BY DONAL WILSON
Victoria has a young cricketer in its squad capable of playing 100 Tests, according to head coach Chris Rogers.
Speaking at the 53rd Australian Cricket Society annual dinner, Rogers spoke glowingly of Will Pucovski and others on Victoria’s emerging list.
‘(In cricket) there are some who are talented, but it’s the one’s who make good decisions for a long period of time (who progress and excel),’ he said.
‘Will has that in spades. I feel he can play over a 100 Tests and I’m not the only one saying that,’ he said.
An 11th hour substitute on the night for James Pattinson, Rogers says his mentoring of so many ambitious youngsters is highly satisfying and Pucovski, who made his Test debut in January, is just one of many emerging players who could consistently represent their country.
‘We have a new generation coming through,’ he said. ‘We might have only one Victorian (Aaron Finch) in the West Indies right now, but that’s a selection thing, out of our control. Right now we don’t have as many 24-28 year olds pressing for selection, but that is going to change.
One youngster, 21-year-old paceman Mitch Perry is highly talented, bowling outswing at brisk pace. His dismissal of NSW’s Steve Smith was one of the highlights of the fragmented summer for Rogers, bowling coach Mick Lewis and staff.
Perry had earlier been presented with the ACS’s Steve Mason Young Cricketer of the Year award.
Rogers also spoke glowingly of the prospects of pacemen Sam Elliott (Matthew Elliott’s son) and Brody Couch from Warrnambool and the mature-aged batsman James Seymour who also played for the first time for the Vics at Marsh Sheffield Shield and one-day Cup level.
‘Sam is a real prospect, 6 ft 6 in who gets it through and can move it. Couchy also has a bit of X-factor about him. He’s not particularly tall but he’s strong,’ said Rogers. ‘He’s a bit of a skidder. White-ball cricket will suit him.’
Others like Will Sutherland and the aspiring Cam McClure also have promising futures. ‘It’s up to us as coaches to help develop these players so we can have more Victorian players in future Boxing Day Tests,’ he said.
Late-blooming left-hander James Seymour was also among seven or eight to play for the Vics for the first time in 2020-21. At 29 he is well travelled and spends his off seasons in Darwin.
‘He’s a great story,’ said Rogers. ‘He didn’t quite get the opportunities earlier in his career, (but) through hard work and determination he has continued to turn himself into a better and better player. Without being paid, he has been a virtual professional player for the past five years, playing everywhere he can. I love the way he goes about it.’
With the Sheffield Shield season due to start earlier in September, he said the likes of Pucovski and incumbent Test opener Marcus Harris will both be in contention for the opening spring-time Test of the year against Afghanistan – should they make runs early.
Harris, currently overseas, is also working hard to improve his deficiencies against pacemen going around the wicket to him and against quality off-spinners.
‘He’s going through some interesting time,’ he said. ‘It’s important to understand playing for Australia a lot of the time they’re not the final product. I can say that from personal experience as you go up a level and you get found out. Change doesn’t happen overnight – it takes a year maybe two. Marcus was getting squared up by the faster bowlers but he’s working hard at it.’
Scorer of five 100s in his 25 Tests for Australia, Rogers is entering his second year as Victoria’s head coach. He is also an ABC commentator and author – ‘the ultimate insider’ as Society president Ken Piesse termed him during the lively question-answer session.
Rogers agreed with Piesse over Australia’s refusal to change its frontline four bowlers last summer. ‘Without a doubt it was a big mistake last series against India. Bowlers run out of steam. You want them bowling at 95 per cent (capacity) all the time, or they risk being picked off.’
He hopes James Pattinson can take some part in the upcoming Ashes series. ‘He’s certainly good enough,’ he said.
In a fascinating talk, Rogers spoke of his own elongated battle for recognition. Having played a one-off Test in Perth in 2008, he had to wait five more years for another opportunity, when he was 35. Being selected for the 2013 Ashes touring team was a highpoint he’ll never forget. ‘Bless you John Inverarity,’ he said.
‘They were looking for experienced players. Mike Hussey and Ricky Ponting had just retired. For the first time I felt like I was in the right place at the right time.’
Australia’s then head coach Micky Arthur told Rogers he was going to be opening in the first Ashes Test in England. However, ‘later that night Arthur got sacked and I wasn’t sure what was going to happen’.
‘Darren Lehmann (Arthur’s replacement) asked to come up and see me. My heart sank when he said I wasn’t going to play in the warm-up match. Then he said: ‘But you’re playing in the first Test.’
‘Years later he told me it was one of his favourite moments of his coaching career,’ Rogers said.
Rogers first Test for Australia at Lord’s was eventful. ‘(Opening partner) Shane Watson came over to me and said, “Mate I am copping that much abuse on social media for using up reviews. I’m not going to review anymore.”
Australia started well until Stuart Broad hit Watson on his front pad. ‘Watto immediately started to walk off. He was at the far (Mursery) end and had to walk back past me.
‘Mate, mate,’ I said, ‘review it.’
‘Nah… that was out.’
‘No, no, no,’ I said. ‘It was missing.’
‘He ended up reviewing it and it was out.’
At Durham, Rogers made his first Test century, having swept Graeme Swann for four. It ended 15 minutes of torment where Swann had bowled 23 ‘dot’ balls to him.
Asked about facing the likes of Broad and Jimmy Anderson, England’s two long-time pace masters, Rogers said it was a constant challenge.
‘Of of all the people I’ve played against, Anderson sledged me the most without a doubt,’ he said.
‘Basically he’d call me a f. little c. Then he changed it up to say how I was an ugly f. little c.’
‘His bowling action is so perfect the seam of the ball will be always bolt upright. It leans the way it’s going to swing. I always tried to play late, not commit myself early and adjust for the swing.
‘Stuart Broad was always (also) difficult because the seam would wobble. You’d think it’s going to swing out and it would seam back in.
‘Both are very consistent. If there is a weakness there, they’ll find it.’
* Donal Wilson is our ACS literary scholar