Justin Langer's early reputation was that of a grafter, representing a dying breed in a cricketing nation that nowadays regards progress at anything less than four runs per over to be pedestrian. He has largely shed that label in recent years, proving he can go stroke for stroke with almost any of the modern-day dashers; indeed, a survey conducted for the Australian edition of Wisden placed him in the top-20 fastest Test run scorers of all time. Yesterday, however, he reverted to type.
Ricky Ponting may have needed only 76 balls for his 61 but, for the most part, England simply did not allow Australia to dictate the pace. The pressure under which Australia found themselves demanded someone provided an anchor role in the way that Test match openers used to. If anyone was equipped to do so, it was Langer.
His record in a 12-year international career is outstanding. His Test average is in the high 40s and his century count, at 21, puts him ahead of Mark Waugh among others, not to mention Bill Lawry and Doug Walters. His three hundreds against England include an unbeaten 179 in Adelaide in 1998 that spanned more than eight hours and a 250 in Melbourne in 2002 that occupied nearly 10.
Yesterday, he knew from the outset that England would subject him to the most intense examination of both technique and temperament. Hit on the arm in the first Test at Lord's, in the same passage of play that saw Ponting struck on the head by Steve Harmison, this time it was Langer who was in Harmison's sights. The third ball of the morning smacked into his helmet. Soon afterwards, another ball from Harmison thudded into the centre of his chest.
But none of that is new to him, either. On his Test debut, against the West Indies in Adelaide in January 1993, Langer took several hits at the hands of Ian Bishop. His history of blows to the head is such that he had to relinquish the role of short-leg fieldsman on medical advice. However, he still takes to the boxing ring he has erected at his home in Perth, where he spars with a former SAS soldier who is his personal trainer.
Yesterday, he put his head down, summoned all his powers of concentration and defied everything thrown at him for more than four and a half hours until England finally found a way to breach his defence.
The Edgbaston crowd may not have appreciated it but Australia, struggling to reach a score that would keep them in the match, certainly did.
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