Langer fluffs his lines

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Justin Langer

Justin Langer drops Monty Panesar off the bowling of Stuart Clark © Getty Images

Shane Warne’s scriptwriter earned almost as much praise as the man himself after the historic opening day of the fourth Test in Melbourne.

A 700th Test wicket and five in the innings to set up an Australia victory were more than Warne could have asked for on his final appearance at his home ground.

Glenn McGrath, too, started his last Test in front of his adoring fans in style, striking twice in two balls yesterday and sparking an England collapse this morning en route to figures of 3-67.

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If someone is penning their scripts, Justin Langer - the third member of Australia’s retirement club - could be excused for thinking he got a raw deal.

Having also announced his decision to quit Test cricket at the end of the Ashes, 36-year-old Langer’s farewell match could hardly be classed as the stuff of dreams.

The game was less than an hour old when he dropped Andrew Strauss off McGrath, the first of three missed catches in the slip cordon that suggested the tears had arrived four days early.

Paul Collingwood and Monty Panesar were reprieved this morning, although neither chance was straightforward and Langer was fortunate that his trio of aberrations cost a combined total of 10 runs.

He fared marginally better with the bat, a couple of forceful cuts through point and a booming off drive the highlights of a rapid 26 which ended when he gloved a short delivery from James Anderson to Chris Read down the leg side.

Justin Langer

Langer departs for 26 after gloving James Anderson down the leg side © Getty Images

Maybe we should not be surprised that Langer’s send-off has, thus far, been significantly lower key than his two illustrious team-mates, for that is how it has been for much of a Test career spanning 13 years and 105 Tests.

One of the least flashy members of an Australia side glittering with stars, Langer falls firmly into the category of players who have not earned the recognition their achievements warrant.

With a mightily impressive tally of 7,676 runs after this innings - the sixth highest by an Australian - at an average of 45, and 23 hundreds, Langer also forms one half of the second most productive opening partnership in Test history alongside Matthew Hayden; only the great West Indians Desmond Haynes and Gordon Greenidge have scored more than their 5,608 runs in tandem.

Steve Waugh once described Langer as the best batsman in the world, yet much of his work has been carried out, if not in the shadows, then certainly beyond the glare of publicity that seems to accompany the likes of Warne wherever he goes.

An unfussy left-handed batsman whose method is based around occupation of the crease rather than dazzling strokeplay, Langer is a cricketer for whom donning the baggy green is the ultimate accolade in the game.

Shane Warne, Glenn McGrath & Justin Langer

Australia's three retirees line up before their final Test

Perhaps unsurprisingly for someone who holds a black belt in taekwondo, Langer’s fighting qualities stand out.

He survived a peppering by Steve Harmison in the first Ashes Test of 2005 to top-score with 40 - it is symptomatic of the legacy he will leave that the fact he was Australia’s most successful batsman in that series was largely overlooked - and his participation in the current series owes much to a hunger that saw him battle back from a career-threatening head injury sustained in South Africa seven months earlier.

The Australian public are certainly appreciative of the efforts of this proud family man - the standing ovation he received from the SCG crowd after his dismissal was truly heartfelt - and Cricket Australia paid their own tribute with a huge ‘Thx Justin’ message emblazoned across the outfield.

With Langer’s place in the history books assured, the only thing that remains to be seen is how the last chapter of a splendid career ends.

He will be hoping Warne’s mythical scriptwriter can lend a hand.

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