It wasn’t for the first time that Ashes 2013 was witnessing a tense moment. As Chris Rogers entered into his nineties, Australian skipper Michael Clarke made his way into the balcony to witness something he hadn’t seen from his team-mate of late – a century. Here was a 35-year-old man whose entry into the team was made possible only after David Warner punched Joe Root in a Birmingham bar that led to his ousting.
Just like most of his team-mates, on day 2 of the fourth Ashes Test, Rogers too had faced some brilliant deliveries that could have claimed his wicket. But after Clarke, the left-hander has been Australia’s most composed batsman in the series. It was a gutsy knock, and overcoming all the hassles, he surpassed his highest international score (84) which he scored against England in the previous Test. He was growing in confidence. At 92, he drove a full-toss from Graeme Swann through covers and more Australian players came in the balcony to give company to their skipper, and to cheer a brave knock from their veteran team-mate.
But the world came to a standstill as Rogers reached 96. Rogers lost his focus and played some loose strokes, any of which could have deprived him of his ton by four runs, putting all the hard work in vain. Suddenly, it looked as if Swann would dismiss him off any delivery, as he hardly gave the left-hander any room to free his arms.
By now, the entire Australian dugout had come to the balcony but the way Rogers was defending against Swann, one could sense that one good delivery and it could be all over. Swann bowled three maiden overs on the trot building enormous pressure. Darren Lehmann kept walking in and out of the balcony totally bemused by the way Rogers had been tackling Swann at 96. Swann almost got the wicket of Rogers in his 14th over when a delivery kept low and almost clipped the stumps. Rogers probably realised he was defending too many and decided to take a chance off the next ball which he handsomely swept past deep square leg for a boundary.
The moment had arrived! While the modern day youngsters would have jumped in air after reaching a maiden Test ton, Rogers showed what maturity can do to a cricketer. He raised his bat without any celebration and only when he removed his helmet, one could see the complete face of Chris Rogers. He had to wait for 35 years and 344 days for the moment, and when it arrived, his expression said as if he knew sooner or later he will reach there.
Clarke, who had been waiting for half an hour for Rogers to score those four runs, was the first one to rise in the balcony and the crowd at the Chester-le-Street stadium followed to give Rogers a standing ovation. Given a chance, Clarke would have run onto the ground and lifted Rogers up in his arms. It was that kind of a moment for the Australian skipper. He probably was too happy as Rogers won the contest against England in that crucial half an hour, by scoring those four runs which took 19 balls.
A ton wouldn’t have mattered much for the Aussies as they were in control of the match at that point. But Clarke probably wanted to get that confidence into someone. It was extremely pivotal from Australia’s perspective that at least one of their senior players inspired others with a good knock every now and then. Apart from Clarke, nobody had managed to do that and `Pup` had extra burden on him as Shane Watson continued to play a forgettable series. Thus Rogers’ ton came as a breath of fresh air for Clarke who desperately wanted someone to show that fighting intent to Alastair Cook and his bowlers.
Even before a single ball was bowled in Ashes 2013, not only cricket experts, but even Clarke would have known the thrashing his side would receive considering the kind of squad he was supposed to lead against England. Such was the form of the Australian players, that the media speculated Shane Warne’s comeback for the Ashes 2013. The team’s momentum had deteriorated since the retirement of Michael Hussey and Ricky Ponting.
In the absence of the two legends, Clarke was missing someone who could take the responsibility of playing a formidable knock with a positive mindset. Even though Rogers was included as a replacement for David Warner, nobody would have thought that the veteran would play out of his skin to get some pride back for his country. But after the first Test, expectations were high from the left-hander and thus when he reached his ton, he took a massive load off Clarke’s back.
Till the end of the second days’ play at Chester-le-Street, Rogers had scored 286 runs in the ongoing Test series. Most of his knocks have been battling ones, but that is what Test cricket is all about, especially when two of the cricket’s rivals play against each other. A ton could do a lot to his confidence.
At 35, you don’t expect to play much cricket. And making a comeback for your country after a gap of five years could be nothing less than a dream. Rogers’ fighting knock has once again proved that dreams do come true with a positive approach and unperturbed determination.
I am not too sure, how long can Rogers continue to play such crucial knocks. But one thing is for sure, Australia have a new hero whom the selectors will give every chance and time to contribute for as long as he wants to.