'I relate him to Pujara' - Rogers' high praise for Victoria debutant Chandrasinghe

The 20-year-old Victoria batter made a century on first-class debut to reinforce his hunger for run-scoring

Alex Malcolm
Ashley Chandrasinghe made a century on his first-class debut, Tasmania vs Victoria, Sheffield Shield, Hobart, October 30, 2022

Ashley Chandrasinghe made a century on his first-class debut  •  Getty Images

Growing up in a generation where short-form cricket and 360-degree shot making is a priority, Ashley Chandrasinghe appears to be cut from a different cloth.
The 20-year-old Victorian put himself on Australia's future Test prospects' radar last week with a century on Sheffield Shield debut against Tasmania.
It wasn't just the century that caught the eye. It was the fact that he faced 333 balls, unbeaten, against an attack featuring Peter Siddle and Jackson Bird, with 255 Test scalps between them, and the genuine pace of Riley Meredith.
His defence, his fight and his determination in tough conditions was something that impressed Victoria coach Chris Rogers.
"He played quite an incredible innings," Rogers told ESPNcricinfo. "There was a bit of luck along the way which you need. But once he locked in, he just looked like he was so determined to not throw it away. And that takes unbelievable skill as well, just to be able to bat for such a long period of time."
Chandrasinghe's thirst for batting long periods is ingrained from working with his childhood batting mentor in Melbourne Owen Mottau, who is the former Sri Lanka Under-19s coach.
"I think it was definitely something that was drilled into me a little bit when I was quite young," Chandrasinghe said last week. "[Owen] always says, 'you can't make runs if you're not the crease'. So that's the sort of mentality when I'm trying to bat."
It is a mentality that gels with Rogers. Chandrasinghe received his Victoria cap from his new coach on the first morning in Hobart. But he also heeded some prescient advice from one of Australia's best modern-day grafters that came the night before.
The thing I like as much anything when he does play he shots, like his straight drive or his cover drive, his hands follow the ball. So from a technical point of view, that's exactly what you want
Chris Rogers
"I think he likes that I like to spend a lot of time with a crease like he used to," Chandrasinghe said. "He called me up the night before and just said, no matter what happens just try fight as hard as you can and usually the ones that fight the hardest on those sorts of pitches are the ones that succeed."
Rogers was amused by the fact he had to call Chandrasinghe while staying at the same Hobart hotel, due to conflicting dinner schedules. But he felt it necessary to give him some confidence after the batting group had talked about what the pitch may look like having spent three days under the covers due to rain.
"I knew he was getting a lot of advice," Rogers said. "In the lead up to the game, because of the weather down there, everybody was talking about the fact that the pitch was going to have branches on it and going do all sorts...Bird, Siddle and all that.
"I just thought about the debutant sitting and listening there, not saying a word because he's very quiet. But I was wondering what was going through his head. So I just wanted to put him at ease a little bit and say, actually, these are the conditions that are made for him."
Since taking the Victoria coaching job, Rogers has been on a mission to produce more Test batters from a state that has produced far fewer per capita than most other states. He has been a proponent too of young players taking the stairs rather than the elevator to the top level - earning the right rather than go straight there.
Chandrasinghe has done just that so far. Since November 2020, he has plundered nine centuries in Victorian and Darwin premier cricket, including five this winter in Darwin, and two 2nd XI hundred for Victoria prior to making his Shield debut. His run glut in senior men's cricket has come without huge returns in Cricket Australia underage carnivals while representing Victoria in most age groups in the pathway system.
"I think it's invaluable any experience you can get out in the middle and spend as much time you can get there," Chandrasinghe said. "I think Darwin helped me a lot as well. Having been coached over there by my Waratahs coach Udara Weerasinghe. He's been a great help as well. And while I was still making those hundreds over there he was still challenging me to get better and make bigger hundreds."
Rogers believes there is no substitute for the experience of batting long periods.
"With Ash, he just spends so much time out in the middle," Rogers said. "The fact that he scored over 1200 runs in the offseason is just unbelievable really. And you think about how much he learned from that alone, just from being out there."
Despite being born and raised in Australia, and proudly Australian, there is a distinctly Sri Lankan flavour in Chandrasinghe's development given the influence Mottau, Weerasinghe and his father Ajith have had on him as a player. The fact that Chandrasinghe has thanked all of them since scoring his maiden first-class century is also a little thing not lost on Rogers.
"That gratitude is incredibly rare," Rogers said. "That was as impressive as anything, and said to us he has the character to go with the talent."
Watching him at the crease, it is obvious to see that Kumar Sangakkara is one of his heroes. He also idolises Michael Hussey and has tried to model his game after the Australian left-hander. But Rogers sees another world-class Test batter when he looks at Chandrasinghe.
"I probably relate him more to [Cheteshwar] Pujara," Rogers said. "He has low hands. It's a low backlift which I probably resonate with as well but there's not a lot that can go wrong when you're doing that. It's pretty efficient, small movements with your hands in particular. So from that point of view, he's very good defensively
"He's never over-committed. He can adjust a little bit here and there.
"But the thing I like as much anything when he does play he shots, like his straight drive or his cover drive, his hands follow the ball. So from a technical point of view, that's exactly what you want.
"You want your hands to be following the ball so the bat path is on the right line."

Alex Malcolm is an Associate Editor at ESPNcricinfo