Chris Rogers – Ugly Duckling No Longer
It’s amazing how often the ugly duckling becomes the beautiful swan. Or something like that!
For so long throughout his outstanding career Chris Rogers was unable to impress judges despite the amazing volume of runs he produced in Sheffield Shield and English County cricket. Now, after an impressive run as a Test opener, a fascinating autobiography on bookshelves and with a burgeoning radio commentary career in the offing he has become flavour of the month. Even Chris himself would find it hard to believe that his name would be thrust forward by Cricket Australia’s High Performance Manager, Pat Howard as a potential batting coach for the national team.
Rogers is certainly old school, basing his game around technique, finding a way to survive against all types of bowlers and constantly tinkering with his strategy to ensure that he could stay at the crease long enough to make a meaningful contribution to his team, whether that be Western Australia, Victoria, Derbyshire, Leicestershire, Northants, Middlesex, Somerset or Australia. Watching the recent efforts of the Aussie top order they could certainly learn a thing or two from ‘Buck’ about doing whatever it takes to protect their wicket.
It’s fair to say I’ve watched the career of Chris Rogers with a degree of envy as he progressed through the ranks to First Class and eventually Test cricket and I was left behind in grade cricket. However, I came to realise over time that Chris’s hunger to succeed and his thirst for runs far exceeded mine, and my jealousy turned into total admiration.
Chris and I were fairly closely linked throughout our junior days, playing a lot of underage and school cricket against each other on our way to being selected to represent Western Australia in National Championships. In fact the connection wasn’t restricted to cricket with Chris’s mum teaching me in high school and his dad always happy for a chat, showing genuine interest in my progress.
As Chris outlines in his autobiography he was actually selected for the WA Under 17 team as a leg spinner (and David Hussey was selected as an off spinner) but he soon convinced coaches and teammates that he was of far greater value as a top order batsman. Chris made his mark as an opening batsman in the Under 19s carnival when he led WA to a thrilling one-wicket victory over a powerful New South Wales line-up.
In those days the competing sides would share a bus ride from our accommodation at one of the universities to the game venue and home again at the conclusion of a day’s play. On the first day of the carnival NSW racked up 299 runs and had a few wickets in hand at stumps. On the bus following play the skipper of the Blues confidently announced to anyone who was willing to listen (and those who were trying to mind our own business) that “no one scores 300 against New South Wales” so he was planning to declare at the overnight total. Having copped a couple of hidings over the previous years from the strong NSW side the young Warriors were looking for a spur and, with a determined 99 from Rogers setting the platform, we were able to sneak past their total with one wicket remaining. Needless to say, the bus ride home was very enjoyable.
Chris’s innings was an early sign of what was to come throughout his career as he did whatever it took to remain at the crease and steer his team towards victory. There has never been an innings more deserving of a century as he kept at bay a bowling line-up that included future Australian one-day star Nathan Bracken as well as Don Nash, Jamie Heath, Dom Thornely (all future NSW players) and Australian junior off spinner Paul Sutherland. Chris had a knack of squirting the ball between slip and gully to the third man boundary for four, a trait that had frustrated us all when playing against him in Perth, but gave us great joy as a teammate.
In Chris’s autobiography he talks about his struggles fitting in with his teammates as a young player, referring to how he was often the focus of taunts due to his small stature, red hair and pimply skin, as well his his colour-blindness. I remember on one tour watching Chris playing a game of pool against one of his teammates with many of us spectating. We all stayed silent as Chris lined up to pot a ball that he had incorrectly identified as one his own due to his inability to distinguish colours and watched as he sunk the ball in the corner pocket only to incur a foul, resulting in raucous laughter from all except Chris. Like Chris, I felt self-conscious in the group and unsure of how worthy I was of a position in the squad so I was secretly happy that someone else was the focus of the team’s jokes. Poor form from me and I wish I had have been more courageous and stood up for my teammate in that situation.
The intimidation Chris felt in the junior teams continued into the senior squads at a time when there were some extremely confident players around the WA team. Personally, I remember feeling physically ill when training with state players, so much that it affected my ability to keep up in fitness training and rendered me virtually useless when batting in the nets. Fortunately for Chris he had more belief in his ability and such a strong determination to forge a career in cricket that, despite a few hiccups along the way, he managed to secure a spot in the WA team.
Western Australia was blessed was tremendous batting depth in the early 2000’s and Chris found it difficult to maintain his position in the team. Grade cricket was also strong at the time so it wasn’t easy to rack up big scores to keep your name in front of the selectors. In his autobiography Chris shares a story about a day when he was the target of persistent sledging from Mike Veletta who was soon to be appointed as the new state coach. I watched from behind the stumps as our opening bowler Craig McDonald, a talented left arm swing bowler who was unlucky not to crack a state game went past the outside edge of Chris’s bat repeatedly for an over an a half before nicking one into my gloves.
Chris was devastated and sat on the bank in front of the pavilion for the next couple of hours contemplating his future. I wandered over and sat with him during the lunch break when he told me that surely his WA career was over after embarrassing himself in front of the new coach. In fact I think one of Veletta’s comments may have been that Rogers would never get a game while he was in charge. I can’t remember what advice I offered Chris, if any? But I do remember how shattered he appeared. It wasn’t long afterwards that Chris visited an optometrist and found that his poor eyesight was affecting his batting and he hardly looked back from that point on.
Now Chris is making his mark as an entertaining and informative commentator on ABC Grandstand’s coverage of Test cricket. His analysis of the game is spot on and his extensive experience has left him with a variety of stories to effectively fill the quiet spots in seven hours of radio. Ironically I find him a step or two ahead of me again. Sports broadcasting is close to my heart and having had the opportunity to call a few domestic cricket matches and a Women’s Ashes Test, the thought of calling the ball-by-ball action of a Test Match is a dream for me. As with his cricket career, Chris is thoroughly deserving of his position in the team and is doing his job exceptionally well. I can only hope that I get to be his teammate one day again in the future.