They’re just not the same. This is the dead rubber consensus. Spin it how you will, for Australia this week at best constitutes a modest face-saving exercise in the name of a couple of very worthy retirees. There’s no undoing what’s been done.
My gold-hatted compatriots clapped at all the right times as the board ticked over like it hadn’t since the last time the carnival was in London, but could rightly have leant over to each other when doing so to say, “It’s all a bit late now”.
Yet for all the bleakness, one of those who was saying goodbye here had time to impart a final lesson before departing stage left.
As with the Sydney Cricket Ground, The Oval’s traditional place at the end of the summer’s Test calendar lends itself to farewells. Michael Clarke’s farewell has been the topic of robust national debate, but it has been clearer for Chris Rogers.
There is a universal understanding that this nearly 38-year-old opening batsman has got an awful lot right in his two years at the top. His opinions are sought and his words respected.
When Rogers and David Warner entered the ground it was to a standing ovation that had nothing to do with them. The crowd rose as one to honour the team that had razed Australia. For the tourists it was a timely reminder of what could have been, on a ground that now carries a wretched decade of Ashes memories for Australia teams.
In response, Rogers showed his intent from the outset, leaving the first five balls of the innings alone. After 10 overs, Australia had 14 runs. But for no loss. There was a beauty to this monotony, given the corresponding mark at Nottingham in the previous Test had them on 35 for 7. Forty minutes at The Oval constituted Test cricket’s return to normal programming. Australia had at last broken the cycle.
When the 50 partnership came, after an hour and a half, it was the first of its kind in an Australia first innings for 34 days, but that may as well have been 34 months, given how much has changed.
Warner eventually went up through his natural gears, hitting five boundaries in as many overs to clock his half-century. It was the only time he has met that mark at the first time of asking in this series. More telling, however, was his purposeful defensive stroke to take them into the hutch at lunch at 82 for 0.
Rogers ran up to his partner and placed an arm around his back, reflective of his pride. Warner had faced 88 balls in their two hours together at the crease. Rogers had lauded the younger man’s fight in his valedictory press conference, and here, in his own way, he had fought.
Rogers has not been shy in reflecting on his team-mates’ inability to occupy the crease in English conditions. In turn, the 27 runs he earned to lunch were almost inconsequential; it was the process, the concentration, the deed.
One shy of 2,000 Test runs at the break, Rogers passed the milestone in as many Tests as Allan Border, and one match slower than Steve Smith. For a man who craves hundreds, his quarter-century tally of Tests leaves a legacy to those who come next that validates how it was done before big bats and short boundaries.
When the opening stand passed 100 it was the ninth century partnership from 41 attempts; that’s 23 fewer innings than the lauded Bob Simpson and Bill Lawry for the same amount. Rogers fell to a ball that beat him, but his primary job was done; the platform was built. In a day that matters little, the old pro had schooled them once again. Will it leave a lasting impression? We can only hope.Reuse content