Langer leaves mixed legacy
Posted in Domestic Cricket
Justin Langer has blighted and boosted English cricket like no Australian before.
The diminutive left-hander from Perth was a thorn in England’s side throughout his international career, surrendering the Ashes only once in five series.
Fittingly, he was at the crease with long-term opening partner Matthew Hayden when Australia completed an Ashes whitewash in Sydney in January 2007.
Langer, who had announced his international retirement before the game, admitted to being so overcome by emotion as his side neared victory that he implored Hayden to hit the winning runs.
"To win 5-0, it cannot get any better than that," Langer said afterwards. "It's been a privilege."
The last remark epitomises Langer; the ultimate team player.
He bestowed this quality on his two county sides: Middlesex from 1998 to 2000 and Somerset from 2006 until yesterday, when the Sabres were eliminated from the Champions League Twenty20 in India.
Langer, who scored 23 centuries in 105 Tests, arrived at Middlesex a year after touring England with Australia. He had not featured in the 1997 Ashes but earned the last of his one-day international caps.
He immediately instilled his work ethic at Middlesex, having a particularly strong influence on Mark Ramprakash, who would go on to enjoy his most successful period in international cricket during the following years.
Langer led by example with the bat, reaching 1,000 runs after eight matches and finishing second in the County Championship runs chart and averages.
That earned him an Australia recall and he played a pivotal role, batting at three, in the Ashes victory that winter when his unbeaten 179 at Adelaide was his then highest Test score.
Langer enjoyed another successful season with Middlesex in 1999 and as captain in 2000, although silverware proved elusive.
The Western Australian chose to concentrate on his international career in the subsequent years, forging an alliance with Hayden that typified his country’s domination of the international game.
Langer's first Test on English soil came at the climax of the 2001 Ashes. Given the chance to replace out-of-form Michael Slater, he struck a first-innings hundred which sparked his double act with Hayden and ended Slater’s international career.
By the following Ashes, Langer and Hayden were the most feared opening duo in the game, as their 195-run first-day stand at Melbourne demonstrated. Langer went on to a Test-best 250.
In 2005 he was one of Australia’s few bright sparks, striking another ton at the Brit Oval, as he and his team-mates tasted Ashes defeat for the first time.
The following year Langer ended his county exile with a prolific six-week stint at Somerset, including a career-high 342 versus Surrey in the LV= County Championship
He was appointed skipper for 2007 and had an instant impact, leading Somerset to championship promotion.
Langer passed 1,000 runs that season and the next, when the county immediately challenged for Division One honours. However, playing half their games on Taunton’s batsmen-friendly surface left the title out of reach.
His intense style of captaincy did not suit everyone, all-rounder Ian Blackwell admitting - once he had joined Durham - that he had felt under too much pressure at Somerset.
However, it continued to pay dividends as Langer’s side went close in all four competitions in 2009, when he passed Sir Donald Bradman's tally of 28,067 runs to become the leading Australian run-scorer in first-class cricket.
The nearest they came to silverware was in the Twenty20 Cup, where their runners-up spot secured qualification for the inaugural Champions League Twenty20.
In India, a thrilling last-ball victory over Indian Premier League champions Deccan Chargers proved a false dawn as Langer’s career ended in understated fashion.
A rare controversy in his final season was the 38-year-old’s scathing appraisal of the England team for the benefit of the Australian tourists, leaked to a national newspaper during the Ashes.
It proved wide of the mark as England regained the urn but, in fairness to Australia's decision to seek advice from Langer, who could have been better placed to deliver a verdict on the English game?