The end of every Australian summer always brings the same anxiety. No, not that the cricket is over, because the cricket is never over anymore. And not that summer is over, because it’s too bloody hot anyway. No, the fear is that it will herald the announcement that will inevitably one day have to come, that this has been Jim Maxwell’s last season behind the microphone and he is retiring. It’s the sort of announcement that’s bound to come at some point during a Sydney Test, a little after lunch on day three is our guess, and cricket without Maxwell is something we can barely bring ourselves to contemplate.
So it is of late that we have analysed the new members of the ABC Grandstand box with a great deal of scrutiny, aware of the fact that someday one of them is likely to take over Maxwell’s mantle. And we haven’t been all that impressed really; a lot of voices have come and gone in recent years, and none, perhaps other than Ed Cowan and Dirk Nannes, have left much of an impression. This summer, though, has seen two interesting additions to the box, Simon Katich and Chris Rogers, while hopefully a third, Ryan Harris, will ultimately be prised away from the dark side of the force.
Katich is a pretty solid addition, and we look forward to the day when Cowan re-joins the team, likely after his triumphant return to the Test scene (it’s so going to happen, trust us). But it’s Rogers we’d like to talk about. While it might be a bit premature to identify Rogers as the successor to Maxwell on the basis of a single Test, he has already ticked a number of boxes. Firstly he is incredibly even-handed, so much so that Grandstand is now miles ahead of Test Match Special in terms of objectivity. The barely disguised patriotic chest thumping, which Graeme Swann seems to be trying to hang his career on, is now entirely absent. He also (again, utterly unlike Swann) is without ego, and the highlight of the first Test was him referring to himself as dead wood, and Chris Who, in response to Australia’s two century opening stands.
But even more importantly, Rogers mirrors perhaps Maxwell’s most important quality: his willingness to actually criticise Australian cricket. You know, the sort of thing you’d get shot for daring to utter over on Channel Nine. During the first Test, for instance, he opined that he didn’t think the policy of picking both Mitchell Johnson and Starc was working, and questioned whether it should be persisted with. He also criticised the sort of abuse Johnson cops from overseas crowds, and noted the impact it has personally had on him. The latter is particularly interesting as it’s not something we’ve ever really heard before, especially since he was talking about someone still playing.
Rogers seems completely at ease talking about subjects most ex-players won’t go anywhere near for fear of offending someone. Or, as in the case of someone like Warne, being accused of using his position in the media to bully people. But you suspect Rogers would never be so stupid as to accuse someone of being ‘soft’, and has shown already that criticism still has its place within cricket commentary. It just needs to be done with a modicum of tact, and Rogers has already shown that he is clearly capable of that.
Admittedly it’s probably best not to get too carried away. We don’t even know if Rogers is around for the long haul, given that he is still playing First Class cricket in England. There is always the danger that he will be poached by Channel Nine, where he commentated on the Matador Cup but was mostly used as a sidekick to David Warner. He could also be tempted by the commercial radio coverage in Australia. Which, by way of interest, we have never actually listened too. Because why the hell would you listen to cricket with ads?
ABC Grandstand has already been much improved this series, and we get the feeling Roger’s inclusion is one of the main reasons. Of course, the other is that Australia are playing New Zealand, and nobody could possibly say anything bad about New Zealanders. Except us. But Rogers has worked because he takes the coverage back to its roots, without the sort of over the top stuff, like from Kerry O’Keeffe, that turns off as many people as it attracts. So whilst we are reluctant to prematurely proclaim him as the great hope of Australian radio coverage, stuff it, we’re going to do it anyway. Just as long as he stays far away from TMS in the near future. It’ll only teach him bad habits.