Monday, 18 March 2013

Why Chris Rogers needs to play in the Ashes

As each day of this Indian tour passes I begin thinking more and more of the upcoming Ashes series and what it holds for Australia. I have also been engaging pretty heavily in the dubious science of selection prognostications. As a result, I’ve been thinking a hell of a lot about Chris Rogers.

Chris Rogers is an old-fashioned Australian cricketer, which is to say he scores loads and loads of runs with a minimum of fuss and generally does his job properly. He doesn’t have a Twitter account and he’ll never become the subject of a bidding frenzy at an IPL auction. In fact it was almost disconcerting to see him in a Big Bash uniform this year, like watching Nanna stomp through your living room in a Pantera t-shirt and spit on the floor. Chris Rogers has red hair, he has glasses and you probably wouldn’t pay him much attention if he walked past you in the street. But put him in whites, give him a bat and he is a rarity in Australian cricket; a specialist batsman whose first class average hovers near the 50 mark.

There’s no guarantee that Rogers would have set the world on fire in India, though I wouldn’t have bet against it. But what does stand out like a sore thumb is Rogers’ record in England. Over the span of nine consecutive winters away, whilst others were lining their pockets with Twenty20 riches and lolling about at the Centre for Excellence, Rogers was lining the stats books with hundreds; 28 of them in England and an unbelievable 58 of the first class variety in total. He’s passed the half-century mark an additional 42 times in England and 81 in total. To give some perspective on these stats, these are the comparative records of some of Rogers’ rivals for a Test spot:

-          David Warner: 6 hundreds / 9 fifties
-          Moises Henriques: 1 hundred / 13 fifties
-          Usman Khawaja: 6 hundreds / 9 fifties
-          Steven Smith: 11 hundreds / 20 fifties
-          Glenn Maxwell: 1 hundred / 8 fifties
-          Alex Doolan: 5 hundreds / 14 fifties
-          Rob Quiney: 7 hundreds / 16 fifties

If your arithmetic is failing you, that septet has managed 37 hundreds and 89 fifties in their combined careers in comparison with Rogers’ 58 and 83. Sometimes statistics tell us fibs and pad out our arguments, but runs don’t lie. Especially in England where Rogers passes the half-century mark in 37% of his innings. In fact his record in England is a shade better than it is in his home country.

FC Games
FC Runs
FC Average
In England
In Australia

Rogers’ appetite for runs and his ambition to play Test cricket remain undimmed by the years spent languishing on the periphery. Aside from Ricky Ponting and Brad Haddin, he is the only other player to reach three centuries in the Sheffield Shield this season. It’s the sixth Australian season in which he has achieved the feat; to go with the 8 English seasons he passed the same mark (we’ll let him off for his 2005 English summer in which he only made two tons… in six innings). By comparison, of the serious contenders only Queensland’s Joe Burns has 2 tons but then he also has an average of 34 to go with them.

Still not convinced? Let’s look at Rogers’ record at some of the grounds that will host Ashes tests in England this winter. At Lord’s, Rogers averages 48.04 from 15 games with 3 centuries and 4 fifties. At the Oval he fares even better; in 6 first class innings there he has only failed to get past 50 on one occasion, racking up 2 centuries, 3 fifties and a Bradmanesque average of 109.8 – is there any safer bet on English decks with the ball swinging around? Does this experience churning out runs in England really count for nothing? Rogers has scored a double century for every first class team in which he’s played. He also holds the dubious distinction of being the only Australian to score a double hundred on the 2005 Ashes tour, it was just a pity he was wasting his time playing for Leicestershire at the time.

“Ah, but he piled on all those runs in England when he was a young buck,” you’re saying. Well sorry, but you’re wrong. In the past three English county seasons, Rogers sits atop the run-making charts with 3696 runs at an average of 48.00, scoring 11 centuries and 17 half-centuries. If the NSP opt for Rogers for the return Ashes series in Australia, they can do so knowing that he averages over 40 at every Test venue other than Adelaide. At the SCG you can pencil him in for close to 65.

Chris Rogers is 35 years old and there is no doubt that age is not on his side. But shouldn’t youthfulness and the corresponding lack of experience and fortitude equally count against players like Maxwell and Henriques? There's no doubt that Inverarity and the NSP will face severe scrutiny if they opt for Rogers but I’m not entirely sure of the merit of picking a “team for the future” if that future is an assortment of mediocre triers. The selection of Rogers could send the greatest cultural message of all: ‘we want excellence and we hardened batsmen who consistently make runs.’

Here’s a scary thought: on the last Ashes tour in 2009, Australia had six out of its top seven batsmen average over 40 and still lost the series. To get anywhere close to England in 2013, Australia need someone other than Michael Clarke to average over 50. And that also encumbers Clarke with the expectation of nothing less than that mark. To achieve such an average a player will need to pass either a pair of centuries or 3-4 significant scores over 50. Is there any player outside the current setup, Rogers aside, that you would put your money on to achieve this? Feel free to let me know.

Mickey Arthur has spoken glowingly in the past of the “X Factor” that Glenn Maxwell could be for Australian cricket. That ‘X’ is a great unknown though. Would Australia not be better placed with the degree of certainty that Rogers would bring to the line-up? At the very least his selection would prompt a higher degree of respect from the opposition. At present, England are relishing this series with the kind of blood-lust normally reserved for World Cup football qualifiers against banana republics.

Test matches are harder to win when your batsman are failing to make centuries and I am unconvinced they can be scored by anyone from outside the current line-up other than Rogers. Experience carries weight on an Ashes tour. In the last 3 tours, only three Australian specialist batsmen under the age of 30 have averaged fifty or above. Those players were Clarke, Damien Martyn and Marcus North. Martyn and North were both on the cusp of 30 at the start of their respective tours and seasoned veterans of English conditions. North’s fruitful return in 2009 is perhaps the best advertisement of all for Rogers’ selection.

But who knows? Maybe we’ll end up with an Ashes squad containing the same muddled assortment of all-rounder-shaped youngsters and batsmen under siege. If we do, we can’t expect much steel, we can't expect much polish and we can’t expect a return of the urn. That’s the thing about the ‘X factor’.


  1. I couldn't agree with you more mate. My view is that you have to select your best XI today rather than select an XI that you want to be the best tomorrow. There are too many inexperienced X factor players :) you've hit the nail on the head again.

    NSP should also look at bringing in people like Voges, North, D Hussey.

    1. I think for these 10 Tests at least, they need to pick on merit alone, regardless of age. Whatever re-build they allegedly have in the works can occur after that.

  2. Stoked that the NSP listened. However, England never get WC qualies against banana republics.

  3. I'm stoked that for once they picked the most logical and least hateable team.