Chris Rogers knows better than anyone just how good Sam Robson is and the Australia batsman predicts a big summer for his fellow Middlesex opener.
Rogers’s one regret, though, is that Robson’s expected entrance into the Test arena will be with England and not Australia.
Robson was born in Paddington, New South Wales, to an Australian father and played Under-19 cricket for Australia but has chosen to represent the country where his mother was born.
Having impressed for England Lions in the winter there have been calls to get him into the Test side and the 24-year-old added weight to that argument with an innings of 163 in Middlesex’s 10-wicket victory over Nottinghamshire at Lord’s earlier this month.
“I see Sam opening the batting for England this summer,” says Rogers. “This is a massive shame because I still believe he should be playing for Australia. He should be honoured to play for Australia but that’s his choice.”
However, great as Rogers’s anguish is about Robson’s decsion, he says: “I wish him well. I’m a massive supporter of Sam. He’s exceptionally talented and mentally he’s as good as I’ve seen a young player for a long while. That’s his real strength. He’s got the game. If he keeps playing the way he is, there’s no limitations for him.”
As Robson is about to embark on his international career, it seems appropriate to take a look at Rogers’s.
Before last summer’s Ashes, the Australia opener would have been entitled to think his Test experience would be limited to a solitary match against India in 2008. Now, though, he has four Test centuries in the last eight months and the accolade of being one of Wisden’s five Cricketers of the Year.
The Middlesex captain says: “It would’ve been nice to have got an opportunity earlier, particularly when I was around 32 [when he made his debut against India]. But the drive to play international cricket was always there. I wanted to show a lot of people, and even prove to myself, that I could succeed at that level. So the dream never really went away. But it was almost a bit of desperation to get another chance and make it count.”
That desperation, he admits, was evident as he neared his first century at Chester-le-Street in last summer’s Fourth Test, taking 19 balls to go from 96 to 100, “It almost felt like I was going to run through a brick wall for it. It was an amazing moment. To get a century for your country is very enjoyable and I shall always remember it.”
Since then, the 36-year-old has had many moments to savour. “What was really impressive [in this winter’s Ashes] is that we had such good tactics and we really nailed them. One of the real qualities of Darren Lehmann [the Australian coach] is the clarity he can bring to a side, especially regarding thinking and tactics. By the time we got to Australia and Mitchell Johnson fitted into that puzzle, we really clicked.
“We had a plan, we followed it through and we gave the opposition nothing. That was the mantra for the side, so I guess you could say that the old ruthless Australia is back.
“To then go and beat South Africa in South Africa shows we are a very good side. Not many teams would’ve been able to stand up to us.”
But does he not find it ironic that the back-to-back Ashes series began with talk of dissension in the Aussie dressing room and ended with the England camp so riven that Kevin Pietersen was sacked? Rogers is keen to draw a veil over last summer’s Aussie rows. “I don’t necessarily think that was the case. I didn’t play under Mickey Arthur [the previous coach]. Maybe people weren’t assured of their spots, even a position in their side.”
As for England, he says: “It’s always hard to mask the problem when you’re losing, it’s much easier when you’re winning.”
But whatever the English problems, Rogers cannot hide his delight at Graeme Swann sensationally quitting the tour with England 3-0 down. Swann immediately retired and Rogers said: “I was definitely surprised because he was still bowling particularly well to me. I found him the hardest of the England guys to face.”
However, the Aussie star offers England some consolation. “You don’t become a bad side overnight. It’s going to take individual players to stand up and really change the momentum. Individual players have to perform well and drag the others along with them.”
Rogers’s county colleague, Steve Finn, had a winter to forget in Australia. The only man in England’s 17-strong Test squad not to appear in the series, he was then sent home early from the tour to work on technical aspects of his game.
Finn took nine for 173 in the win against Notts and, although Rogers does not doubt his talent, he thinks the fast bowler should only be eased back on to the Test stage.
“When you go through such a disappointing period it takes time to get real confidence back, not just a little bit of confidence that might be shattered after one bad spell. I would like to see him given a prolonged period for Middlesex where he’s just able to enjoy his surroundings, bowl how he wants without being under the spotlight if he bowls a bad spell. He can enjoy his cricket and get back to the Steven Finn that I know, the happy, chirpy and cocky one.
“I’m not saying give him a rest for the summer. There’s a fair bit of first-class cricket to go. Let him play all that, give it a while and just see where he’s at, maybe midway through the summer.”
Just in time for the arrival of India who may not fancy the thunderbolts of a Finn revived under Rogers’s tutelage.