Opinion: Rogers is perfect for Ashes mission

Australia

Chris Rogers will never play more important cricket than in the Ashes series that awaits him; the last international fixtures of his long and decorated professional career. Provided he's picked.

It was instructive to selection thinking when Darren Lehmann was asked if Rogers would be a certain starter for Cardiff; he came short, saying there are 'no guarantees' and signalled that he'd have to perform in the early tour games at Kent and Essex.

Now, of course he wouldn't mind runs, but Rogers' spot, in the context of this tour, shouldn't be one for prevaricating upon. He’s purpose-built for the mission at hand over the next two and a half months, one an Australian cricket team hasn't executed since 2001.

While the Caribbean Tests were dominated well inside seven days, it’s timely to note that only two scores of over 50 were posted by the top seven in first innings hits; Steve Smith and Adam Voges’ series-defining tons.

This had the effect of making Rogers’ absence – coming directly after his own run of six consecutive half-centuries – doubly conspicuous; even if the West Indies lacked the consistency to take anything nearing full advantage.

The top-order squeeze that loomed in the West Indies was delayed as a result of Rogers’ concussion, Voges in turn getting his start without requiring an omission (other than Joe Burns, who wasn't selected to tour).

Voges and Smith aside, the story of the last fortnight is somewhat less lavish, but not positions that Rogers is competing for.  

The captain Michael Clarke is in need of form, and while his 47 in the first innings here was critical in setting up the Sabina Park platform (combining with Smith for 118 after Australia were 2/16), he looks short his fluent best. Still, with fitness and focus levels all sky high, the skipper doesn't need much motivation. He'll be right.

Despite David Warner not cashing in either, he remains the best opener in the world through the last 18 months. Interestingly, that didn't dissuade coach Lehmann pointedly telling media that he thought the New South Welshman had struggled on this tour. One suspects he'll be interesting to watch with a point to prove, even if his performances in England to date haven't flattered.

Brad Haddin has reached 50 only once in the last 18 Test innings, but is quarantined for the obvious reason of keeping wicket. As is Shane Watson, Lehmann reiterating his support for a side with an extra seam-up bowling option despite his all-rounder averaging less than 28 with the bat since the end of the 2013-14 summer.

This process of elimination suggests only one batsman can be moved on to accommodate Rogers return, and that’s Shaun Marsh, unlucky as he would be after looking more at home in the Test XI this time around than in his previous two stints.

In practice, Voges has overtaken Marsh in the middle order while his state teammate was moonlighting in Rogers vacated opening position. He slotted perfectly, continuing the form of his life, and with a prolific start to the country season before national duties called (461 runs at 56, with a century and three 50s), he’s not going anywhere.

Which brings us back to primacy of Rogers in this equation.

Closer to 38 than 37, with such a short window left as an international having already foreshadowed retirement at the end of the Ashes, it has been a frustrating stretch on the sidelines for him. But now he returns to where he’s been at his most inexhaustible.

Of the nearly 24,000 First Class runs he’s accumulated in his marathon career, over 12,000 have been in England, with exactly half of his 36 hundreds coming there too.

Indeed, this is the first season since 2003 where Rogers hasn't had a county contract of one form or another, averaging 54 on English soil through that eleven year stretch, only finishing with a season average of less than 50 just twice.  

And just last year, captaining Middlesex whose home is Lord's (the venue of the second Test), he clocked 1333 runs at 55 with yet another four tons.

There'll be no one better equipped to deliver the goods in England than the old bloke in the glasses. For the confidence it could only foster, it’s worth locking him in.

Adam Collins is an Australian cricket writer @collinsadam

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