John Townsend: Australia's odd couple stand and deliver at last
The Aussie Angle: Painstaking partnership for fifth wicket puts visitors in control
Sunday 11 August 2013
Australia are no doubt congratulating themselves on the success of Shane Watson's move to No 6.
The nation's great enigma responded to his change of duty with the bright-eyed relish of a man eager to accept his inheritance after years in the waiting room. Think Prince Charles in creams.
But just as Michael Clarke says at every turn that a batting position is just a number, and that the number doesn't matter, Watson's blithe performance in the middle order can be credited as much to the batsman at the other end of the pitch as the brains trust that made the call.
Chris Rogers had the toughest, yet sweetest, day of his brief Test career as he kept the England seamers at bay from the first half-hour until long shadows emerged from the murk to stretch towards Lumley Castle.
The left-hander's innings was a genuine ordeal. He played and missed numerous times against a new ball that zipped about as Stuart Broad, in particular, worked him over.
Two reviews came in three Broad deliveries – one first out then reversed and the other not out that so nearly became an out through a different means to the original appeal.
A catch also flew into the slips, where Graeme Swann failed in his bid to pinch it from his captain.
The opener was barely more fluent later in the day as he inched towards three figures, staggered to a halt at the gates of his destination, then finally lurched to the most triumphant moment of his cricketing life.
It was an innings of such sweat and spirit that his former West Australian team-mate Justin Langer would have been proud to call it his own.
There was barely a memorable stroke, and plenty of missteps, yet Rogers found a way to keep moving on a narrow and dangerous road while his colleagues succumbed along the way.
Watson was not one of them for a long while. The pair shared a century stand that took Australia's position from extreme peril to the real prospect of taking control of the match today.
Watson's contribution was just his second half-century in his past 20 innings, but it was no coincidence that he offered his most compelling innings of the series in partnership with a player with whom he has forged a warm and effective relationship.
The pair had had little to do with each other over the years, as Rogers toiled away at his craft in state and county cricket while Watson offered much though delivered much less on the international stage.
Yet they hit it off immediately as openers and it was a significant gamble that the partnership was broken to promote David Warner to the top of the order.
Rogers and Watson had batted five times together by that stage, returning 49 a start as the most prolific pair of regular openers in Test ranks this year, and had looked to have established a healthy rapport.
It was strong enough for Rogers to go to his senior partner, though chronological junior, to offer advice about Watson's head position that was the source of the opener's constant lbw dismissals.
It was as if the batsman had a Wat-spot just below the knee roll on his left pad, so often did the England seamers strike it.
The pair worked on the fault together during their week in London while Australia took on Sussex in Hove, and it was evident that the tutorials had worked when Watson batted with such greater poise and precision during his 68 at Durham.
Cricket statistics can be used to support or demolish any number of cricket theories but, equally, the stark numbers have a truth about them.
Rogers and Watson have batted together just six times, but their relationship has been fertile enough to average 62 runs a stand.
It is not a world-beating mark, but in an Australian team who have had only three pairs return half-century averages together in the past three years, this odd couple qualifies for special status.
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