Australia v Pakistan, 1st Test, Perth, 1st day

Australia's opening idol

The Wisden Verdict by Peter English

December 16, 2004

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Justin Langer: Australian fans must start singing his praises before it's too late to toast him © Getty Images
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A nasal remake of the classic C'mon Aussie C'mon opened the series coverage, but by lunch the title had become a plea instead of a catchy tune. Shannon Noll, the former Australian Idol runner-up, was singing about the country's current ones, and five of them were voted off by the 27th over. As launch parties go, this one was an early flop.

Fortunately Justin Langer was listening to the chorus. Australian fans must start singing his praises before it's too late to toast him. Langer, in his 83rd Test, currently has the most runs for the calendar year with 1319, and his 21st century equalled David Boon (107 Tests) and Neil Harvey (79) while passing Mark Waugh (128). Any lofty comparisons of Langer with this trio would be mocked, but for the second time in consecutive matches he saved Australia with a brilliant hundred.

While his more fancied top-order team-mates went with whispers, Langer again whistled his way through the first day, as he did while filling their potholes against New Zealand at Adelaide two weeks ago. Langer is under-rated to the extreme, and at 34 may never change the perception of him as a gritty workman.

Tomorrow he will seek his fourth Test double-century as a reward for a performance that was as fluent after lunch as any played by his team-mates. Adam Gilchrist hits bigger and quicker, Matthew Hayden is more intimidating, but Langer is regularly able to damage opponents for long periods. Until Gilchrist arrived today he was the only one to control the Pakistan attack as he dragged Australia back from the edge.

Australia knew that any tourist gate-crashing would revolve around Shoaib Akhtar and Mohammad Sami. They were ready to counter-punch the speed blitz and had talked all week about foiling the fear. But the top order wasn't thrown back up the dressing-room steps after being battered by thick-set bouncers. Forget the pre-game hype of a pace shoot-out, they were led out of the door with any-pitch dismissals.

Before the Test, Shoaib talked about being smarter with the ball, and his mouth and brain were finally bowling from the same body. Shoaib's run-up was as long as a straight stretch of the Nullarbor railway crossing, but he and Sami reduced their pace - it was still fast - and the first hour was most unlike a WACA Test. The batsmen weren't jumping around protecting their fingers, and were even given balls to drive.

Expecting a day on the back foot, Matthew Hayden received a half-volley from Shoaib and it was as if he had been shouted a drink. The spike came later in the third over when Shoaib again pitched one up, the ball swinging and thudding into Hayden's front pad. It was full enough for an instant yes ruling, which is a rarity at Perth. Darren Lehmann was targetted in a similar way, and Shoaib embarrassed him by hitting middle and leg as he walked across the crease.

Ricky Ponting has his own line in the new song, assuming the "Hookesy's clearing pickets" description from the original, but his innings was more jingle than a couple of solid verses, and he left with Sami rattling his stumps. Damien Martyn was outclassed in a stunning Sami over and when Michael Clarke went two overs after lunch it wouldn't have mattered if Ponting's request to play five specialist batsmen and Brett Lee had been approved.

The situation was fully rectified by stumps as Langer continued to plunder. Helped by a breezy half-century to Gilchrist, he had settled the side and then conquered wilting opponents on his home ground. As he catapulted Australia out of desperate trouble, he gave his team something to idolise.

Peter English is the Australasian editor of Cricinfo.

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© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.

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