CHESTER-LE-STREET, England (AP) — Heading into the fourth Ashes test, Chris Rogers' short international career was marked by the quirky statistic of scoring more runs against Australia than for them.
A 27-year-old Rogers was playing for English county Leicestershire in 2005 when he opened the batting in a tour match against his own national team, which was in town for what would prove to be one of the great Ashes series.
He made 56 in the first innings then 219 in the second, hardly boosting the confidence of Australia's bowlers for the upcoming test matches against England. It's taken him eight long and difficult years, but Rogers finally has an innings to boast about in the Baggy Green.
On Saturday, playing in only his fifth test match, the ginger-topped left-hander produced one of the grittiest Ashes innings in years to score his first international century, helping Australia seize back control of a match it needs to win to keep alive hopes of drawing the series 2-2.
"Finally this opportunity has come along ... it was my day today," said Rogers, who was 101 not out when bad light stopped play. He feared it would never come. Rogers was handed his Australia debut in 2008, covering for the injured Matthew Hayden in a test match against India in Perth. But after only scoring 4 and 15, he was consigned to history — at test level at least.
He continued to score plenty of runs at first-class level but there were always plenty of openers blocking his path back into the national team. "It just felt like there was always one bloke in the way," Rogers said. "It was (Hayden and Justin Langer) then it was Jaquesy (Phil Jaques), then it was (Simon) Katich, then Phil (Hughes), then Watto (Shane Watson) went and opened.
"It just felt like there was always one bloke in the way but I get to play cricket for a living and I set high standards. I've been happy to go along and perform as well as I can and hope for this one opportunity."
A few eyebrows were raised when Rogers, now 35, was included in Australia's Ashes squad for this summer, ending his five-year absence from the squad. But when fellow opener David Warner was suspended for punching Joe Root in a late-night, bar-room incident during the Champions Trophy in June, Rogers was suddenly thrown another chance to revive his international career under Darren Lehmann, an old-school coach who had just taken charge of the team after Mickey Arthur's dismissal.
He put himself under immense pressure by scoring a total of just 89 runs in the first two tests, lost by the Australians at Trent Bridge and Lord's, but he returned to form with an 84 in the third test at Old Trafford. Then came what he has described as the "sweetest moment of my cricket career."
"Initially to get picked for Australia was amazing, but the nerves and the things that go with it ... the Lord's test match was as low as I've been for a while, hearing the criticism coming in and feeling like you've let down your country. That hurts," Rogers said. "To play well in the last test and to back it up in this one means a lot to me."
And, boy, did he have to dig in amid extremely testing conditions at Chester-le-Street. Time and again, deliveries whistled past the edge of Rogers' bat. He was dropped in the slips, went to DRS to overturn a caught behind, and narrowly survived a stumping chance.
Yet, there he was, creeping into the 90s, where he seemed to be for an eternity. "I didn't have a care in the world," he said, laughing. "No, it was a nervous time ... and the England boys were saying, 'If you don't get it now, you may never.'"
Rogers spent 19 balls on 96 before sweeping Graeme Swann to the boundary. His celebrations were pretty muted — it took him a while before he removed his helmet and took in the acclaim of the crowd and the Australia players, who were lined up on their dressing-room balcony.
"I'm not a huge celebrator but I guess after all this time playing a lot of domestic cricket, to get this opportunity is one that I never thought I would," Rogers said, "and to get a hundred is just something you can only dream of. I guess you just want to soak it up and that's probably why I was like that.
"After all this time, you just don't think that this opportunity is going to come up. I wanted to believe I was good enough but never knew. To get a hundred, that's something that no one can take away from me, and I can tell my grandchildren about it now ... if I have any."