'Interesting' pitch greets Langer on Lord's return
Australia's coach discusses selection for the second Test, the form of Cameron Bancroft and what to expect from Jofra Archer
Andrew Ramsey at Lord's
12 August 2019, 05:00 PM AEST
The affinity that Australia teams have felt for Lord's over the past 120 years has brought suggestions that the famous patch of turf in north London effectively hosts a 'home' Test for the Ashes tourists.
But it's doubtful any previous Australia men's outfit has arrived at cricket's historic heart with greater insights and knowledge born of personal experience than current coach Justin Langer brings.
In addition to his Test appearance in 2005 – when Australia stretched its record at Lord's to 14 wins and a solitary loss in 28 matches dating back to 1899 – Langer spent three seasons at Middlesex (the ground's county tenant) from 1998-2000 and was captain in his final summer.
During his tenure, he scored 3,968 first-class runs at an average of 61 for Middlesex with a highest score of 241 not out against Kent, at Lord's, in 1999.
So when he – having arrived with around half the members of his 17-man squad for an optional training session on Sunday – described the pitch being prepared for the second Test starting Wednesday as "interesting", it's safe to assume it's not fully what he anticipated.
The strip that will host this week's Test bore a distinctive mat of green grass unlike the first Test pitch at Edgbaston three days out from the match, but that is expected to be shaved bare in coming days.
Which means, on Langer's assessment, the surface will be dry and likely quite hard, which will mean he and fellow selector Trevor Hohns face a similar sort of last-minute decision as was made on the first morning at Birmingham, where veteran Peter Siddle was favoured narrowly ahead of Mitchell Starc.
"The wicket is really interesting, it looks like it’s going to be a really flat wicket to me," Langer said.
"It’s quite dry though.
First look (from afar) of the Lord's pitch three days out from the second #Ashes Test. Thoughts? pic.twitter.com/eZwA4i1cRw— Samuel Ferris (@samuelfez) August 11, 2019
“It’s not a surprise … the wicket is the last thing you look at when you come to Lord’s.
"Most grounds it’s the first thing to look at but here, there’s so much else to admire and love about being here.
"But whether it’s a green-top or a dry wicket, we have really good options and that’s nice as a coach and selector.
"One thing we have got is the luxury of six fast bowlers, they're all high-class bowlers and we’ll work out what’s going to be best for this Test match, and best for the whole series.
"But you can’t fit six in to three, you can’t fit four in to three, so whoever misses out it’s going to be tough.
"The one who will be twelfth man it will be even tougher, whether that be Sidds (Siddle) or Josh (Hazlewood) or James Pattinson, whether it’s Starcy (Mitchell Starc) or Pat Cummins, they are all very, very good bowlers.
“It’s going to be a really tight call between two of them, or three."
The fact that Langer has enjoyed greater returns at Lord's than any member of England's current on and off-field team (including former Middlesex batter and England incumbent Joe Denly, who averaged just 27 on his then-home track) might afford Australia a strategic advantage.
But it won't count for much when play begins on Wednesday (weather permitting, with rain forecast for London late morning) and Langer is watching proceedings from the paradoxically unfamiliar vantage point of the away team's balcony in the heritage-listed pavilion.
Among the items he, or his coaching staff, can't have planned for is the impact of England's new fast bowler Jofra Archer, who is expected to win his first Test cap now that long-time spearhead James Anderson is sidelined with a calf injury.
Archer, whose father is English but who was born in Barbados, initially faced a seven-year wait (until 2022) before he was eligible to represent his adopted homeland.
But that process was fast-tracked last year, and the 24-year-old was a vital part of England's recent World Cup-winning team.
He has not played a first-class match since September last year, when he captured 4-66 and 0-48 for Sussex, although his wickets in that game were tail-enders as Warwickshire slid from 6-433 to 440 all out.
Langer admitted he and his brains trust had been thinking "a lot" about changes that England's inclusion of left-arm spinner Jack Leach (for Moeen Ali) will bring, and even more intently about the expected debut of Archer.
"I’m really curious about how Archer is going to go," Langer said.
"He’s a very skilled bowler and a great athlete, but Test cricket is very different to white-ball cricket.
"Like we’ve talked about a long time, we’ve got to keep wearing them (England's bowlers) down and get him back into his second or third and fourth spells."
As for his own playing stocks, Langer received regular and comprehensive updates on events in Australia's tour game against Worcestershire, which ended in a soggy draw on Friday when play was abandoned after lunch on day three.
Among the efforts to catch the attention of the coach, who took the opportunity for a few days away from the squad and instead enjoyed a mini-break in London, was vice-captain Travis Head's century in Australia's first innings.
"He has a huge future, he's very coachable and he’s got better every time he plays," said Langer, who also noted Hazlewood's 3-34 from 15 immaculate overs, Starc's swing and aggression, Usman Khawaja's half-century and Mitchell Marsh's all-round contribution.
In addition, he reflected on opener Cameron Bancroft's ongoing struggle for runs (33 and 7 against Worcestershire) and his couple of rare catching blemishes in the slips cordon during that game.
Langer claimed that, having successfully fought his way back into the Test team following the nine-month ban that stemmed from events at Cape Town in 2018, Bancroft might conceivably be battling to re-adjust his ambitions.
The coach set aside time to speak with Bancroft after Sunday morning's training session , which the opener did not attend, amid suspicions the 26-year-old might be expecting too much of himself after the length and nature of his time on the sidelines.
"He is probably just trying a bit hard at the moment," Langer said of his fellow West Australian.
"It’s one of the challenges for James Pattinson actually (who returned to Test cricket last week after a three-year absence due to a serious back injury).
"He set himself to play in the Australian team, he set himself to play Ashes cricket.
"He's ticked both of them off and now he’s going to have to re-set his goals, and a lot of young people don’t do that well.
"They go 'I’ve done it now' and they forget to re-set.
"I’ve spoken to Patto about it and I’ll say the same thing to Cameron Bancroft.
"He’s come back in and now he’s trying too hard, he’s achieved that goal, he thought it might have taken a lot longer.
"He just has to re-set his goals, clear his mind and just relax a bit.
"He'll be fine."
2019 Qantas Ashes Tour of England
Australia squad: Tim Paine (c), Cameron Bancroft, Pat Cummins, Marcus Harris, Josh Hazlewood, Travis Head, Usman Khawaja, Marnus Labuschagne, Nathan Lyon, Mitchell Marsh, Michael Neser, James Pattinson, Peter Siddle, Steve Smith, Mitchell Starc, Matthew Wade, David Warner.
England squad: Joe Root (c), Jofra Archer, Jonny Bairstow, Stuart Broad, Rory Burns, Jos Buttler, Sam Curran, Joe Denly, Jack Leach, Jason Roy, Ben Stokes (vc), Chris Woakes.
First Test: Australia beat England by 251 runs at Edgbaston
Second Test: August 14-18,Lord's
Third Test: August 22-26, Headingley
Tour match: Australians v Derbyshire, August 29-31
Fourth Test: September 4-8, Old Trafford
Fifth Test: September 12-16, The Oval