Justin Langer is Batman

Local news programmes are always hilariously glib, but tonight’s thrill-a-minute Spotlight – the South West’s primary form of entertainment, now ahead of incest – provided a gem when they referred to Justin Langer as the former Australian Batman.

Well, it’s more flattering than Gnome I suppose.

50/8d

No, this isn’t plea to bring back old money. That’s the total Somerset declared on earlier today. I may have missed the point, but presumably the thinking was to have a crack at Middlesex while the conditions were right and stop the opposition from getting full bowling points. It hasn’t worked in one sense, as Middx are currently 71 for 0. As far as bowling points, perhaps it was very shrewd of their skipper Justin Langer. (If this has already been discussed on The Corridor, then I apologise.)

Ordinarily, I might launch into a rant about cheating Aussies bending the rules, but I happen to be a big fan of Langer, so I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt. But it does leave a bad taste in the mouth, not least as one of my fantasy team bowlers was denied the chance of filling his boots! (I also have Langer, who got a duck…)

Is it bad sportsmanship, clever captaincy or even a missed opportunity? What if Caddick had slapped a quick-fire 40? It could have changed the momentum entirely.


Goodbye Gnome

Justin Langer made it a hat-trick of retirements this week, with the most low-key of announcements. He’s the most low-key of players too, who is uber-passionate on the field, but not particularly noticable away from it.

His career has been an interesting exercise in constant reinvention. He started out as a middle order batsman against the likes of Curtly Ambrose. The 1992 West Indians claimed he was afraid and bowlers have been targeting ever since. They often hit him, too. South African’s Makhaya Ntini conked him so hard in the Johannesburg Test that he doesn’t remember it, which was a pity as it was his 100′th.

But for me the serious reinvention was in 1999/2000. He shared that famous partnership with Adam Gilchrist, in which Langer scored a century in his usual dogged style. That innings came at a time when his place in the side was under serious question, and it was only Steve Waugh’s faith in him that kept him going.

But between Waugh’s faith, and Gilchrist’s example, Langer was able to turn himself from an ugly duckling to a.. well, not so ugly duckling. I think swan would be pushing it. But he could be a mighty fast scoring duck. By the end of that 1999/2000 summer, Langer was able to score hundreds at a run a ball in the fourth innings.

And that was before he reinvented himself into half of an amazingly successful opening partnership with Matthew Hayden. That partnership has declined somewhat, for the strange reason that although they are still very effective batsmen, their successes have not conincided recently.

So I’ll miss the Brown-Nosed Gnome, a harsh nickname given to him by critics who disliked his adulation of Steve Waugh. He was a rough diamond, a real hardcase who could dish it out and take it in good measure. He was a man who took playing for Australia seriously, and never lost sight of how good it is to represent your country.

Australia’s retirements

What does it say of a side who, on the verge of losing three established players to pasture – two of whom have almost single-handedly provided the jugger in the naut for the past 15 years – seem unfazed by the effect it will have? Damien Martyn, Glenn McGrath and Shane Warne have both announced their retirements and it seems Justin Langer is next.

It just seems Australia all have their rose-tinted goggles on. It’s certainly time to celebrate their careers, but what the hell about the future? Is this blind, cocky, Australian arrogance that these three can be easily replaced? Langer can – Australia have enough batting reserves to form another side entirely – but what about the bowlers? Stuart Clark has been remarkably consistent since he came in, but how will he respond being the attack leader in the absence of McGrath and Warne? The pair fed off each other for 12-15 years: one sucking the confidence and fluency out of the batsmen at one end to allow a more attacking line from the other. Clark has benefited hugely from both of them. And as good as he clearly is, I refuse to believe he is the new McGrath.

Brett Lee is never going to be the Test bowler Steve Waugh expected he would become. He is brilliant in one-dayers but too expensive, too raw in Tests to lead the attack (which makes Clark’s introduction to the side even more important). So, assuming Langer retires, what would your Australia side look like for 2007?

As ever, they have the best part of a year in which to formulate a replacement team; they’re in India for a Test series in November but, before then, one-day cricket reigns supreme.

Gilchrist scotches retirement talk

The ‘latest gossip‘ is that Justin Langer will retire after Sydney but that Matthew Hayden will play on until next summer at least.

I dunno. If Australia win the World Cup, I think Adam Gilchrist might call time.

Blimey Marto, we didn’t mean it!

From the Corridor last week:

Martyn (Retail Manager): The irritating but smooth bloke you’re always trying to get rid of but customers love him and he sells just enough to keep his place.

I think there’s a bit more to Damien Martyn‘s retirement then meets the eye. With Martyn, there always is. He is a sensitive and wary character that doesn’t care for the spotlight, and he’s had enough of the guff that comes with being a Test cricketer. That’s what I am guessing has happened here.

He wasn’t always so shy though.

Martyn was the brightest star in a ‘new wave’ of talented young Australian batsmen that emerged around 1990. He captained Australia’s under 19 side that toured England, leading the likes of Adam Gilchrist. There were plenty of other good players in that ‘new wave’ like Matthew Hayden, Darren Lehmann and Justin Langer. But there was no doubt that ‘Marto’ was the best.

He was ‘fast-tracked’ as they say, and along with Justin Langer, he was cast into the furnace of facing Ambrose and Walsh and co at their height in 1992-93. He proved he had the makings, scoring a vital half century in the same match that Warne first made his name.

But he couldn’t score that breakthrough century that would have sealed his place, and there were stories going ’round the traps’ about his attitude. He had replaced Dean Jones in the side and brought not only a Jones-like talent, but a Jones-like mouth. When he specacularly failed to bring Australia home in a Test match the next summer, he was made the scapegoat, and cast back into the grind of State cricket.

The demotion was hard for Martyn and he lost his way for several years. He was even dropped from the West Australian side for a while, and it seemed a great talent had been lost.

I do not know what it was that turned things around for him. However, he got back into the side when Ricky Ponting injured his knee prior to the New Zealand tour of 1999/2000, and made some valuable contributions. However he was a different sort of player- still as elegant and obviously talented as ever, but clearly not altogether anxious to attract attention.

He piled on the runs though, and had the support of his team-mates. 2004 was his golden year, as he scored centuries against India and Sri Lanka that were crucial to series victories. In 2003 he had played in the World Cup Final with a broken finger and still scored a masterful innings, albiet completely over-shadowed by Ricky Ponting. And this year in the ICC Champion’s Trophy, he was playing as well as ever.

Well, whatever is behind this, good luck to ‘Marto’ in whatever he decides to do. He got married in the off-season, and maybe he just wants to settle down and enjoy life. He left plenty of fond memories in the minds of cricket lovers not just in Australia but around the world.

England fight back, and some thoughts on coaches

To the audible relief of South Australian cricket administrators, England provided some much needed resistance on day four, and saved them the prospect of half-empty stands for the Second Test starting on Friday.

England were set an insane target, worked out by Ricky Ponting on the formula of multiplying my overdraft times the speed of light, or some such nonsense, and let his bowlers loose, while retiring to the massage table. He would have dined well as England lost two early wickets, and with Cook playing a range of loose shots, promise of more to come.

However, Pieterson and Collingwood provided stout resistance and some fiery entertainment for another large crowd, stated as being 37,000.

Yet England will surely lose, and they deserve to lose- while there was some magnificent batsmanship today, there was also some shameful episodes. Strauss, Cook, Collingwood, Flintoff and Pieterson were all guilty of some dreadful shot selection at various points in the day, treating an Ashes Test as little more then a knockabout in the park.

Pieterson’s innings was an instructive example. There was some lovely drives, all through the V, yet there were also some grotesque cross-bat swipes. None of these have cost him his wicket (as yet), but what happens if rain comes about three PM tomorrow and England have been bowled out at 2.35?

If England had batted with a slightly more applied approach, they might well have been three wickets down tonight, not five. That’s a big difference.

****

What do readers think about Andrew Flintoff’s dismissal? Shane Warne gave him an ugly serve on his way, and Justin Langer was smiling in delight even before he took the catch; the arrogance of it will grate on English sensibilities.

But it is an arrogance reflective of an Australian team that knows the value of their wickets, and the absolute folly of Flintoff’s shot. I don’t recall Ricky Ponting playing such an agricultural heave during his defensive masterpiece at Old Trafford last year. Duncan Fletcher may or may not remind his charges of that innings between now and the morning.

****

Speaking of coaches, I came across this article on my web-meanderings this evening, asking about the worth of overseas coaches. Given the kvetching about Duncan Fletcher that I’ve read in British media outlets the last few days, I wondered about the role of the coach.

It seems to me that for a coach to be a benefit, rather then a hindrance, there needs to be an absolute understanding between the coach and his captain. In many first class teams, it seems to be the increasing trend that the coach is the top banana and the captain merely his on-field lieutenant, rather in the way a football manager operates. That may work, but there does need to be a clear line driven, and both sides working in tandem.

It’s never been the Australian way. Would you fancy being the coach telling Steve Waugh how he was to arrange his batting order? John Buchanan always knew his place in Waugh’s order of things.

I’m not sure about the inner workings of England’s team, but Michael Vaughan and Duncan Fletcher certainly were working on the same wavelength. It may well be that the relationship between Fletcher and Andrew Flintoff isn’t quite so attune.

A brief winter rumination

Greetings from Adelaide. I haven’t put finger to keyboard for a while, for the fairly obvious reason that the Australian cricket team is having a well earned break. And what is good enough for the boys in Baggy Green is good enough for me.

Having said all that, I am starting to get bored. It does seem like a long time ago that Jason Gillespie scored a double century, and the Ashes action doesn’t fire up again until November 23, still four months away.

Well, if Justin Langer can have a cameo to keep the cobwebs at bay, then so can I. I was glad to see that he got himself a decent old 300, because there has actually been cricket in Australia this month, with a semi-triangular tournament featuring Australian A sides against ‘A’ sides from India, Pakistan and New Zealand. And in the four day game that was played Phil Jaques scored 240 and 117 against India A.

Langer also made a point to tell Merv Hughes off for complaining that Australia were too chummy with the English last year. The best traditions of the game are that you fight like hell on the field and then you have a beer and a laugh off it. Rather a pity that Merv of all people forgot that. It’s not like Merv was not a bit of a beer-drinker himself.

Apart from that little conflab, there’s not much else to report from Australia. Notes are being taken about all these injuries that England are suffering. I don’t think the people who are paying a fortune for tickets on e-Bay really want to see a second-string England get ripped apart by the Australians though. That would just be deja-vu all over again.

Justin Langer’s 342

In case you hadn’t noticed

He had already broken the record for the highest innings at Guildford, and this morning he passed Viv Richards’ record for the highest score for Somerset (322). He was within one shot of Charlie McCartney’s 345 – the highest by an Australian in England – when he fell. It is the seventh biggest innings in the County Championship.