Even as Australia surrendered the fourth Test of the 2013 Ashes in a bizarre climax, at least one of their batsmen had something to celebrate at the end of it. Chris Rogers scored his maiden Test century at the ripe young age of 35. In the process, he became the second oldest Australian player ever to collect his first ton.
He could also boast of more than 20,000 First-Class runs to go with it, having also played for English counties like Middlesex apart from Western Australia and Victoria. For the first time in the series, the Australian opening pair — Rogers and David Warner — appeared to stabilise and at least resemble a poor man’s version of Matthew Hayden and Justin Langer.
So where has Rogers been all this time? Why does he have just five Tests to his name yet? Well, blame it on the youth obsession in the Australian cricket think-tank. Time was when a player was only good enough to play for Australia when he was into his late 20s or even past 30. Players like Hayden and Mike Hussey had to wait a long while to cement their place in the side.
Yet, as these and other legendary players began to sign off on illustrious Test careers, Cricket Australia decided that the future lay in youth. While that is so obvious a statement it is a cliché, the Australian team also needed a few experienced players in their dressing room to help young players find their feet in Test cricket.
Instead, reasonably good (but not great) players like Brad Hodge or the aforementioned Rogers were ignored and an all-out youth talent hunt was launched. Phil Hughes, Usman Khwaja and Shaun Marsh among others were tried and ditched and then re-looked into. Simon Katich was eased out in rather controversial circumstances. Post the retirements of Ricky Ponting and Michael Hussey, the batting line up has been in a state of constant flux with Michael Clarke being practically the only familiar face for fans. If the Indian selectors appeared reluctant at times to give ageing veterans a gentle nudge, Australia swung to the other extreme.
With the result that Australia’s promising new batsmen have been ill prepared for a challenge as daunting as the Ashes. They have had England on the ropes time and again, but their far more seasoned opponents have hoodwinked them every time. And it’s usually been the batting that has let them down badly, as with the bizarre last session of the Chester-le-Street Test. Australia is currently a team that lacks the experience of victory while England know all about it. Is it any wonder that the series scoreline is overwhelmingly in favour of England?
With Rogers, they seem to have finally bucked the trend… probably because they just needed a solid opener from wherever, irrespective of age. But it’s come a bit late in the day. Hodge will turn 39 this year. A bitter — and older — Katich is also unlikely to return. That probably leaves George Bailey and David Hussey.
Australia may just have run out of too many other Test class veterans to restore balance and stability to the batting line-up. Perhaps, as Clarke put it post the Chester-le-Street match, they are now left with no other option but to wait for the current bunch to mature and blossom into run machines. Until then, they are probably condemned to frustrate and disappoint their fans for longer as they try to learn Test batsmanship all on their own.
(Madan Mohan is a 27-year-old chartered accountant from Mumbai. The writing bug bit him when he was eight and to date, he has not been cured of it. He loves music, cricket, tennis and cinema and writing on cricket is like the icing on the cake. He also writes a blog if he is not feeling too lazy at http://rothrocks.wordpress.com/)