Chris Rogers, Phil Hughes and Australia’s Empty Cupboard.

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BY HERMAN

Chris Rogers is the last remaining hanger on from Australia’s glory years. The appendix of Australia’s golden era. Like an appendix, he didn’t actually do anything, he didn’t actually play a part in those glory years. He simply quietly plied his trade playing shield and county cricket, more or less unnoticed. He accumulated lots and lots of runs in the process, 22,772 in total, 70 centuries. Back then scoring thousands of run in First Class (FC) cricket was the norm. It didn’t guarantee you a place in the test team. Averaging 50 in FC cricket didn’t make you stand out.

During that period many players who may have had illustrious test cricket careers in another era ended up plying their trade in shield and county competitions for most of their careers. Players like Brad Hodge, Stuart Law, Martin Love and David Hussey. Chris Rogers was lucky enough to be a few years younger than most of them. As a consequence, when Australian cricket went into decline, when the lustre wore off, when the side became mortal, he was given a chance at a time when most players would be considering retirement.

His cameo as an Australian opener has been one I have really enjoyed watching. With the rise of twenty20 cricket and four run an over test cricket, his grit and determination has almost been refreshing. Its nice to watch someone who values their wicket, who looks ugly but gets a job done (how I miss Steve Waugh). Sadly for Rogers, his days in the test side are surely numbered. After meagre returns in the UAE they may already be over. He isn’t the future, he is the past. Like an appendix, by virtue of his age, he is more or less expendable. As soon as his form dips, that will be then end of him. Old dogs don’t get many chances.

When the time comes for finding a replacement, unlike during most of Rogers FC career when the pantry was well stocked, overflowing even, the cupboard is now bare. Batsmen who average close to 50 in FC cricket are no longer the norm. Nowadays, they are rare beasts, mythical creatures of times past. This is how players like Doolan and Marsh, players with fundamentally mediocre first class records (avg 37.6 and 35.7 respectively) have earnt test call ups over the last few years. The never ending spring of good batsmen has dried up. There aren’t many options who have earnt a place through sheer weight of runs. Each selection has now more or less become a gamble. A player like Shaun Marsh earns a call up not on form, or performance, but on what is almost a blind hope that being a great cricketer runs in the blood.

This brings me to Phil Hughes. Phil Hughes is one of the few FC batsmen in Australia who has scored runs consistently in the recent past. 8853 to be exact, 26 centuries. His sheer statistical dominance over the rest of the competition means that there has been one hell of a lot of pressure heaped on his shoulders. To an extent his early career mirrors the early careers of Hayden and Langer who spent years and years in and out of the test team before eventually cementing a place.

The major difference between the early careers of Hayden and Langer and Hughes has been attention. Hayden and Langer (as well as Martyn, Hussey and co) were lucky enough to spend most of their early, mid and late twenties refining their games and ironing out flaws in their techniques more or less out of the spotlight. In retrospect that was probably a blessing. Hughes hasn’t been that lucky. Hughes has so far had to do that in the public eye. Each misstep or hiccup has spawned thousands of breathless words across the web, the minutiae of every perceived flaw in his technique has been discussed at length on the back pages of the daily telegraph.

As fans we have been there for every step of Hughes journey. To an extent I feel this can colour our view on Phil Hughes the batsman. The emergence of an “overnight’ success rarely happens overnight and its rarely pretty. Luckily for us, we rarely get to see all the bad bits that come with learning any craft (have you ever listened to someone trying to learn drums? I rest my case). With Hughes, due to the publicity he has received since his test debut, we have. We are all more than aware of his faults. We have probably all had passionate debates about them down at the pub after a few too many beers. Everyone has an opinion on Phil Hughes.

I sometimes get the feeling that the selectors views have been similarly distorted. I often get the feeling that the selectors try their hardest to come up with excuses not to pick Phil Hughes (how Shaun Marsh got picked over Hughes last summer still boggles the mind). That they have bought into the hype about his fatal technical flaws. When they have picked him, they have quickly lost faith and he has invariably found himself once again dropped from the test team. You get the feeling the selectors don’t really believe in Phil Hughes, that he instead only gets begrudgingly picked due to weight of FC runs. Because the cupboard is bare. In fairness he hasn’t done himself any favours when he has been given his brief chances. He hasn’t converted his bags of FC runs into bags of test runs. Eventually he needs to.

Coming full circle. When Chris Rogers short test career finally comes to an end, I hope Hughes gets another chance. Phil Hughes deserves Rogers place. He may be technically flawed. Granted his test career to date has been patchy (Ed note: it doesn’t help he’s been dropped when in form, and picked when out of form). However the fact remains that he is still one of Australia’s brightest batting hopes. The cupboard is bare. He has been one of the only players consistently scoring bags and bags of runs at FC level over the last few years. Scoring runs should still mean something and Phil Hughes has scored a lot of runs. Of course he isn’t the finished product, but at 26 we shouldn’t really expect him to be.

I hope that if he does get another chance the slate is wiped clean. That we forget about the many thousands of words that have been written about the problems with his technique. That we forget about all the hiccups that have punctuated his career to date. He may not make it, he may once again fail, but he does deserve another chance. One thing I know is that gambling on runs is a far better bet than gambling on the hope that being a great test batsman runs in the blood.

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