Sat alongside the pitch at the picturesque ground of Wellington Cricket Club, with its ground surrounded by fields containing sheep and horses, one strikingly white, Somerset captain Chris Rogers looks completely at ease. After all, he is a legend at this club, having been a key part in their successful campaign in 2003. His welcome has been nothing but positive, with a Question and Answer evening held the day before being well attended, and with several people coming up to him throughout the day to discuss his time at the club, how his life’s gone since he’s left, or simply to get an autograph like many youngsters were doing.
Rogers was back at Wellington to play in a game raising money for Worcestershire captain Daryl Mitchell’s benefit fund – a t20 match between a Worcestershire Rapids side containing Jack Shantry and a Wellington Legends team including Rogers, former Somerset player Gemaal Hussain, and Kabir Ali. ‘Buck’ recalls his time at the club as being “the first season for them in the premier division, and we were clear underdogs, but I remember we got onto a run at the end and we won seven games in a row and I’ve never really been in a side that had that kind of feeling where you just felt like you were going to win every game, even though you kind of were playing better sides so it was a great, great year to be here and there’s a lot of fond memories. I spoke last night and you could see everyone had great memories of it.” Rogers was also a history maker as he was the first professional to play for Wellington, a role that brought “pressure… because you’re supposedly one of the best players and the locals are looking to you to make a significant contribution… but that’s sport in general.” However, the Somerset skipper enjoyed his time as a professional in club cricket, saying “I just like the fact when you come over here as a professional, you’re immediately landed with ten friends. Everyone makes an effort to look after you and Wellington were one of those clubs. North Devon was the other, Exeter was very good. I just had so many people look after me and been lifelong friends so it’s nice to keep that.”
Rogers admits that when was playing at Wellington, he could never have thought that ten years later, he would be whitewashing England in an Ashes series, expressing his view that “I think they’re (Wellington) as surprised as me that’s for sure. It was a long time ago and I dare say I didn’t have much hope of playing for Australia in an Ashes series but it’s funny how things turn out.”
Rogers played in two completely different Ashes series in 2013 – the 3-0 win for England which was shortly followed by the 5-0 win for Australia, something he described as “Interesting”. “We lost that first series and I think we probably were never going to win it. We weren’t in the right space and there wasn’t a lot of belief amongst the side. Even though we got close a few times we couldn’t finish games off and that was shown. Then we went back and in Brisbane we had a few plans that actually worked straight away and they almost inspired us. We won that first game and that belief came flooding in and then there was a lot of willingness to get England back for beating us so convincingly back in England so there was a lot of inspiration.” He does admit that in “no doubt it helped a few of the English guys were struggling a little bit, but we kind of forced them into that position… We tried to put a lot of pressure on Kevin Pietersen as we felt he was the best player, and so we made it hard for them and I guess we fast-forwarded what was maybe coming.”
Australia were also aided in that series by having Mitchell Johnson in unstoppable form, something Chris described as “so fast, and it was making good players look average. I think the only player who looked capable of playing him well consistently was AB De Villiers, but against the rest, he was unbelievable. I think he got Graeme Smith out four times in thirteen balls in that series and if you have a bowler who’s doing that then you’re probably going to win more than you lose, that’s for sure.”
Rogers final series wearing the baggy green was the 2015 Ashes series, where they played an England side looking to be more aggressive, something he felt they needed as “I think one of the things we felt in the Ashes in Australia was that England were scoring too slowly to hurt us, you know. They’d have to bat for a day and a half at least to get a sizeable total and that would almost be taking too much time out the game, so for them to come back and particularly that day one at Cardiff, when we had them on the ropes and play that kind of innings really put us on the back foot. Joe Root had a little bit of luck early in his innings but then he showed what a fine player he is, and then Mo Ali had one of those days he can have and we maybe ourselves were over-aggressive as well, it’s hard to say.”
Having not played County Cricket in 2015 due to his international commitments, Rogers’ move to the Cooper Associates County Ground came about as “there was some rumours I guess and Timmy Groenewald actually got in touch and said it’s a great club to be at, as did Jim Allenby, two of the guys that I knew quite well and then Matt Maynard was in touch, and we met up in London and spoke through it. We clicked pretty well at the start to be honest, being similar characters, and I like what he does. I’ve got a lot of respect for him, so it was a pretty comfortable decision in the end as not only do I enjoy working with quite a few of those older guys but also the younger group, who could be anything. It’s fantastic to work with them and hopefully be a part of their development, particularly with the Overton’s – that’s been really enjoyable, trying to get them to pitch the ball up and keep attacking. It’s nice to be a part of that.” Having joined Somerset, Buck is part of the group of Australian Test internationals, including Steve Waugh, Ricky Ponting, and Justin Langer, to have played for the Cidermen, an occurrence he feels is because “I think the South West of England is the place that’s most similar to Australia, particularly in terms of people’s attitude. It’s relatively laid back, so it’s nice to be down there. It doesn’t surprise me that quite a few Aussies have ended up down that way and enjoyed themselves and wanted to come back, and yeah, those are some unbelievable names, and I know I’ve got some big shoes to fill.”
The arrival of the former Australian opener to Somerset also saw a change of the side’s captaincy, with him replacing Marcus Trescothick after his six-year stint as the skipper. Rogers admits that replacing a club icon was the “initial worry for me” as “He’s such an institution down in Somerset and he’s so well regarded.” The new captain admits he has been aided by “the fact Tres has been so supportive and been brilliant round the changing room. He’s still the only cricketer I’ve ever met who doesn’t want it to rain – it’s like he wants to milk every last minute of his career, and to have someone like that in your side, when you’re down, you can almost just look for him to drive the side and he’s brilliant to have around so he’s been fantastic and I think that’s helped the other boys as well”. He also thinks that having “Marcus getting runs as well is huge for the club. He gets runs and because of the way he gets them, we’re going to be successful.”
After seven County Championship games, Chris has scored just over 450 runs at an average of 42, including a century at Lord’s against former county Middlesex. Despite this, Rogers concedes that, in his own view, his form has “been scratchy. I haven’t really played an innings that’s been comfortable and as good as I can play. It’s been a lot about fighting and just trying to get the job done, so I think there’s hopefully more to come. It’s always hard when you’ve had a bit of a break to come back but I’m trying hard and hopefully making a contribution. That’s as important as anything, being the captain and the overseas player.”
He views the Somerset squad as “a group of fighters… who will be willing to dig deep”, and wants everyone to make a contribution, as that makes “the team always have the belief that someone can step up and do a job, and that’s what I reckon the best sides have. I believe we’re one of those sides – I still don’t think we’ve played nearly as well as we can, there’s still a lot to come, but that’s understandable as we’ve got a young side”. Rogers finds it “fascinating” to work with the Somerset squad as “you see people at different stages in their careers”. He uses the example of Lewis Gregory in comparison with Middlesex bowler Tim Murtagh, as “you can see the difference between a guy who’s been there, done that and is at the top of their game and a guy who’s still learning his craft a little bit… it’s not just about running in and swinging the ball or seaming the ball, It’s about actually working people out, and that’s the beauty of what this side has”.
Recent Somerset batting hero, and the side’s leading wicket taker in Specsavers County Championship cricket Tim Groenewald received praise off Rogers, who expressed how, “as a captain, you’re very fortunate to play with a bowler who is on the top of his game, who you can always give the ball to – he can always do a job. He may not take a wicket, but he’ll keep it tight and I think Tim’s at a point in his career where this is possibly as good as he’ll bowl and he’s actually been really good for us. I’m sure he believes he’s still got room to get better, and hopefully he does, but I’ve really enjoyed what he’s done this year. I think he’s been fantastic and he’s lead from the front, I think he’s almost dragged a few of the other guys with him, and I see him talking to the other bowlers, telling them what he thinks needs to be done, and that’s fantastic to have.”
With the first win in the County Championship coming in the form of a last wicket partnership between Groenewald and Jack Leach carrying Somerset over the line, the captain described the tension in the changing rooms was “horrific”. Admitting he was “quite hopeful when we were 200-4”, the loss of four wickets for just 30 runs left him feeling “gutted” as “I thought we were going to win, and then I was sure we were going to lose.” Once Jamie Overton was dismissed following a “really good cameo”, “I thought “ah, no chance” again, so I relaxed and started to watch the game.” As the last wicket pairing closed in on the target though, he began to think “we’re winning this”. “I was so confident with the way that the two were batting, I felt we were going to do it, and in the end, that cover drive that Timmy hit, I’ll forever remember that, that’s one of the best wins I’ve ever played in… It was a magnificent effort, and for the boys to do that again in the one day game (vs. Gloucestershire), it’s actually not that surprising because there’s that belief in there, and obviously I was so proud of them when they won that, that was a tremendous effort.”
Looking forward to the rest of the season, Rogers has set a personal target of “at least a thousand runs… As for the team, I’m still a little bit uncertain as to where we’re at – I think we have the makings of a very good side, but equally we’re still not the finished article. If we can keep improving, and other sides are having their own problems, you never know come the end of the season, but as I said at the beginning, I just really want to see this side improve, and in two or three years’ time, if they’re all still playing for Somerset, I’m pretty confident they’ll be right up there as one of the best.”
With that, the interview was over, and following some small talk afterwards he made his way back to the pavilion to continue to meet people and prepare for the game. Worcestershire were batting first, and reached a total of 172, with Ben Cox hitting 72 off 44 balls. Chris Rogers came out to open the batting, and scored 10 off 6 balls before being caught by Jack Shantry diving to his left to take a good catch. However, a 47 off 27 balls from Kadeer Ali led the Wellington Legends to victory.
I would like to express my thanks to Chris Rogers (@BuckRogers55) for taking the time out of his busy evening to do this interview.
For the match report and article on Wellington Cricket Club’s website click here