As the Aussie Test team prepares to take on Pakistan in what is sure to be a thrilling Boxing Day Test clash at the MCG, former Aussie opener Chris Rogers reflects on his 2013 triumph against England during that hallowed event.
Boxing Day in Melbourne is a wonderful day on the cricket calendar, but it also comes with one of the toughest decisions any captain will make – bat or bowl?
When we got to the ground, all indications were that Michael [Clarke] wanted to bat first, something I wasn’t so sure about.
Having played so often there for Victoria, I knew the drop-in wickets tended to start as puddings, slow seamers with tennis-ball bounce and difficulty for batsmen against disciplined bowling.
In 2010, [England captain] Andrew Strauss had sent Australia in on the advice of an ex-Bushranger in David Saker, and rolled us for 98.
But after that they flatten right out, and almost never offer any spin.
I’d played in a Shield game where Queensland ran down around 400 against us and saw a very good spinner in Jon Holland just get monstered, because the ball would simply skid on.
That was in my mind when I was stretching before play with ‘Watto’ [Shane Watson], when I told him ‘I think we should be bowling here, the wicket’s only going to get better’.
He said ‘go tell Michael’, but because I was still somewhat unsure of my place in the side and didn’t want to overstep the mark, I hesitated. So instead it was Shane who made the approach, before Michael came back to me.
‘Do you reckon we should bowl?’
‘Yes mate I do, every time we play here it’s slow and hard for the first innings and a bit, but from there it’ll just get easier.’
Michael did bowl, and we knocked England over for 255 early on day two.
In reply we had a poor day with the bat, excepting an ugly 61 from yours truly, which included a hefty blow to the head from [Stuart] Broad.
That blow drew blood, but weirdly I batted more fluently from that point, and was very annoyed to get out to a leading edge when I tried to work Tim Bresnan across the line.
A few people thought I was trying to hit that one over the top. All I can say to that is they can’t have watched me bat too often.
From there ‘Hadds’ [Brad Haddin] came out and threw the bat without fear to squeak us past 200.
At the break, ‘Boof’ [Darren Lehmann] was again very positive, saying ‘we’ve had a couple of bad days but that’s ok, you’re allowed to, I believe we can bounce back’, which he tended to be in tough situations, rather than kicking the cat.
England started well, taking their lead over 100, but we hung in there, and as ever we had Mitch [Mitchell Johnson] to thank for turning the tide.
He had [Alastair] Cook lbw with a reversing ball, then threw down the stumps to run out Joe Root and get the crowd baying for more.
In that environment the MCG can feel uniquely intimidating, and the roars kept coming as Nathan [Lyon] worked his way through their lower order and left us with 231 to win.
Back out there batting, you could see English heads had dropped, and when they gave me a couple of lives it was another sign that their concentration just wasn’t there any more.
On day four, ‘Davey’ [David Warner] was out fairly early on, but with ‘Watto’ at the other end we were quickly into stride.
Before I knew it we were hurtling towards the target, playing our shots and having a whale of a time.
Overnight, the papers and the airwaves were full of stories about Australia’s poor record in low run-chases – a disaster against South Africa and Damien Martyn’s subsequent five-year exile from the Test team got plenty of mentions, as did the Botham/Willis English miracle in 1981 where we couldn’t chase down much more than 100 at Headingley.
And good reason, too – earlier in the year at both Trent Bridge and Durham our chase targets of over 300 had been whittled down to 230 via opening partnerships – the same as our target this time. Each time we had fallen away pretty badly.
I’d scored just one off 10 balls from Jimmy Anderson before I faced up to Stuart Broad for the fourth ball of the fourth over.
He brought in a third slip and bowled a corker: just short of a length on off-stump it lifts and jags away – and I get a nick.
I spin round to see it flying like a rocket – but bisecting the distance between new keeper Jonny Bairstow and first slip Alastair Cook.
Bairstow doesn’t move a muscle sideways, and at the last moment Cook shoves out a hand, which the ball hits before flying off to the boundary.
Broad’s look is thunderous and he stomps back to his mark in that long-legged, idiosyncratic way that people love to imitate.
I don’t need to be a cricketing Einstein to guess what the next ball will be. It’s short, quick and rising to head-height – but thankfully just outside off stump – and I’m ready.
I try an uppercut – a shot I’ve never played before in a Test match – and hallelujah, I get it in the middle.
Over the top of slips it flies, bounces once, and crashes into the fence.
On any other ground it’s six. The crowd roars – all 38,522 of them. It’s got to be my day, I think.
But successful run-chases happen only when the top order holds onto its wickets.
In experiencing lots of them over the years I know that to win, you also have to be bold. So I go for it, and the runs flow.
Two things stick with me later. I hear that Kerry O’Keeffe in the ABC commentary box is on fire as he pronounces a personality switch has happened – someone who looks like Chris Rogers is playing like Davey Warner, while Warner is playing second fiddle, as Chris Rogers generally does.
And that finds its way into our dressing room later, when Davey is called ‘Buck’ and I get ‘Davey’ …
The second thing is the astonished comment I get from my father.
For years, he’s tried to teach me how to late cut – and decided he was a complete failure.
Today, it was my late cut that demoralised England – a third of my runs coming behind point.
Like the uppercut, it’s a shot I rarely play. Yes, I thick-edge them down there often, but late cut? Pretty rare.
There was another reason for my adventurousness: no more Graeme Swann, who had retired after Perth due to injury problems.
When I heard that news, it was a moment where I thought, ‘well the guy who keeps troubling me is gone, I could actually do all right here’.
It freed me up even against other bowlers.
I wasn’t happy to get out to Monty Panesar before we reached the target, but it was nice to get to walk off and take in the appreciation of the crowd, a bit like a footballer being subbed off late in a game where he’s scored a hat-trick.
The only source of deflation – and a minor one at that – was to be told I was man of the match and then hear it changed to Mitch. Who doesn’t love a fast bowler?
This is an edited extract from Bucking the Trend by Chris Rogers, published by Hardie Grant Books (RRP $45). It is available in stores nationally.