Pakistan v Australia Test - Men's
Langer's left-handed lobby goes all right
Australia's coach discusses mid-pitch meeting with Australia's batsmen and how he reacted to their first-innings collapse in Dubai
12 October 2018, 06:00 PM AEST
Justin Langer has revealed that the mid-pitch, mid-Test conclave he called with a group of batters that raised both eyebrows and ire was little more than a left-handed batters' equivalent to the fabled 'Fast Bowlers' Union'.
Perhaps a lefties' lobby. Or a southpaws' sorority.
In the aftermath of another disastrous batting implosion in which Australia surrendered all 10 first wickets for just 60 runs, and seemingly any hope of saving the opening Test against Pakistan in the process, Langer very publicly dispensed some wisdom to a select group of his charges.
As the blazing Arabian Desert sun slipped behind the grandstands and shade sails of Dubai’s International Cricket Stadium last Tuesday evening, the new coach took top-order batters Usman Khawaja, Shaun Marsh, Travis Head and Matthew Renshaw back out to the middle.
Where he proceeded to deliver what, from a distance, seemed to be an impromptu tutorial on how left-handers should play in conditions such as those where Pakistan's mature-age debutant off-spinner Bilal Asif had wrought havoc in the hours preceding.
It was an exercise that drew immediate scorn from former Test captain-turned commentator Ian Chappell, who has long held the view that the best use for a coach is to ferry international cricketers to and from the playing arena.
"If you’re going to tell blokes how to bat on spinning pitches, it’s probably better you do it before the game, not after day three," Chappell told the Nine Network’s Wide World of Sports, adding his view that the exercise amounted to little more than Langer publicly justifying his position.
However, a day later – after Khawaja (141) and Head (72) had led Australia’s unlikely final-day resistance that delivered a remarkable draw in a Test that seemed Pakistan’s for the taking – Langer shrugged off the doubters.
And added that the evening class was merely a chance to complement the work done by team batting coach Graeme Hick, by allowing Langer to indulge his occasional need to "get my hands dirty".
"I'm a batting tragic ... I love talking about batting and especially left-handers," Langer said today when asked to explain the rationale behind his unusual move at the end of day three.
"Just a nice batters, left-handers convention.
"The bowlers have got their cartel or whatever they call themselves, Damien Fleming and all these clowns.
"The back men in (Australian Rules) footy call themselves the bulls, and we're just having a little left-handers convention - that’s all we were doing.
"In these conditions, one of the things about batting as a left-hander is there’s always rough there (outside a batter's off-stump) and you’ve got to deal with rough, whether it's (against) a left-arm spinner, or a leggie, or even an off-spinner trying to tempt us to drive.
"So you’ve got to have a game plan; one thing all the great players will tell you playing anywhere, you’ve got to have a game plan.
"So we just talked about what our game plans can be, recognise that the rough is going to play a part in the game and then work out how you’re going to play it."
Regardless of the motivation behind his unconventional method, or the message that he imparted to his men - most of whom were crestfallen after the team’s batting failures hours earlier - subsequent events circumstantially suggest it was a master stroke.
Needing to bat for more than a day-and-a-half (after effectively being bowled-out within a session), with no realistic hope of reeling in the 432-run victory target, Australia's maligned batters survived almost 10 hours at the crease, the longest fourth innings in the nation's Test history.
Their 8-362 from 139.5 overs in enervating heat was also the most productive fourth innings to save a Test outside Australia since the Ricky Ponting-led 9-371 against England at Old Trafford in the failed Ashes campaign of 2005, of which Langer was a part.
And while Khawaja's remarkable 141 from 302 deliveries faced was the effort's centrepiece, Langer heaped praise upon Head, who was among that group chosen to pull a detention shift at the close of play last Tuesday.
"Travis Head’s innings in the second innings was brilliant," Langer said of the debutant who bounced back from his first-innings duck to bat more than three hours in the second.
"The way he’s developing, I think he’s got a great future in Australian cricket.
"He used his feet back and forth, and the way he overcame getting a duck in the first innings and then getting 70-odd, that takes a lot of courage.
"To ... play his game – he's a very aggressive player – (but) he's also improving his defence, so they’re the sort of things we talk about.
"There's been so much talk about how we play in the subcontinent which is fair enough, and also our batting collapses.
"I knew we’d had great preparation (coming into the first Test) and I knew there’s a brilliant spirit in the team, it’s really calm in there at the moment.
"So when we had that collapse, it was so deflating because the things I believe (define) great teams - the preparation, and camaraderie - it was all there, and then we have a performance like that.
"And we all start questioning where we’re at.
"Then, to see the way the boys put that preparation into practice throughout the game, but particularly that second innings, is a great credit to all of them."
Langer also revealed he did not read the riot act to his team after they squandered a 142-run opening partnership between Khawaja and another debutant, Aaron Finch, in the first innings to be bowled out for barely 200.
He said the nature of Test cricket in Asian and Middle-Eastern conditions – where intense heat is exacerbated by the pressure of fielders around the bat when the ball is spinning sharply and reverse-swinging – means it can be difficult to arrest momentum shifts before they become free-falls.
As a consequence, he did not need to spell out to his men where they had gone wrong in the disastrous day-three session but rather reassure them they had possessed the skills and the awareness to redress the damage at the next opportunity.
Which sees them head to the nearby Emirate of Abu Dhabi for the second Test of the Qantas Tour of the UAE starting next Tuesday with confidence levels that would have seemed a desert mirage earlier in the week.
"We had some honest conversations and we’ve talked about it ... probably for the last month at least, what happens in the subcontinent is you’ve got to be on your game all the time because it happens so quick," Langer said.
"So it was like, ‘okay, it happened and we’re all deflated and disappointed, but we prepared knowing that could happen so what am I going to do next?’.
"There's 15 ripping young Australian blokes (in the touring party) and they’re all hungry to do well. They’re all working hard.
"Their preparation leading into this Test was absolutely awesome, so we didn’t panic.
"We just stayed calm and I think because of that, that calmness showed in the second innings."
Qantas Tour of the UAE
Australia Test squad: Tim Paine (c), Ashton Agar, Brendan Doggett, Aaron Finch, Travis Head, Jon Holland, Usman Khawaja, Marnus Labuschagne, Nathan Lyon, Mitch Marsh, Shaun Marsh, Michael Neser, Matthew Renshaw, Peter Siddle, Mitchell Starc
Pakistan Test squad: Sarfraz Ahmed (c), Azhar Ali, Fakhar Zaman, Imam-ul-Haq, Babar Azam, Asad Shafiq, Haris Sohail, Usman Salahuddin, Yasir Shah, Shadab Khan, Bilal Asif, Mohammad Abbas, Hasan Ali, Wahab Riaz, Faheem Ashraf, Mir Hamza, Mohammad Rizwan, Mohammad Hafeez
Oct 7-11: First Test, drawn
Oct 16-20: Second Test, Abu Dhabi