Langer on the ‘science and art’ of Ashes success
JUSTIN Langer played in five Ashes series, and won four.
Now, as coach, he talks to Russell Gould about securing the cherished urn on English soil for the first time since 2001.
RG: There weren't many runs scored in the warm-up game in Hampshire on a wicket probably a bit worse than the one you asked for. Was it a good preparation?
Langer: "Overall I thought it went really well. As silly as it sounds, and there was a lot of talk about the spicy wicket, I think that was a good thing for us. We might get that a few times.
"You think back to Trent Bridge a few years ago (2015), and we are going to have to work through some tough periods in this series. Some guys really fought hard. Ultimately it was a good result."
RG: Some batsmen faced plenty of balls. Cameron Bancroft survived 194 in the fourth innings. Was that a good sign?
Langer: "Ultimately players will always be judged on how many runs they score. But having said that, often the amount of time they spend in the middle, is important.
Steve Waugh wrote in his 1997 Ashes Diary, just before he got two hundreds at Old Trafford, that the game before he got 11, but said that was so important for the tour, all the things he had been working on he put into practice, and as he walked off, he thought, 'I'm back'. Time in the middle is like gold."
RG: How did you get Steve Waugh involved?
Langer: "I went and had dinner with him at the end of the Sydney Test match last summer. We sat on the deck of the house he's building, had a pizza and a drink, and we just talked cricket. It became obvious to me that he had so much to offer.
"I knew that as a player, he was an unbelievable captain, the way he was able to bring the best out in most of his players. Discussions were had, and he's here, and I feel very lucky for that."
RG: What has he brought to the group?
Langer: "We talk about trying to develop the guys not just for this series but for their careers, for mental toughness and concentration. Steve has been great in the meetings, but has also been spending a lot of time with the boys. He's hopefully weaving some magic."
RG: The bowlers were magic at Southampton. The expectation is the ball will dominate the bat this series, too. Do you see it that way?
Langer: "My sense is that for us to win it, we are going to have to bat really well, yes. I don't know what the wickets will be like, and you can never quite tell over here. And that's one of the beautiful things about playing in England, there's so many variables, you have to be able to adapt. I definitely think we are going to have to bat well to win the series."
RG: Your own bowling group is as strong at it's been for a while. You said you would be happy to use them all at some stage in the series. Will this happen?
Langer: "You are in the perfect situation if you have five or six players in your stable and you are very confident to play any of them. You can actually manage them.
"We did it a bit during the World Cup, played according to conditions or the opposition. "Imagine being able to do that in Test cricket. The competition is really good, really healthy. There is really strong camaraderie among the bowlers too. They are like the backmen in an AFL side. They call themselves the Bulls at the Eagles. They all get on well, which is a positive."
RG: How did Alex Carey miss the squad after such a good World Cup?
Langer: "He's such a good player, and such a god bloke, we'd love to have him with us 300 days a year. He's got a huge future in Australian cricket. But the current Australian captain is the wicketkeeper.
"It's great that Alex is playing for Sussex, and if something happens to Tim, we know he's here."
RG: And Joe Burns? He made 180 in his last Test. Was it hard to leave him out?
Langer: "How stiff is he? But you can't fit them all in. Marcus Harris had an unbelievable summer at home. He's done really well in the Australian A side. He played the last six Tests. "Then Cameron Bancroft, before Cape Town, he was the leading run scorer in that series.
He came to WA and averaged 58 at the back end of the Shield season, including where he batted for the whole match against NSW. That's telling us something about his mental fortitude.
"Then he has come over here playing for Durham, as captain, averaging 40-odd on a really tough Durham wicket. It used to be like batting on the Gabba on day one, and there is no toss, so he has to bat every time.
"Honestly, it's such a hard thing, they are all really good blokes, and really good players, but you can't fit them all in."
RG: The new guys, such as Bancroft, James Pattinson, have made a good impression haven't they?
Langer: "The first day we arrived in Hampshire and Steve Waugh commented on the energy they bring to the group, it's unbelievable.
"The way they catch and field and dive around. Cameron got hit on the end of the elbow at training and didn't even flinch. Tugga said to me 'how tough's this bloke?'
"And he doesn't know him personally. He brought to the squad everything we have always liked about him; his energy, his toughness, his enthusiasm for the game. It's nice to see him back in but he was selected because he was a very good performer."
RG: He's a right-hander, too. Are you conscious of having too many lefties?
Langer: "I go back to 1993 when Bob Simpson wrote me a letter saying we could never have two left-hand openers, that's why I didn't get picked for the Ashes. That has changed pretty dramatically over the past two decades.
"I think you pick your best players, the players you think will play the opposition the best regardless of whether they are left or right-handed.
"We left out guys who made 100s in the last Test match. That philosophy, and it can be hard sometimes, hopefully that is coming to fruition now."
RG: Glenn McGrath was always good for a series prediction, even when he was playing. What's yours?
Langer: "I will never promise performance. I can't predict performance, I don't know what's going to happen. What I can promise is the preparation has been really good.
"It's now tweaking those last little bits. The other tricky bit is sustaining it. It's five Tests, it's not just about the Edgbaston Test. It can't be.
"There's going to be some science, and art, to sustaining that."
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