Langer's hurried farewell
As Justin Langer ripped his gloves off as he approached the boundary it looked like a normal end to one of his Test innings. The glance was set, either at the ground or somewhere in the distance, and the steps were grumpily purposeful. It had not been his happiest day. His final Test is not going the way he planned.
Three catches were spilled during England's first innings, an uncharacteristic performance for a player who has developed into a valued member of the cordon, and his leg-glance to Chris Read left him with only one more opportunity to bat with his great friend Matthew Hayden. It was hard to tell which event was most upsetting.
Depending on the size of Australia's first innings, which reached 4 for 188 at stumps, Langer may not get another chance to make a meaningful contribution with his partner of five years. The love affair that began by accident at The Oval when he replaced Michael Slater ends at the SCG. They walked out to Icehouse's Great Southern Land at least a minute after England's players reached the middle, but they returned 66 runs apart.
There was no 15th century partnership, ending their chances of joining the 16 achieved by Gordon Greenidge and Desmond Haynes, who Hayden and Langer also sit behind on the list of most prolific opening partnerships. The 34-run stand today pushed them to 5609 in 64 Tests, which is 873 short of the West Indians, who appeared in 25 more matches.
Jack Fingleton and Bill Brown, who ran sharply between wickets in the 1930s, averaged 63.75 an innings in ten games, and Bob Simpson and Bill Lawry collected 60.94 per partnership in 34 games in the 1960s. Both duos have higher means than Hayden and Langer's 51.46, but what the figures do not measure is the speed at which the current pair scored and the number of hands bruised by their pummeling.
When they are not staging mid-wicket conferences, punching gloves at their many boundaries or embracing for their milestones, Hayden and Langer are cooking for eachother in their home cities. They are happy to trade stories on Hayden's spice mixes and Langer's rose garden while sharing a belief in God and uncompromising cricket.
Facing one over before lunch, Langer made a firm statement with a pulled boundary off Andrew Flintoff that sent Australia to the break on a high and he remained aggressive when he returned, scoring four boundaries in his 27-ball 26. He could not help but be pumped up by the occasion and Hayden had only 4 when Langer reluctantly departed.
Of the three players leaving their boots in the beautiful SCG dressing room, Langer is the most emotional. John Buchanan said at the end of the first day that the occasion had affected Langer. His decision to step down was made on the eve of the Test and like a funeral after a family-member's death, it has come too quickly. Shane Warne and Glenn McGrath had plenty of time to prepare for their exits compared to Langer's eve-of-Test announcement.
He loves playing for Australia, as he has showed over 105 matches and confirmed in his farewell conference, but the sun is setting. When Read pouched the legside catch Langer returned to his crease, waiting for Aleem Dar's orders. He had to go. The supporters roared as Langer left but the applause seemed to be blocked from his ears.
Peter English is the Australasian editor of Cricinfo