Australia’s Chris Rogers will have the chance to revive his international career after coach Darren Lehmann confirmed on Monday that the veteran batsman would open alongside Shane Watson in next week’s first Ashes Test.
Lehmann, brought in last week after Cricket Australia sacked former coach Mickey Arthur, had already indicated all-rounder Watson would be returning to the top of the order.
However, with the Australia squad featuring several openers, that still left some doubt about the identity of Watson’s first-wicket partner.
Former Australia batsman Lehmann ended speculation on Monday by announcing that the 35-year-old Rogers, who has enjoyed several successful stints in English county cricket, would open, having made his lone Test appearance five years ago when he scored 15 and 4 against India.
Cricket Australia tweeted on Monday: “Darren Lehmann confirms Shane Watson and Chris Rogers will open the batting for Australia in the first Ashes Test at Trent Bridge.”
Australia faced Worcestershire yesterday in their second and final four-day warm-up match ahead of the first Test against England, which starts on Wednesday next week.
Rogers and Watson are both in the side to play Worcestershire, as is Ed Cowan, a Test opener under Arthur, whose prospects of playing at Nottingham’s Trent Bridge ground appear to have been hit by Lehmann’s decision.
So too were those of opener David Warner, banned until the start of the first Test after punching England’s Joe Root in a Birmingham bar.
Rogers captained Middlesex during the early part of this season, following stints with rival English counties Derbyshire, Leicestershire and Northamptonshire.
He averages an impressive 50.38 in first-class cricket, with 60 hundreds in 239 matches.
It is highly unusual for Australia to recall a player after so long in the international wilderness, particularly one as old as Rogers.
However, an unconcerned Lehmann told Sky Sports News: “You can always improve, whatever age you are.”
“That’s what we want to do, learn and get better, and if we can keep doing that on and off the ground we’ll be fine,” Lehmann added.
Lehmann made five changes to the side that beat Somerset by six wickets, with Rogers replacing Usman Khawaja.
Meanwhile, fast bowlers Jackson Bird and Ryan Harris have replaced James Pattinson and Peter Siddle, while 19-year-old spinner Ashton Agar plays instead of Nathan Lyon, set to be Australia’s first-choice spinner come the Ashes.
Leg-spinning all-rounder Steven Smith, a late call-up to the squad, comes in for fast bowler Mitchell Starc.
Australia captain Michael Clarke, the team’s best batsman, is set to play his second match in a row — an encouraging sign for the tourists after he missed the Champions Trophy with a recurrence of his longstanding back injury.
Lehmann added that Australia were close to finalizing their Trent Bridge XI, but stressed that some places were still up for grabs.
“There’s not many [question marks] now, we’re pretty comfortable with it,” he said.
“We’re pretty close. It’s one or two [places] and we’ll work those out over the next four or five days. We’ll make sure everyone gets the best chance to forward for selection for the first Test,” Lehmann added.
England are bidding for their third straight Test series win over Australia — something they last achieved in the 1950s.
Lehmann acknowledged that England would start the series as favorites following Australia’s troubles under Arthur, including a 4-0 series loss in India earlier this year.
However, he insisted that an Australia side written off in some quarters as the “worst to tour England for 30 years” would be competitive.
“We deserve to be underdogs, to be fair,” said Lehmann, who knows English cricket well from his time as a player with Yorkshire.
“England have been pretty good for a long period of time. We have to play our best, we know that, but it’ll be a tighter series than everyone thinks, I reckon,” he added.