Stephen Fay: The odd couple open up to find rhythm at the right time

Langer is little; Hayden is large. Langer is talkative about cricket. Hayden talks about God and cooking
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The Independent Online

Langer was lucky yesterday. No one would have quarrelled if he had been given out lbw to Matthew Hoggard off the first ball of the day when he was on 75.

Swings and roundabouts, Langer would have said. He had been given out wrongly, on 82, lbw to Simon Jones at Edgbaston. Now he rode his luck, having been dropped by Marcus Trescothick off Paul Collingwood when he was 53.

But Langer had had the confidence to try to hit Ashley Giles out of the attack by hitting two sixes in his first over. He did not succeed, but it did wonders for the run rate. Earlier in the summer, Langer had also contributed a couple of fifties. This time he went on to his hundred, a crucial performance in Australia's desperate attempt to retain the Ashes.

His 104th run was his 7,000th Test run. He is only the eighth Australian to score so heavily, though his luck finally ran out when he edged a ball from Steve Harmison on to his thigh pad which continued on to his stumps. Out for an unforgettable 105.

Unlike Hayden, Langer has often looked like scoring runs in the first four Tests. Hayden's principal contribution this summer seems to have been angst. He is a big man who has grown accustomed to scoring heavily. Hayden had bullied every attack in the world into submission.

His 380 against Zimbabwe was, briefly, the highest score in Test cricket, but in the past six months he has been cricket's pitiful, helpless giant.

Until this year "pitiful" is not an adjective that applied to Hayden. Even now, it does not slip easily off the tongue, but yesterday he accumulated his best Test score since he managed 61 against New Zealand at Wellington in March. He had not scored a hundred in over a year.

Until yesterday, when his hundred arrived with the score on 241 for 1. He took longer to get there (218 balls) than Langer (146 balls), but the hundred brought up a series of landmarks: 6,000 Test runs for Australia; 1,000 Test runs against England. It was his 21st Test hundred; Langer's 22nd.

On Friday, when Langer was carrying the fight to England's bowlers, Hayden still looked uncomfortable. Twice he mistimed hook shots. This shot had undone him earlier in the series, but he survived it here. It was like an omen.

They are the odd couple of international cricket. Langer is little; Hayden is large. Langer is talkative about cricket. Hayden talks about God and cooking. (His faith does not prevent him being the most persistent sledger on the side.)

Langer, who has a high voice, is hyperactive, bouncing into a room, anxious to talk about his latest book or website journalism. His enthusiasm sometimes misleads critics into dismissing him as superficial. It is a hard judgement on a man who is so keen to communicate.

Loyalty is another Langer quality. This Australian team pride themselves on it, but Langer's special loyalty has been reserved for Hayden - "my big mate".

Speaking on Friday evening, Langer said: "It's no secret that Haydos has been a bit under the pump, not as Bradmanesque as he has been. He's shown he's human. He had a few nerves, but he's working really hard."

Statistics express this mutual loyalty. This hundred partnership was the 14th - six of them have been double hundreds. They will be thinking well of The Oval because the first of those partnerships happened here in 2001 when Langer replaced Michael Slater, survived a brutal blow to the head, and scored a hundred.

Averaging 57.03 in 90 opening partnerships, they have a superior average to the most prolific opening partners - Gordon Greenidge and Desmond Haynes, who scored 6,482 runs together at 47.31. Before they become triumphalist, however, Langer and Hayden ought to be aware that Sir Jack Hobbs and Herbert Sutcliffe average 87.81 in 39 opening partnerships for England in the 1920s.

Langer says that they are a good partnership because one of them is usually flying. He added that it was usually Hayden who was airborne. On Friday it was Langer. Yesterday, it was Hayden. Not Bradmanesque, by any means, but he made a fine recovery.

And with the pair of them flying, England, as a consequence, were hurting for the first time since Lord's seven weeks ago.