Forget Marcus Harris and Cameron Bancroft, it is Matt Renshaw who remains Australia’s best long-term Test opening prospect.
It speaks volumes for someone when they are prepared to talk to you openly and at length days after an Ashes series defeat.
Not only that but taking time out to text you on their birthday to confirm the interview time.
Perhaps it is just an old-fashioned politeness that has stood the test of time, even if a lot of sportsmen I have interviewed would simply not have displayed that small courtesy.
Whatever it is, Middlesex stalwart and now Australian Ashes cricketer, Chris Rogers possesses time-worn virtues that make people warm to him: good old-fashioned decency off the field, and oft-neglected values on it. Attributes that may have been lost in the rush to T20 riches. Perhaps that is why he was picked to open in the intensity of the Anglo-Antipodean battle this summer.
For this native of New South Wales, it has been a long journey from his St Georges birthplace to an Ashes century this summer, along with the fifth highest batting aggregate from both sides of the series, and an average of over 40.
It makes a change from his humble beginnings in English cricket playing for Wellington CC in the Shropshire League. Yet ‘Buck’ Rogers is true to his past as he told me: “I still speak to the guys at Wellington a fair bit – seven of them came up to Manchester – I think they were happy for me”, he tells me with just the merest suggestion of a smile. Mateship is an important part of the Aussie psyche, so much so that a cricket loving ex-Premier attempted to incorporate it into the Australian constitution. You can tell that loyalty and friendship mean a lot to Rogers by the fondness of his recollection.
But don’t be fooled into thinking Rogers hasn’t got those other renowned Aussie characteristics: an inner steel and toughness.
Dropped after his one and only game as the 399th man to wear the baggy green at the WACA in 2008 v India he lost his central contract shortly after. Fated to replace the legendary Matthew Hayden at the top of the order he was summarily pushed aside without ceremony by the selectors. They opted instead for the industrious of youth – if not the dependability – that the giant Queenslander and his partner Justin Langer provided as openers – and perhaps Rogers – may have supplied had they stuck with him.
“It was hard [to be dropped] but I never gave up. I was kind of hoping if I did well and showed consistency I would get a go”.
The selectors told him in 2008 to go back to State and County Cricket and score more runs. He duly did. Notching over 5000 first class runs in the intervening years.
Rogers has scored over 20,000 First Class runs in his career to date, hit a career best triple century for Northamptonshire in his 319 versus Gloucestershire, and even hit a double century against the 2005 Aussie tourists. Scoring 209 from only 219 balls for Leicestershire was no mean feat against an attack containing Brett Lee, Jason Gillespie and Stuart MacGill in that momentous summer.
With Phil Jaques, Simon Katich, Phillip Hughes, David Warner, Shane Watson perpetually ahead of him in the Test opening queue it must have been hard to keep the faith: “Being honest to myself I didn’t think I would ever do it – but when Ricky Ponting and Mike Hussey retired I did eventually think there might be a chance of a spot opening up for an experienced batsman”.
With a great start to the 2013 county season including 184 against Sussex at Lords in June, along with his vast experience of English conditions, Rogers finally began to attract attention from the selectors. Reeling from the 4-0 humiliation in India and managerial change, the team needed stability, experience and a tough man.
Rogers fitted the bill perfectly and Buck finally had his long his long-awaited second chance. After years of playing at Trent Bridge to County Championship crowds the left handed opener was picked for the first Ashes Test.
Even for a hard bitten soul Rogers still has that sense of wonder about being picked to play in the Ashes. “It was a special time walking out at Trent Bridge – if you are not interested in the first day of the Ashes series you never will be”. Rogers selection was not only a triumph for the values of obduracy and persistence, and a refusal to accept defeat in his career ambitions, but was also a tribute to his heavy run scoring for four different counties. Not that the modest opener would say that himself.
His introduction to the white heat of an Ashes contest was in a gripping game. “The Test was an interesting one”, he says. “For so long it felt that we would lose. Then to get to so close at the end was hard. [England won by a nail-biting 14 runs]. There was a drinks break near the end and during it you could genuinely sense that there was belief that we could win. It was an exciting time”.
Explaining the glorious uncertainty found in cricket he said: “We didn’t deserve to be in a position to win the game – but to have it taken away when we thought we might, well it was just gut-wrenching”, adding with a hurt that was all-too apparent, even after the series had ended: “There was real pain in the dressing room afterwards”.
Rogers experience and maturity provides a level of professionalism and a diplomacy that would shame many politicians. Of the Broad ‘walking’ furore he simply says “we may have been a little too exuberant at times, but look, Stuart Broad is a very good cricketer and l respect him”.
Respect is important to Rogers. I ask him about his Middlesex teammate Steven Finn. (Finn was dropped after Nottingham, failing to play another test during the summer). “Finny and I kept in touch over the series but it’s hard to interact with the opposition when there is so much on the line – but there was certainly respect there between us”. Rogers is not the type of character to gloat. Or send derogatory tweets to the opposition for that matter.
With Lords being his domestic home the second test held there was given extra meaning as he explained: “Everyone there has been so great to me over the years, from the bosses to the backroom staff to the room attendants, and the fans who have seen me bat there – it felt like there were lots of people wanting me to do well”.
Unfortunately for the Australian he was out to a filthy waist-high full toss from Graham Swann. Ironically it was probably the worst ball Rogers faced all summer.
“I was looking forward to batting at Lords so much. But it was a bittersweet moment – I didn’t really see the ball as it went up and over the sightscreen and it got lost. I was gutted obviously but it happens, it wasn’t the ideal situation but what can you do – you’ve got to move on and put it behind you”. The evident distress in his voice betrays the disappointment at his failure in the Australian crushing defeat there – they lost by 347 runs – even if his mental strength kept him going.
If Rogers story was a Hollywood tale, what happened in the fourth test would have been written off as too sentimental. The pugnacious battler who never gave up on a lifetimes ambition, who suffered various setbacks and snubs from those who didn’t believe in him, finally, with determination and a dollop of luck, reached his childhood aspiration – to the joy of all assembled.
Yet it was the truth.
As someone who witnessed it first-hand, Rogers’ century at the Riverside, Chester-Le-Street created an eruption of delight amongst the sell-out 17,000 crowd, the majority of whom were English.
As he modestly said: “The support from the crowd was fantastic. I didn’t really realise properly until I got back to the changing rooms and a security guy told me “ “I’ve done a lot of tests but I’ve never seen a crowd give such an ovation like that to an opposing player” – I suppose it puts it in perspective, it was nice to have a fair bit of support”. Being no stranger to the vicissitudes of cricket he also had the honesty to admit that the anxiety to reach that personal and professional milestone did affect him.
“The pressure does build, you try to start to make things happen – pressure does strange things to you – my awareness was such that I’d spent such a long part of my life trying to get to that moment and it kind of got to me slightly”.
“When I got to 100, it felt like I had been waiting a lifetime for it to happen – it’s been such a long journey with so many ups and downs, well I never thought I’d get near to getting a century for Australia. Relief washed over me but I felt so proud and it’s something that can never be taken away from me”.
Being the unassuming character he is it was heart-warming to hear him pay tribute to his family: “My dad has been there the whole journey, he’s been my batting coach and my mentor and I owe more to him than anybody else. I really couldn’t express how much it meant – that night I had dinner with my parents, I think it was fitting that I shared the moment with them after all they had done for me”.
It was telling that team man Rogers also still thinks of the milestone in terms of the match situation and Australian progress.
“When I got there it was as much for Australian cricket as it had been such a long time since someone else had scored a century for Australia apart from Michael Clarke – it gave the boys a bit of belief”.
However, the result went against the Aussies again on the fourth day, just as they looked to be building towards victory, with an inspired spell from Stuart Broad who stole the game away in a dramatic finish with six wickets after tea to make eleven in the match.
“I felt we were going to go close, we looked to be in control at 160 odd for 2 [needing 299 to win] but I had been concerned earlier in the game when there had been periods when things got a bit harder and wondered just what would occur if it happened again”, couching his disappointment at the way the side capitulated in diplomatic terms. “Perhaps we needed one or two more people to stand up to the extra pressure – it was disappointing that things didn’t go our way”.
With the series lost and the Australians now 3-0 down, the pressure was off at the Oval. After some attritional batting from England, and an extremely adventurous Aussie declaration, perhaps with a view to the light worsening, Michael Clarke asked England to score 226 off 44 overs. The final session ensured an ending no-one there would ever forget, perhaps not for all the right reasons.
Yet as KP and Trott put together a stand of 77 it appeared that the England team was about to clinch the series 4-0. As Rogers recounts: “When KP was out there I thought we were gone. But all credit to the Aussie captain and coaching staff for the declaration – the Australian attitude is always about trying to win – but I think the difference was that England got a good start – an early wicket or two and it would have gone down to the wire [in terms of an Australian win]”.
Rogers is adamant on one thing, “I don’t think we deserved to lose the game – we gave England a fair chance – and we didn’t consider the light at all. We thought it wasn’t an option. To be fair earlier in the series we went off earlier when the light was worse. The umpires were under pressure too to make a game of it but it wasn’t to be”.
With the rare chance of fighting for the Urn again only three months from now, the forthcoming series has the depth and texture of a second instalment of a tense two part thriller.
As Rogers surveyed what on paper was a sound beating for the Australians – even if the reality may not have had the teams so far apart, the fact is England won all the key moments of the series and thrashed the Aussies at Lords. Yet Rogers himself can look back with a quiet satisfaction. Being the character he is however, means he won’t be one of those players shouting his achievements from the rooftops.
As he says, “I had some good moments and some bad moments but I am proud as I proved to myself I can play at that level. The Lords test hurt me as I didn’t contribute, but overall I think did a good job – even if there’s always room for improvement”.
As for the future Rogers says: “Ideally I would like to play in the Ashes then South Africa and re-evaluate from there, but I’ve obviously got to make sure I’m performing. It’s going to be tough as there’s some top quality out there but I’m up for the challenge”.
Tellingly he says he issues praise but with a caveat. “We have a few good young players coming through – but they have to learn to perform consistently over a period of time. They have to show consistency and it’s up to them and nobody else to perform”.
One such player with an Australian background who has performed this summer is Sam Robson. With a chance to play for both countries young Robson who opens the batting with Rogers at Middlesex still hasn’t declared who he will play for.
Rogers being a proud Australian has a view. “I have asked him naturally. As an Aussie I want the best available players to play for Australia. There is a lot of background to his story and he needs to make his own decision – but whatever it will be I will respect that as he’s a good friend and I will support him. It is a tough one but if the opportunity arose I would love it to be Australia”.
I had talked to Rogers on the back of two disappointing defeats for Middlesex, yet it was instructive when I asked him what he thought of the London club’s title chances next season he immediately responded with “it’s not over this year yet mate”.
It may be a bridge too far, but having watched the wily campaigner influence his team to a resounding win over Surrey at the Oval just days after the fifth Test – including an all-too evident joy at Ollie Rayner’s bowling performance in taking a once in a lifetime 15-118 – not to mention leaping like a schoolboy at the clinching of the victory late on the third day it is clear that this is not only a man who seriously loves his cricket. He is also a man who never knows when he is beaten.
His desire and will to win would certainly explain his re-emergence as a test cricketer. Such qualities that abounded when a Baggy Green was worn, now appear to be denuded by a number of factors including the lack of coherent succession planning, the demise of Sheffield Shield cricket in favour of the Big Bash, severe changes in management strategy, and a lack of candour that was once an Australian staple.
Rogers himself has an endearing no-nonsense honesty about him, especially when talking of his county side: “Yes, there is room for improvement – on our day we can compete and beat anyone – but at times this year we have coasted a little bit and lacked intensity. We are looking for the boys to take that criticism and learn from it”. With steely comments like that you can almost hear Middlesex supremo Grumpy Gus Frasier applauding from the Lords pavilion.
As for the future beyond cricket Rogers modestly downplays the fact he has a Journalism qualification. “I did a little bit of writing in the past – but who knows at the moment, I want to play on for a while yet”.
As our interview nears the end, I mention that I had read a piece that about him wanting to travel to South America. His thoughtful response brings a surprising admission. “Yes, I had thought about travelling to Miami and down through South America – a year ago I had actually contemplated retirement to be honest and had considered the trip as I had no contract with Victoria. It’s funny how things change – and although I still want to do the trip it’s not something I want to do just yet anymore”.
The transformation of his international prospects over the last twelve months prove the fact although that changes may occur in cricket, what is always demanded is character, temperament, skill and a good technique. Buck Rogers appears to have these qualities in abundance.
Despite his crushing disappointment at losing the Ashes and not performing at Lords, his first test century, scored in the maelstrom of an Ashes game, and an series average of 40.77 (for comparison KP’s was 38.88) should see his name inked on the scorecard at the first test at the Gabba in November. Rogers deserves nothing less. South America can wait.
As we make arrangements to speak again, as he is practically an adopted Londoner these days, even using the tube after county games, I ask Buck which football team he supports. We are speaking the day after the North London Derby in which a surprisingly powerful display from Arsenal overcame a disjointed Spurs side. Rogers pipes up with a smile, “I’m an Arsenal fan”, before adding in a tone of emphatic satisfaction for the first time in our conversation: “I’m really pleased about the derby win yesterday”.
For Chris Rogers, Ashes centurion and indefatigable old-school Aussie battler, it is just one of many things he should be pleased about.