Sometimes, slow cooked is best
As Peter Roebuck argued, you can’t microwave a cricketer.
Australia’s Ashes triumph has been built on the back of a cohort of slow cooked – or even twice cooked – cricketers, specifically Mitchell Johnson and Brad Haddin. Chris Rogers can now be added to that list.
Before Sunday, Rogers’ contribution had been modest and, befitting the man, easy to miss. One of his most important efforts was his 16 off 81 balls in the second innings at the Gabba. That is not a joke. If you can think back to that eventful Friday when the series was well and truly alive and Johnson’s resurrection was in its infancy, you might recall that Australia went to stumps on day two at 0-65, virtually ensuring that the first innings lead would not be frittered away. Rogers did his job for the side that night.
Rogers at the MCG was an altogether different proposition. He used all the canniness that has helped him through 256 first-class matches (yes, that figure is correct). His running between wickets was sharp, he hit as shrewdly through third man as Ian Bell at his best and, almost surprisingly, he was an aesthetic delight. He played some sparkling cover drives on the up and one hook shot off James Anderson that could have been described as savage if that didn’t somehow seem incongruous with Rogers’ understated character.
At 36, he will not have a long Test career. But it has been thrilling to watch a modest, hard-working cricketer using his nous to eke out every bit of ability and enjoying his moment in the sun.
The biggest failing in Australian cricket – and it should not be glossed over by the 4-0 scoreline – has been its inability to unearth young talent, the most exciting emerging player on either side being England’s Ben Stokes. If it had, Rogers would not even be in the side, nor would George Bailey, and there would be a No. 3 other than Shane Watson. Alex Doolan is 28, so he does not exactly fit that bill.
So the next time anyone is thinking of marking someone’s cards ‘Never to wear the baggy green again’, it should be remembered that Johnson, Haddin and Rogers have all been significantly better players second or third time around. Hopefully the same will apply to Phillip Hughes, who is still 25 and is surely a chance to tour South Africa, where he has succeeded at Test level before.
Pull-away plonkers should pull their heads in
Batsmen are in danger of becoming as precious as golfers or tennis players. Next they will be asking for complete silence when the bowler is running in.
At the MCG, massive swathes of white sheeting was covering many of the best seats to extend the effect that was once provided by a modest sightscreen, which seemed enough for previous generations of batsmen, who did not have the luxury of helmets and so forth for protection. Check out the pristine backdrop below.
Time wasting has become the scourge of Test cricket, and it is no longer the exclusive domain of the bowling side. As we have argued before, bowlers should be able to bowl when they are ready, even if the batsman is still adjusting his protective gear or looking in the stands for the merest distraction. (OK, that would be in breach of all occupational health and safety rules, but still…)
As ever, it was Kevin Pietersen who managed to exaggerate this state of affairs to the point that authorities will have no choice but to act. (If you believe that, you will believe anything.)
Pietersen cried wolf so often that, when young pre-schooler and cricket fan Lincoln Raits escaped the clutches of his parents in the members and ventured into the white zone, Johnson did not buy that Pietersen’s pulling away was anything more than the paranoia of the modern batsman. A bunfight ensued, as depicted below.
Pietersen, of course, is not the only one. Special mention should go to Rogers, who manages to find distractions in the most far-flung parts of the ground.
Another solution might be to remove sightscreens altogether and return them only when the batsmen learn to behave themselves – although Cricket Australia might not be able to afford the insurance premiums.
Lyon sheds monkey
The notion that spinners must take bags of second innings wickets is possibly an anachronism in this day and age, when many wickets hold together and pragmatic batsmen have developed sweeping and padding away techniques to nullify slow men.
So Nathan Lyon (below) should be judged on his overall record, which is highly respectable, not his ability to take bags of second innings wickets.
Nevertheless, his five wicket haul in the second innings at the MCG was welcome reward and removed, at least for a while, the second innings monkey from his back.