Australia v India Tests - Men
New venue adds to Langer's journey
Coach's capacity to harness morale and ease doubts that inevitably surface in the absence of success crucial in short turnaround
Andrew Ramsey at the WACA Ground
12 December 2018, 08:27 PM AEST
It was ex-Test skipper Ian Chappell who most famously counselled that the sole use of a coach to an elite-level cricket team was to transport the players to and from match venues.
As a lifelong Perth resident, Justin Langer might well add that job to his responsibilities this week given his familiarity with the city’s lay-out relates directly to the fact a handful of his squad have yet to visit the new stadium that hosts its inaugural Test from Friday.
But acting as guide to a ground where neither Australia nor India can claim a Test match history or a home advantage is the least crucial element of Langer’s vast coaching demands in the wake of his team’s defeat in the Domain Series opener at Adelaide this week.
His most pressing need is to lift the spirit and the self-belief of a group that has now been winless for six consecutive Tests, with last Monday’s 31-run loss the closest they’ve come to success through that most challenging time.
The true value of a cricket coach was evident from the moment the Australia men’s team took to familiar surrounds of the WACA Ground today, ahead of their one and only training run at the new stadium on the Swan River’s opposite bank tomorrow.
As the 13-man squad began their warm-up routines, Langer knelt alongside fast bowler Mitchell Starc who was undertaking stretching exercises.
The pair then engaged in a prolonged chat, during which Langer several times placed a reassuring hand on Starc’s shoulder.
Starc’s pace, performance and even his posture came under scrutiny during the Adelaide Test, with former national selector Mark Waugh indicating today that the left-arm quick’s tenure might be in doubt should similar concerns arise in Perth.
"Perth's really going to suit him, he’s going to bowl quick there and get a lot of bounce,” Waugh told Sky Radio’s Big Sports Breakfast when asked about Starc this morning.
“(But) if he's probably not up to scratch in Perth, I think they (selectors) might think about making some changes for the rest of the series.”
Having left Starc to find some rhythm in a short spell on the WACA’s centre wicket where he produced the ball of last summer to skittle England’s James Vince, Langer moved to the nearby nets to consult with his middle-order batters.
In addition to feeding balls to opener Aaron Finch who also came in for criticism in Adelaide, the coach conducted a lone-on-one tutorial with Peter Handscomb who had batted for significant periods in both innings of the first Test.
Handscomb had become pinned down by India’s disciplined bowling, before surrendering his wicket for 34 and 14.
Langer began by placing a baseball mitt immediately beneath Handscomb’s eyeline at silly mid-off to replicate the India field placings that had proved so effective in quelling his scoring options in Adelaide.
He then stood with the 27-year-old Victorian at the batting crease and suggested ways that Handscomb might subtly change his weight transference and other elements of his idiosyncratic technique to enable him to manipulate the ball better into gaps.
Which, in turn, would help to maintain scoring, and reduce the pressure that grew on Handscomb and other batters as they too readily became becalmed by India’s seamers and off-spinner Ravi Ashwin in the first Test.
Amid these individual sessions, the message Langer has preached to his inexperienced (at Test level) batting line-up is the one that he himself gleaned from ex-captain Allan Border – that the pressure on batters to move the game along is largely imagined.
“It wasn't too much technical,” rookie opener Marcus Harris said today of Langer’s focus and advice in the wake of Australia’s first-Test loss.
“His main thing to me personally, and a few of the other boys, was how much time we have and there's no great rush in Test cricket with five days to play.
“The longer we can occupy the crease, the more pressure we can put on them and the more spells they have to bowl.
“I think we saw towards the end of day five (in Adelaide), once the bowlers went into their third and fourth spells, it gets harder and harder and probably a bit easier to bat.
“So just our main focus is if you have a good day make it a great day - pretty simple, but that's Test cricket.
"And just a few little things when you come to Perth, just a few plans to have with the wicket being a bit bouncier and quicker, just ways you've got to set up and ideas you have.”
With only two days of training available to the teams between the first and second Tests, minimal opportunity exists for technical alterations to remedy any shortcomings exposed in Adelaide, and to incorporate changes needed for the differences expected in Perth.
Of greater consequence will be Langer’s capacity to harness morale and ease the doubts that inevitably surface in the absence of success.
It’s a challenge he accepted and mastered when he took over the coaching role with Western Australia and the Perth Scorchers in 2012.
And it’s his personnel management skills as much as his undoubted cricket acumen that won him widespread support for the national role.
His close friend and ex-Test teammate Ricky Ponting, with whom Langer remains in regular contact, cited the Western Australian’s evenness of demeanour and clarity of purpose as key reasons why he was the ideal candidate to succeed Darren Lehmann as national coach.
But Langer also possesses a keen eye for technical detail and, having witnessed first-hand the plans that India’s bowlers have formulated for Australia’s top-order, the other key element of today’s session at the WACA was putting counter-ploys in place.
“We got a good look at them (India) in the First Test, so we sort of know what they are going to bring to the table so we are freshening up and getting ready for the Test starting on Friday.” Harris said, noting the facets upon which he was working.
“I worked hard in between the first and second innings (in Adelaide) on some plans against Ashwin, and that was really good.
“Now I'm just working on guys coming around the wicket and stuff like that, to work on plans India will use against me.
“So it’s been good to take some confidence from occupying the crease for a bit.”
As one of those who has yet to gain an inside look at the new stadium in his former home town, Harris will also be reliant on the coach to deliver him to the correct venue.
Where both teams can justly claim to hold a blemish-free Test record.
Domain Test Series v India
Dec 14-18: Second Test, Perth Stadium
Dec 26-30: Third Test, MCG
Jan 3-7: Fourth Test, SCG
Australia squad: Tim Paine (c, wk), Josh Hazlewood (vc), Mitch Marsh (vc), Pat Cummins, Aaron Finch, Peter Handscomb, Marcus Harris, Travis Head, Usman Khawaja, Nathan Lyon, Shaun Marsh, Peter Siddle, Mitchell Starc, Chris Tremain
India squad: Virat Kohli (c), Murali Vijay, KL Rahul, Prithvi Shaw, Cheteshwar Pujara, Ajinkya Rahane, Hanuma Vihari, Rohit Sharma, Rishabh Pant (wk), Parthiv Patel (wk), Ravi Ashwin, Ravi Jadeja, Kuldeep Yadav, Mohammed Shami, Ishant Sharma, Umesh Yadav, Jasprit Bumrah, Bhuvneshwar Kumar