Saturday, 5 September 2009

Better if the Buck stops here




It wasn't just the innings he played against Kent over the last couple of days that prompted this article, but in recent weeks I have been increasingly of the opinion that we would be best served next season if Chris Rogers were to remain as overseas player.

There are a number of reasons for this, but highest among them is that I cannot think of anyone who could realistically do any better, or be more readily available.

Think about it. If Rogers were to earn an Australian recall this winter, it would be as a member of their Test side, not the one day one. Rogers the four day batsman is a far more impressive beast than the one day variety, despite the fact that he averages over 50 for us in one day cricket this season. Shane Watson has made a good fist of opening this year, but for me he is not a genuine Test match opening batsman, while Phil Hughes was found out a little in the Ashes series, despite batting in Bradmanesque style for Middlesex beforehand. Rogers is a compact, organised, classy player who scores runs.

For what its worth, I think he would do better in one day games if he didn't try to score so quickly. It perhaps seems silly, but he is a naturally free scoring batsman and should go out simply to bat through 20, 40 or 50 overs, rather than going for the over ambitious. Several times in the Twenty/20 this year he was caught in the deep, yet there are few Derbyshire players score much faster than him when he is simply working it around and punishing the bad ball.

It is perhaps churlish to criticise someone who averages over 50 in one day cricket, but Rogers has never been recognised as a one day player and rarely goes on to centuries by which top one day players are judged. I don't doubt for a second that an Afridi, Watson, White or Hopes would win us more one day cricket than Rogers, but would they be better players overall?

I think not. Partly because of their commitments to their countries next summer and partly because Rogers is a tough act to follow. They are all fine players, but in first class cricket this year the skipper has four centuries and four fifties in 17 innings, one in every two. I cannot see, nor expect, that anyone else would do better than that. I've written before that an overseas batsman, to be worth the money, must average 50. Forty is OK if that player takes some wickets, fifty is a good player. Buck averages 60.

He also catches flies at slip, a very safe pair of hands, while he has been a solid captain. Note I said "solid", not excellent. For me, a really good captain makes things happen. Mike Brearley, Ray Illingworth, Michael Vaughan, Eddie Barlow - those guys were captains. If the game was drifting, or going away from them, they would do something unexpected. A little like Stuart Surridge, the legendary Surrey captain. He was known to declare an innings in arrears as he saw the overhead conditions changing to suit his bowlers. Bowl them out again, then knock them off was a policy he used more than once. It needed confidence in his men - easier to have when you have Bedser, Loader, Laker and Lock in your attack and Peter May in your batting line up - and in his own judgement.

Yet it was a different age. Imagine the message boards if Rogers had declared at 270-1 yesterday and aimed to bowl Surrey out again, or be set a total that we could go for on an easing pitch. That may have been our best chance of a win, as I find it hard to see us bowling Kent out today on an increasingly docile track, but Rogers would have been slaughtered. It's at times a thankless task. Look how many (me included) moaned that he'd not bowled Mark Lawson when we failed to beat Northamptonshire. Yet look how Lawson bowled against Kent in the Pro 40. Was Rogers wrong, or were we?

No, we should be thankful that we have one of the better, most consistent and reliable professionals on the market. Maybe, just maybe, Cameron White might score the weight of runs that Rogers has done and might take a few wickets to boot. He'd catch just as well at slip and he'd be great in the Twenty/20. He's a very good captain too, having been given the Victorian post at a similar age to that of Kim Barnett when he was skipper here. He would, however, miss around 6-8 weeks of the season with Australian commitments, so then what? Afridi might win a one day game or two and could do the same with a late season leggie spell or two. Yet his commitments would rule him out for a longish period, while the concept of Afridi averaging 60 with the bat stretches credibility just a little...

Likewise Hopes. You'd probably get a batsman averaging in the forties and a bowler in the thirties, while Watson might average in the fifties yet not worry too many with the ball, even assuming his dodgy knee/back/groin/shoulder lasted the course. Fine players both, but again, the bottom line is they've too many other commitments.

For me, the ideal scenario would be a Test recall for Chris Rogers. The cruel among us might hope he didn't acquit himself too well, but success wouldn't impair his availability for Derbyshire. I'm firmly of the opinion that Rogers could be every bit the success for Australia that Simon Katich has been of late. For a country that has prided itself on being the land of opportunity, to discard forever a player as good as Chris Rogers after one Test would be unduly cruel.

I'm sure I'm not the only one who hopes he gets a chance this winter and I'm sure that John Morris will make no final decision on replacing him until he's seen how things pan out.

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