ASHES: Talking points from Chester-le-Street Day Two

Ronan O'Connell Columnist

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    Chris Rogers has announced his retirement from first class cricket at 39. (AP Photo/Scott Heppell)

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    Did Shane Watson save his Test career? Has Chris Rogers finally got some luck? Is Stuart Broad the most frustrating bowler in Test cricket?

    Chris Rogers finally gets a break
    Having been the victim of unfortunate LBW decisions in both of the first two Tests, including the embarrassing “midriff” dismissal to Swann, Rogers gleefully exploited the luck which flowed his way yesterday.

    A dropped catch, a lineball DRS decision, countless plays and misses and several French cuts punctuated his debut Test ton.

    The stalwart’s innings appeared over on 20 when he was adjudged caught behind from a Broad delivery which cut him in half.

    Rogers consulted with non-striker Clarke and the central umpire before calling for a review.

    Replays showed the ball missed the edge of Rogers bat, but did clip his pad on the way through to keeper Matt Prior.

    The third umpire, after identifying the caught behind decision was incorrect, checked the LBW.

    The English players celebrated heartily when Hawk Eye showed the ball just clipping the off bail.

    But, given the umpire had not adjudged Rogers LBW, more than 50% of the ball was required to be striking the stumps and he was handed a reprieve.

    It was a bizarre turn of events which perhaps gave the opener a hint that it may just be his day.

    If that incident was not sufficient indication then he was surely left in no doubt by the lucky manner in which he registered his half century.

    Rogers moved from 49 to 50 after Swann dove in front of first slip Alastair Cook and spilled a difficult low edge offered by the left hander.

    The Victorian batted with greater assuredness into his 90s before his nerves again took hold.

    Rogers was glued on 96 for 19 balls, twice almost spooning catches off the leading edge while trying to deflect Swann through the on side against the turn.

    Television cameras captured Rogers unleashing nervous chuckles in the wake of both near-misses.

    He then punted on aggression, sweeping Graeme Swann through square leg to register the boundary which brought up his hundred.

    Rogers’ celebration was notably muted for a man who had waited almost 36 years to notch his first ton in the baggy green.

    A renowned team man, he will be acutely aware that his individual milestone will count for little if Australia do not go on to record their first win of the series.

    Did Shane Watson save his Test career?
    Having lobbied to be reinstated to the top of the order at the expense of Ed Cowan this series, Watson’s career appeared to be hanging by a thread when he was shunted down to number six this match.

    The all-rounder showed signs in the previous Test he had made sound adjustments to his approach with the willow by playing the ball later and tempering his aggression.

    Rather than attempting to impose his will on the accomplished English attack, Watson was circumspect yesterday, showing deserved respect to James Anderson and Broad in particular.

    He did not, however, allow himself to become static and took full advantage of any deliveries which strayed into his hitting zones.

    Perhaps most importantly, Watson shed his over-reliance on striking boundaries, registering just 28 of his 68 runs in fours.

    One of the greatest weaknesses of his game has been his inability to rotate the strike.

    But Watson yesterday nudged 22 singles to demonstrate a marked improvement in his batting strategy.

    Given he arrived at the crease with Australia teetering at 4-76 on a pitch which was suddenly offering significant assistance to the quicks, Watson’s mature innings rates among the finest of his career, which include:

    – 88 versus South Africa at Johannesburg in 2011. Watson and Phil Hughes put on 174 against South Africa’s venomous attack of Dale Steyn, Vernon Philander, Morne Morkel and Jaques Kallis. Australia famously won that thrilling match with just two wickets in hand.

    – 95 versus England at the WACA in 2010. Watson tamed the rampant English pace battery of James Anderson, Chris Tremlett and Steven Finn in the second dig to help Australia build a match-winning lead of 390.

    – 93 and 120no versus Pakistan at the MCG in 2009. Enjoying the richest vein of form of his career, Watson flayed Mohammad Amir, Mohammad Asif and Saeed Ajmal in both innings.

    – 126 versus India at Mohali in 2010. In his most patient innings at Test level, Watson defied the Indian spinners for almost eight hours on a turning deck, scoring at an uncharacteristically slow strike rate of just 37.

    Is Stuart Broad the most unpredictable bowler in Test cricket?
    Prior to castling Michael Clarke for 187 at Old Trafford, England’s fickle quick had gone 55 overs without a wicket against the Aussies.

    Broad, while crafting several useful innings with the bat this series, had failed to fulfil his primary duty with the ball, securing just six wickets at the inflated average of 52 over the first three Tests.

    He had lacked penetration throughout the series, even when he operated with good rhythm at Manchester.

    The lanky Pom started in similarly innocuous fashion yesterday, bowling short of a length on a pitch which demanded a fuller trajectory.

    The first time Broad pitched the ball up on the line of off stump he breached the defences of David Warner who was unsure whether to leave or defend the superb delivery.

    That success seemed to trigger a realisation from Broad who promptly adopted a full length which earned him generous movement off the deck and through the air.

    In a matter of deliveries, he was transformed from a benign trundler to a lethal spearhead.

    Usman Khawaja and Clarke arrived and departed soon after courtesy of Broad’s brilliance.

    He finished that incisive seven-over new ball stint with the figures of 3 for 23.

    Performances like this only serve to highlight what a frustrating cricketer Broad can be.

    He is similar to a small forward in the AFL who kicks six goals one week only to have just a handful of possessions the next.

    Of all the veterans in Test cricket, he has arguably the largest gap between his best and worst performances.

    Ronan O
    Ronan O'Connell

    Ronan O'Connell has been a journalist for well over 13 years, including nine at daily newspapers in WA. He now traverses the world as a travel photojournalist, contributing words and photography to more than 30 magazines and newspapers including CNN, BBC, The Toronto Star, The Guardian, The South China Morning Post, The Irish Examiner and The Australian Financial Review. Check out his work and follow him on Twitter @ronanoco