Chris Rogers must play in the opening Test

Date: June 19, 2015 / Posted by Glenn Mitchell

Australia's Chris RogersDarren Lehmann has said Chris Rogers is not guaranteed a spot in the first Ashes Test at Cardiff on 8 July.

Commenting in Jamaica earlier in the week before the team departed for its Ashes campaign, Lehmann said, “There’s no guarantee with anything at the moment”.

That may well be the case but the absence of Rogers at the top of the order at the start of this Ashes series could prove a big problem for Australia.

While Rogers is by no means the most important player in the squad he is a vital cog, especially in English conditions. The dour 37-year-old left-hander announced last month that the forthcoming series will be his last.

His build-up to the eagerly awaited series was quite literally dealt a blow when he was struck on the head by a net bowler two days out from the start of the first Test against West Indies in Dominica just over a fortnight ago.

The ongoing effects of the knock saw him miss both Caribbean Tests. He now has three weeks in England to show he is ready for the fight.

Rogers’ absence at the top of the order in the West Indies was filled by Shaun Marsh. Partnering David Warner, Marsh compiled scores of 19 & 13no in Dominica and 11 & 69 in Jamaica.

While Marsh has opened for Australia at both one-day and T20 level doing so against the red ball in England is a whole different equation.

Rogers has shown his ability at the top of the order over a long and distinguished first-class career. He played his first ten years domestically in Western Australia before moving to Victoria in 2008. In a 290-match first-class career he has amassed nearly 24,000 runs at an average of 49.7, scoring 72 centuries.

A lot of those runs have been compiled in England during county stints with Derbyshire, Leicestershire, Middlesex and Northamptonshire. In 2013, despite his involvement in the Ashes series, he amassed 1068 runs for Middlesex at an average of 56.2. Last year he scored 1333 runs in the County Championship at 55.5.

He compiled an unbeaten 241 early in the 2014 season in a game that saw eventual champions Yorkshire lose its only match of the season. He ended the 2014 season with an unconquered 203 that secured Middlesex a position in the first division again this year.

Winding the clock back ten years, he scored 209 for Leicestershire against Steve Waugh’s Ashes tourists – a team that included Brett Lee, Jason Gillespie, Michael Kasprowicz and Stuart MacGill.

It is often said that opening the batting at Test level is a specialist job and not one where you can throw in a relatively untried batsman in that role.

Australia’s biggest issue on recent Ashes tours has been an inability to counter England’s swing bowlers. The likes of James Anderson and Stuart Broad will likely have a strong say this year as well.

Whilst Anderson was off his game against the world number three New Zealand last month, Broad claimed 13 wickets at 25.4 in the two Tests.

Twenty-five year-old right-arm quick Mark Wood showed enough against the Black Caps in his debut series to indicate he will provide Australia with a bit to think about with his bustling pace – he hit 147km/h – and an ability to extract reverse swing.

Shielding the upper and middle order against England must be a priority for Australia. That said, Rogers is the best man to open the batting with Warner, who is coming off a lean time in the West Indies.

If Australia chooses a makeshift opener over the experience of Rogers it may well regret it even before the series is over.

Since being recalled to the Test side Rogers has averaged 41.0 across 20 Tests. Home and away against England in that time he has averaged 43.7 in ten Tests and scored three of his four Test centuries.

Towards the end of last summer Rogers showed he can be expansive with the blade if required but it is his well-honed defensive qualities that should again come to the fore in a few weeks’ time.

First published on The Roar – theroar.com.au – on 18 June 2015, soliciting 30 comments