Amid his usual thoughts and theories about Australia’s next assignment at Lord’s, Justin Langer had a fairly simple one for England’s high-profile reinforcement: Hello Jofra Archer, welcome to the meat grinder of Test cricket.
There is something relentless about the way Australia have planned their Ashes blueprint, having brought with them the deepest battery of fast bowlers ever to set foot on these shores, committed to batting time in the middle, and bowling to lines and plans that emphasise cutting down the scoring and boundary rates as much as searching for wickets.
Enormous hype has been attached to the entry of Archer into the series for England, perhaps rightly so given his outsized talents and easy speed off an ambling run up, allied to a line from close to the stumps. But the challenge for Archer, as Langer emphasised, would be to back up that pace and quality in spell after spell, having not played a single first-class match this year.
“It’s easy to be good at the front end and that’s what I said after Edgbaston, we’re not here to win the Edgbaston Test, we’re here to win the Ashes”
Archer’s only red-ball game since last summer was for Sussex’s second XI, in which he claimed six cheap wickets and showcased the skills that have made him a near automatic selection for England since he qualified – he took eight wickets against Middlesex last year in his only first-class fixture at Lord’s to date. Archer’s pace will provide a point of difference against Steven Smith‘s formidable reserves of concentration and co-ordination, but as Langer pointed out, it will also be asking a lot of someone new to Test cricket to dominate right away.
“I’m really curious about how Archer is going to go. He’s played one red-ball game in 11 months. He’s a very skilled bowler and a great athlete. But Test cricket is very different to white-ball cricket,” Langer said. “Like we’ve talked about a long time, we’ve got to keep wearing him down, and get him back into his second or third and fourth spells. Just curious how he’s going to go, like you are with all fast bowlers.
“The strategy for England the way they play, is we have to be very disciplined. I think going back to 2004 in India, we hadn’t beaten for years, Gilly [Adam Gilchrist] was the captain, our strategy was so disciplined. You remember that series, and that was the difference in the end. Kasper [Michael Kasprowicz], [Jason] Gillespie and [Glenn} McGrath and they were so disciplined. I just think we haven’t won here for 20 years, and that’s a good strategy you can learn from the past. That strategy is going to be important as well.
“We’ve got to be as good at the back end as we are at the front. It’s easy to be good at the front end and that’s what I said after Edgbaston, we’re not here to win the Edgbaston Test, we’re here to win the Ashes. We have got to make sure we manage it and plan it well so we are as good in the fifth Test as we are in the second Test.”
Smith, David Warner and captain Tim Paine joined the bowlers for an optional net session on Sunday, as all attempted to groove their games. Langer said that while Smith and Warner continued to face a considerable amount of unwanted attention, the key to their success in the remainder of the series was to turn up for Lord’s with as much hunger and focus as at Edgbaston.
“He slept the last few days, which was good,” Langer said of Smith. “Dave Warner didn’t have a big first Test but he had a huge World Cup and IPL, so he is getting his energy back as well. So when those two are clear and have energy, it’s obviously a big advantage for us.
“They’re still copping a bit. I thought it’s what we expected since we have been here. The boys are handling it well. Davey’s humour at Edgbaston was nice. He’s handling it as well as anyone. Steve Smith came in and showed with his batting how he’s handling it. I keep saying this: There’s nothing you can do about that, just keep smiling and keep concentrating on what you’ve got to concentrate on and it is what it is.
“We talk about humility as one of our values. Like I keep going back, we did not come here to win the Edgbaston Test, we’ve not come here to get a hundred at Lord’s. We’ve come here to win the Ashes, to be the leading run-scorer in the Ashes, and if you do that it helps us win the Ashes; to be the leading wicket-taker in the whole Ashes and not just have a good Test. Everyone’s got to contribute. That’s why we are deliberately recognising that, ‘ok we won the first Test match that’s great, but now we’ve got to win the second Test’. So all our efforts will go into that.”
Langer did not venture to Worcester for Australia’s tour match, instead spending time in London and regathering his many thoughts. He noted that Cameron Bancroft had dropped a couple of catches in the game, and said he had planned to spend time with the junior opening batsman to help him re-set his goals after having made it back from the Newlands scandal exile into the Test team.
“He dropped a couple of catches, he is probably just trying a bit hard at the moment,” Langer said. “It was one of the challenges for James Pattinson actually, he set himself to play back 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.”
Some guidance could also be taken from Langer’s own experience as a young batsman at Lord’s playing the first of his many seasons as an overseas player in 1998. In his first county match at the home of cricket, Langer fell cheaply in the first innings as he came to grips with the Lord’s slope. “The very first time I played here, Somerset versus Middlesex, I think Andy Caddick [Kevin Shine] got me out with one that definitely came back in to me (off the slope), he was bowling from the Media Centre End. I’d heard about it, but until you actually get out there and feel it, by the end of it you realise there was a slope. But it’s that little wake-up call and you adapt to it. Hopefully our guys will do that.”
How quickly did Langer adapt? In the second innings, he scored an unbeaten 233, duly described by the late Peter Roebuck: “Langer’s footwork was precise, his fitness impressive, his judgment unwavering and his placements superb during 533 minutes at the crease. He was a man in harmony with his surroundings. It was a most compelling contribution.”