestandingroadshow.co.uk (@SafeStandingRS)

First published on FootyMatters.com

Sitting in the main stand during a dreadful 0-0 draw between Hibernian and St Johnstone, I cringed as the game petered out, even with St Johnstone down to ten men and shutting up shop against a blunt Hibs side.

Had it not been a rare father-son bonding trip I might have left Easter Road to beat the rush to the bar, but my father, a true Scot, wanted to get his money’s worth, as presumably did the other 8,000 who remained, although they did so quietly.

Three rows behind us, a man stood up and began to roar “Hiiiiiibeeeess, Hiiiiiibeeeess, Hiiiiiibeeeess”. A profound silence swamped the section. He continued. Had this been a soppy, unrealistic Hollywood rom-thrill, pockets of men all over the stand would have joined him, until eventually a disenchanted crowd had turned into a band of men, women, and children baying for St Johnstonian blood. Lifted by the sheer noise, Liam Craig, captain fantastic, would skin a number of his former team-mates before firing the ball home to bring the house down, before being carried off on the shoulders of his new crew.

None of this happened. In fact, the man grew bored of solitarily chanting and sat down again. The game continued, the crowd grew so quiet that away goalkeeper’s cry of “Away!” was consistently the loudest thing in the stadium. It was a disappointing atmosphere, and a horrible game to watch. The only time the noise levels reached anywhere near a din was when the referee made yet another mistake. The players were distinctly nonplussed at the entire occasion. It was as though we’d all got Bruce Springsteen tickets, but Liberty X had turned up instead, and no-one knew what to do.

Just a couple of days later, a consultation paper on “safe standing” was sent to every football league club in advance of a debate in February. My father and I pondered whether had we all already been standing, we might have joined our tribal leader in his bellowing, as would those around us. We came to the conclusion that a section of standing might at least have got all those who wished to sing into the same place, and united they might lift the whole stadium. Had I been standing, I’d have blasted it out with the best of them.

While the safety issues must be debated, especially in light of the recent revelations about the Hillsborough cover-up, standing could be seen as a huge opportunity for clubs to improve their attendances and atmospheres, which are quietly dwindling. English football grounds used to be known as some of the fiercest in the world, but years of negative press (right or wrong) over hooliganism have turned most league grounds into far more family-orientated places, with chanting almost discouraged, and more emphasis placed on the price of burgers than noise levels.

What we are experiencing is a long-term backlash to the tragedy of Hillsborough, behaviour of English fans abroad that led to bans, football banning orders, and a general stricter policing of crowds at games. Because of this, we have begun to throw singing, hooliganism, disaster, and standing altogether into the same pot. Simply put, we are afraid to stand; we are afraid to sing.

In October, Manchester United trialled a 1400-seater “singing section” which met with mixed reviews. However, fans stood for the majority of the game, which in a stadium designed for all-seater is very dangerous, although we see it on a regular basis. The link between singing and standing is clear. You wouldn’t sit to sing the national anthem or a hymn in church: only boy-bands sit on stools to sing.

In Germany, at the Westfalenstadion, there is a 25,000-person section of “safe standing”, which consists of seats that can be locked in an upright position, and traditional-style rails on every tier to prevent any falls or crushes. Dortmund boast one of the best atmospheres in Europe, not to mention an average attendance of over 80,000. The capacity is in fact, 80,700.

They are by no means the only club in Germany with standing sections, which are a tried and tested method of improving attendance and atmosphere in stadia on the continent. The average Bundesliga attendance last year was 42,624 while the Premier League on average only boasted 35,921.

Of course there are other factors in fan attendance, but clearly those football league executives who attended the German Super Cup final in July (at the Westfalenstadion) were suitably impressed by the organisation there to even begin to consider bringing standing on the terraces back to Britain.

With any luck, safe standing will be trialled in England soon enough. It is certainly the happy medium between rowdy terraces and glum seated stadiums. And maybe, when I’m standing with my dad in 10 years’ time at Easter Road, when the fat old man three rows back opens up his lungs, he’ll be drowned out by the response. I certainly don’t want to have to listen to him anymore.

All attendance figures courtesy of European Football Statistics

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