LONDON • Two 37-year-olds will play their last cricket Test matches this week. They are two left-handers playing for two countries on opposite sides of the world and bonded by one mission: To achieve their Masters in batsmanship.
Chris Rogers of Australia and Kumar Sangakkara of Sri Lanka have, with their thorough research and meticulous preparation and forensic attention to detail, made batting more of a science than an art.
Both have proved in the past 12 months that you can tailor your game to different conditions and illustrated it is not only important but also vital to do so in England.
Both have adapted their methods to defy waspish swing and seam, inadvertently highlighting the one-dimensional approaches of their lauded team-mates.
They are the antithesis of the modern batsman - epitomised by former England batsman Kevin Pietersen - who justify a failure to an ill-judged shot by announcing, "It's the way I play".
Rogers is Australia's unexpected leading run-scorer in the current Ashes series (with 437 at 62.42). But perhaps it is not so surprising as he has spent more than a decade immersing himself in English conditions, especially with four counties.
"You have to play differently here," said Rogers, who will play his final Test at The Oval in London starting today. "When the ball is moving, you have to play it as late as possible to allow for the sideways movement. But you can use the angles that movement provides."
Rogers agrees, however, that the defining example of how to bat in England was provided by Sangakkara in a Test last summer at Lord's.
The Sri Lankan has scored more international runs this century - 27,966 in all formats - than anyone else. But he had a modest record in England - an average of 30 and no century at Lord's - and wanted to put that right.
He arranged to play for Durham in the County Championship, purely to get accustomed to English conditions before the Tests.
After that and a series of one-day internationals - 12 innings in total during which he averaged 60 - he was ready.
"In England, I had closed up my stance a lot," said Sangakkara, who will end his 15-year international career after the second Test against India which starts at the P. Sara Oval in Colombo today.
"I didn't tap the bat too much in the crease because it drives my hands away from my body and you need to be a bit more restricted in England because of the swinging ball," he added.
"I changed my back-and-across movement to almost nothing. That allowed me to see the line of the ball a lot quicker and a lot better. In England, you don't need to play straight like people say. Because of the swing, you're more likely to be playing between mid-off and cover.
"A lot squarer of the wicket, going with the swing of the ball."
He made 147 at Lord's with not a single mistake until he was out.
This was a century that was immaculately conceived and impeccably constructed.
Rogers and Sangakkara undertake their final batting examinations this week.
But both have already passed their Masters with distinction.
THE TIMES, LONDON
ASHES, 5TH TEST
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