Justin Langer poses with the Australian flag
© Getty Images

Hate to Love

He is un-sexy, he talks gobbledygook, he is Justin Langer, he is me

Langer personifies the worst in Australian cricket culture, as well as its best. Nobody knows this better than fellow Western Australians

Benjamin Golby |

I love Australia - I've got an Australian flag outside my house - but the line 'She'll be right'? Nup. Nah. That's not how it works - Justin Langer, to Perth's Sunday Times magazine

Do you understand Australian-speak? Justin Langer here articulates what I hate and love in him: his commitment to a noxious culture, and his eternal quest for betterment.

Justin Langer was a good cricketer. He played with Greats. Not as naturally gifted as some, nor a huge, brawny chap, Langer's career was a tussle: selected, scatteredly, for eight Tests in his first four years of international cricket, and bringing the same spirit of survival to each of his subsequent 97 appearances. A batsman in the shadow, metaphorically and literally, of his opening partner, Matthew Hayden, to say nothing of the stunning strokeplayers or bowlers in that Australian side.

Twelve years on, Langer is seemingly the most important man in Australian cricket. Whenever that outstanding Australian era is named today, Langer is among the roll call of names that comes immediately to the tongue. His strength of presence and personality, grit and determination, amplify his importance. He is subtler than many of his contemporaries, and has proved more successful in his second life in cricket, certainly more focused, than most. The qualities that defined him as a player underlie his coaching success.

Langer finds transcendence in pushing his body to its utter limits and calls his charges to do the same in a holistic method that combines "old-school coaching" with metaphysical yen, as, for instance, recounted by Usman Khawaja in Phillip Hughes: The Official Biography.

In Colombo, where the tourists arrived to prepare for a lead-up game at the P Sara Ground, the temperature was 42 degrees and the humidity 98 per cent when the Australians put in what Langer decided was a substandard fielding practice.

'It was so hot, it was hell, I had tingles all along my body,' Khawaja says.

At the end of the session, Langer called Hughes and Khawaja over.

'You boys want to score a hundred runs every time you bat?' Langer said. 'I want you to visualise it.'

Khawaja thought, 'I can visualise it back at the hotel.'

Then Langer started running up the wicket, and called for Hughes and Khawaja to follow. He ran a single, then a two, then a three, and then a four. The he ran a four, a three, a two and a one.

Khawaja says, 'I was nowhere, it was so hard.'

At that point, Langer said, 'We're a quarter of the way through. We've got three-quarters to go.'

…All Khawaja can remember is Langer driving them on in the heat, so that, at the end of the session, Hughes and Khawaja were 'lying on the changing room floor in our undies. I said, "Have you ever done anything as tough as that?" Phil said, "No way." I said, "What's he doing?" Phil said, "He's just trying to break us. Don't let him break you."'

Langer and I are Western Australians, a heritage that troubles me. Have you ever seen our vast region on a map? The state, and its capital, Perth, were profoundly affected at the turn of the century by an economic boom. Housing is unaffordable, half-rate restaurants and cafés charge a fortune, and a gulf exists between those who benefited from the mining boom, based on the extraction of iron ore, oil and gas, and those who didn't. It may seem shocking when visiting cricketers headbutt and pour pints over heads, but it's in keeping with the place. Perth is a city where lucre is loud and exhibited gauchely, with huge houses, big cars, entitled attitudes and a general lack of decorum.

If I could only take some of Langer's lessons to heart - I never will - I could embrace what I forsake and perhaps find some inner peace

Langer has given this city more than a Test cricketer. His tenure with Perth Scorchers coincided with Australia taking the Big Bash seriously. He worked with players who weren't recognised T20 stars: Brad Hogg, Adam Voges, Jason Behrendorff and Simon Katich. The Marsh brothers, too, whom many in the nation will never appreciate. While other franchises opted for celebrity internationals - Kieron Pollard, Brendon McCullum, Muttiah Muralitharan, Chris Gayle - Langer recruited the obscure Alfonso Thomas and Yasir Arafat. It's the Moneyball cliché but with a Langer twist: mind over matter, drawing from within oneself. Subsequent super-players, like Jhye Richardson and Andrew Tye, came into the side seemingly pulled from the WACA clay by Langer. Some may quibbleabout the methods used but under Langer, Scorchers won the pennant three times. Western Australia took the domestic one-day title twice.

His pre-eminence in the region is now enshrined in the new A$1.6 billion Perth stadium, with his name adorning the southern stretch, a big step up from Langer's Loft, the elevated beer tent at cow corner in the WACA Members' enclosure (which, in Perth-style, cost a hefty premium to enter). The previous Great Southern Stand of Western Australia, the WACA's Lillee-Marsh, celebrating old cricketing deities, risks becoming a relic.

Langer's purported quasi-Eastern spiritual philosophy is doubtless entwined with his practise of Zen Do Kai, a martial art invented in Australia in the 1970s for members of the security industry. He holds a black belt. He speaks of greeting the sunrise on Perth's beaches while performing the art. You can read more in his 30-easy-lessons book, Seeing the Sunrise.

If this strikes you as naff - and if it doesn't, chances are you are not enjoying this article - reflect that there is merit here. Langer is humble. He doesn't chase the spotlight, has never sought a media career, and whatever his sins, vanity is not among them. Langer's six published titles are imbued with the spirit of self-improvement and inspiration. The Power of Passion opens thus:

I feel like I could run through a brick wall when I am wearing the baggy green cap.

I know self-belief is the essence of personal progress.

I know single-minded pursuit is rewarding.

I often think about the meaning of life.

I believe in the power of dreaming.

I AM JUSTIN LANGER.

We have dwelt, generally, on positives. Langer might agree that they are more rewarding. As Osman Samiuddin recently outlined, though, one cannot ignore Langer's negative attributes. Beyond the angry sledging and mental disintegration of his milieu, Langer's own honours include dislodging bails, dossiering and leading a drunken song in an inappropriate environment (a song with lyrics about nativeness that need a rewrite given Cricket Australia's Reconciliation Action Plan).

Langer isn't sexy. He supports conservative politics. While great songs have been written about cricketers, Langer inspires meaningless guitar music. A one-time stockbroker, he invests money circumspectly. He is keen to mythologise the Australian Way and the Australian men's cricket team, and appears on the cover of his second autobiography, Australia, You Little* Beauty, with the Australian flag pinned below his neck as a cape and his right fist raised. He expresses himself in a corporate-sporting-jargon, using meaningful capitalised nouns, imbued with a sense of the mystic, as in Elite Honesty.

JL with his elite mates: after winning the Lord's Test in 2005, Langer led his team into the England dressing room to sing the Australian team song

JL with his elite mates: after winning the Lord's Test in 2005, Langer led his team into the England dressing room to sing the Australian team song © Getty Images

While this is everything I hate in sport, I've mulled over it - like Langer greeting the sunrise - and ultimately I know that I love the cricketer because, like all our Western Australian brethren, he is me.

You see, I've done the most Western Australian thing of all - more typical than the most Corona-swilling (from the bottle), Club-Bay-View-frequenting, seal-voiced (oik oik), sleeveless-T-shirt-wearing, self-satisfied provincial Perth bumpkin. And that's leave my home and become judgemental about it. I bristle whenever a smug wit bellows "Nice one, Gary!"; I don't attend the Test on Boxing Day because the MCG is filled with liquored-up patriots; in conversation, I never refer to Australia as "we"; for balanced opinion on the Australian cricket team, I seek international commentary rather than local papers; I think of The Line as capricious.

While there are sound reasons for my behaviour, in doing so I miss out on much of this nation's cricketing culture, and the opportunity for fellowship and discourse. If I could only take some of Langer's lessons to heart - I never will - I could embrace what I forsake and perhaps find some inner peace.

There is one local tradition that I have no truck with, though. The Australian public has a habit of adoring its cricketing figures, ignoring their glaring faults, and later pillorying them, forgetting any merit: Shane Watson, David Warner, John Buchanan and even Ricky Ponting are examples of this.

Should public opprobrium fade - and the Australian public will demand results come the 2019 World Cup and northern Ashes - I hope that Langer will also be remembered for his virtues.

I believe spirit, the will to win and the will to excel are the things that endure.

I really enjoy painting, even though I am not good at it.

I like pink Clinkers and Violet Crumble.

I love it when my wife laughs.

I would pick character over cover drives any day.

I AM STILL JUSTIN LANGER…

Benjamin Golby lives in Melbourne

 

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