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Australia's most underrated cricketer

Jonathan Howcroft

Jonathan Howcroft

Written on Thursday, 07 June 2012 19:55

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Here's a question to think over for a minute or two. Name the Australian cricketers who have scored over 50 first-class centuries.

I'll give you a clue - there are 29 of them.

How did you get on?

Assuming you have actually heard of the game of cricket, identifying number one on the list wouldn't have been challenging. The Don amassed an incredible 117 centuries in his miraculous career, 31 more than his nearest countryman.

The bulk of the list is comprised of players who enjoyed a golden era for batsmen and Australians, spanning the late-1980s through to the mid-2000s. The global trend of flatter pitches, a comparative decline in fast bowling and the increasing professionalism of the game produced optimum conditions to score runs over long and busy careers.

Many in this bracket dominated at international level, the likes of Justin Langer (86), Mark Waugh (81), Matthew Hayden (79), Steve Waugh (79), Ricky Ponting (77), Allan Border (70), David Boon (68), Mike Hussey (58) and Dean Jones (55). Such was the dominance of this group in locking down international places, the careers of other prodigious talents remained predominately at domestic level, save for fill-in jobs or as limited-overs specialists. This includes: Darren Lehmann (82), Stuart Law (79), Michael Bevan (68), Tom Moody (64), Michael di Venuto (60), Simon Katich (54), Jamie Cox (51), Brad Hodge (51) and Matthew Elliott (50).

Then there are the certified legends of Australian cricket, the giants of their time whose achievements resonate in all eras. Titans like Greg Chappell (74), Neil Harvey (67), Bob Simpson (60), Ian Chappell (59), Lindsay Hassett (59), Warren Bardsley (53), and Bill Lawry (50).

Sneaking into the list are a couple that struggle for classification. Murray Goodwin (67) has played the majority of his first class career in Australia whilst representing Zimbabwe internationally, while Kepler Wessels (66) represented Australia at the highest level whilst playing most of his first-class cricket in other countries.

How are you doing so far? Any surprises?

The close readers amongst you will have noticed there are 28 listed above, with one name still to follow.

Any guesses?

Not Adam Gilchrist. Neither is it Doug Walters, or Michael Slater, or Mark Taylor, or Damien Martyn, or Kim Hughes.

The answer, with 54 first-class centuries, and counting, is Chris Rogers.

Consider the list of names above and then appraise your perspective of the current Victorian opener. Is there a more underrated cricketer in the modern game? In Australian history?

There are other numbers to help support Rogers' claim for greatness. Of the 29 on the list, he has played the fewest number of first-class matches (211), with only Matthew Elliott (214) and Lindsay Hassett (216) anywhere near. Consequently he has one of the highest innings-to-hundreds ratios in Australian history, a fact Dylan Atkinson of Cricket Victoria was keen to highlight. Rogers averages a ton every seventh first-class innings he plays, a feat bettered only by Hayden, Harvey, Ponting, Bevan, Lehmann, Hassett and Bradman.

By rights, Rogers should be afforded headline status in Australia's cricketing history, yet, for having the misfortune to play through his country's most run-rich era he occupies barely a footnote.

Despite such a mountain of runs under his belt at a career average of over 50, the sum total of Rogers' international career was four days in Perth in 2008 when he mustered just 19 deputising for Matthew Hayden. Crucially, he underperformed in seven outings for the A side, further limiting his chances of shaking the 'One-Test Wonder' tag. Ironically, his best performance on the international stage came against Australia, when he racked up 209 for Leicestershire when they hosted the touring Australians in 2005. That made him the first Australian since Mark Waugh in 1989 to notch a ton against his national side, along the way adding the second-highest opening stand for any XI against an Australian side in England. If you were wondering, the Australian attacked contained Brett Lee, Jason Gillespie, Michael Kasprowicz and Stuart MacGill.

Away from the public consciousness and in the boondocks of the domestic game, Rogers has received little press. Out of sight out of mind.

Now nearing 35, he is still scoring centuries. His 173 for Middlesex against Somerset in the English County Championship this week is his second of another prolific northern summer. He will doubtless return to Victoria for the 2012-13 campaign and accumulate even more.

Rogers will do so unburdened by the demands placed upon many of his colleagues. Too old for more international honours the left-hander does not hold a Big Bash League contract and played only one Ryobi Cup fixture last season. In an age where quick-fire televised fifties make the front pages, Rogers masters his craft for a much smaller, more devoted audience.

So next time you're considering going to watch the cricket, or you're thumbing through the latest Shield scores, don't forget that there's a living legend still plying his trade - probably Australia's most underrated cricketer.

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