Chris Rogers has defended Australia’s on-field conduct after Jonathan Agnew, the BBC cricket correspondent, accused them of dishonouring the memory of their fallen team-mate, Phillip Hughes, with continued sledging during the recent Test series with India.
The death of Hughes, three days short of his 26th birthday after he had sustained a blow to the neck batting for South Australia in a Sheffield Shield match in Sydney last November, rocked Australia and the rest of the cricketing world.
It led to an emotional eulogy by Michael Clarke at the batsman’s funeral, during which the Australia captain said: “Phillip’s spirit, which is now part of our game forever, will act as a custodian of the sport we all love.”
Agnew, though, believes Australia’s players failed to honour those words during a fractious Test series against India. “Michael Clarke said very clearly that Hughes’s memory would run through the team, and would be in the way they would play their cricket,” he said. “Well, I haven’t seen evidence of that. I really hoped that out of this tragedy might have come some good. But the players haven’t behaved any better, and I think that’s a real disappointment.”
However, Rogers, who opened in all four Tests against India, does not believe the team crossed the line and says they will continue to show the same on-field aggression during next summer’s Ashes series in England. “I can understand that looking from the outside it looks like a few flashpoints and a bit of spite but that’s just the nature of Test cricket,” he said.
“Everyone goes out there and competes as hard as they can. At times the anger does rise to the surface. I’d like to think it was pretty hard fought but everybody afterwards still gets on and what happens on the field stays on the field.
“I think there was still a lot of respect. India gave as good as they got and we like that. Everyone is desperate to win and sometimes these things happen.”
He added: “With the fast bowlers we have in our side, it’s about being aggressive, getting to the opposition. I wouldn’t think things would change particularly with the Ashes coming up.”
Rogers, who has spent more than a decade playing county cricket, has earmarked that series for an emotional farewell to Test cricket at the age of 37. “You never say never but particularly with the Ashes coming, if it was to finish then that would be a bit of an honour,” he said. “With the amount of cricket I’ve played in England it would round things off well, particularly if we won.
“I owe a lot to England and what they’ve done for me so it would be a nice way to finish after we lost the last Ashes series there in 2013. We weren’t a particularly stable side at the time, but we’ll go into this time with a lot more confidence and we’ll look to win it.”
England bounced back from last winter’s Ashes whitewash with a 3-1 home Test series victory against India. Rogers, though, says there are still plenty of shortcomings Australia can exploit. “I still think there are a few weaknesses,” he said. “They might be improving but they are not near the highs they were a few years back and there are still a few guys under pressure in that side. There are a few holes for us and hopefully we can make the most of it.”
Chief among those under pressure is Alastair Cook, who remains in charge of the Test side despite losing the one-day captaincy shortly before Christmas.
Cook has not scored a Test century since May 2013 and the identity of his opening partner for England’s next Test series in the Caribbean this April is still undecided, with Yorkshire’s Adam Lyth likely to take over from Australian-born Sam Robson, with whom Rogers has opened the batting at Middlesex for the past three years.
He said: “Sam is under a bit of pressure at the top, as is Cook, too, I think. He needs to be leading from the front, particularly when you’ve got a young opener with you. The opening partnership is far from settled and that is going to be crucial.
“Sam is still developing his game and anyone who comes in – Lyth or whoever – they’re still going to find it hard initially as well. So there’s some chances for us to hurt England come the Ashes.”
Rogers, who will lead an Australian Prime Minister’s XI against England in their final warmup match before the start of the Tri-Series, also revealed he has agreed in principle to return for one final summer of county cricket with Middlesex. “I have a handshake agreement about playing in 2016,” he said. “It’s a long way away but I think it’d be another nice way to finish.”