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December 4, 2003
Justin Langer seizes the day
Just when Michael Slater's supporters were rousing themselves from slumber to barrack for his recall into the Australian XI, Justin Langer chose the perfect moment to ride his luck - and play some magnificent shots - all the way to a 16th Test hundred.
"Steve Waugh always wants you to back yourself, don't hesitate and play your shots," said Langer, addressing the media after yet another fairly routine day at the office for Australia. He was unbeaten on 115 at stumps - rattling along from 50 to 100 in 47 balls - and admitted afterwards that Australia had made plans to dominate the opening day.
"We always aim to win the first session," he said. "After that, we target winning the first day. Today, they had very good conditions to bowl in, so it was a huge day for us." While he said the team hadn't set any session targets, he said, "It takes courage to be aggressive. We've won a lot of Test matches playing that way over the past five years."
He rated his innings among the best he'd ever played - "One of the best, if not the best" - because the conditions, especially early on, had been so challenging. "The ball was seaming around a lot all day. The wicket got harder and faster as the game went on."
India's decision to bowl first surprised him, though he said neither he nor Matthew Hayden was fazed by the thought of going out to bat on a green wicket. "Matty and I raised eyebrows when we were told by Steve ... but we know that at the Gabba, if you get past the first 20 or 25 overs, you can set up the game."
Of India's inexperienced bowling attack, he said, "They certainly don't lack talent. Zaheer Khan's first spell was outstanding. The other guy [Nehra] bowled well too. If they were to be critical of themselves, they'd say that they didn't string good spells together...it was scarier watching from the non-striker's end. Their bowlers must have thought it was heaven bowling on such a pitch."
The sweep shot brought him some joy against Harbhajan Singh, but he confessed that it was only once he stopped pre-meditating the stroke that it came smoothly. "Early on, I was thinking about playing the shot. It's a trap we fall into while touring India or Sri Lanka, going for the pre-meditated sweep. After tea, I decided I was just going to watch the ball. With him [Harbhajan] bowling that line, I was able to get a few away."
For India, and Rahul Dravid, it was a sobering day, a "tough day" to use his words. "It was overcast and there was a bit in the wicket. And it was one of those on-off days with the rain. We just didn't bowl as well as we should have."
Dravid refused to comment on the two lbw decisions, or the Langer catch off a no-ball when asked about their impact on the proceedings. "Maybe we didn't get the breaks," he said, "but credit to them. There's no guarantee that you'll make a hundred if you get a life on 20. He [Langer] played really well."
Despite Steve Waugh's assessment yesterday that the first day would decide the series, Dravid refused to throw away last vestiges of hope. "They've won the first day," he said. "But losing the first day doesn't lose you the series."
On his sickbed in Sri Lanka, Nasser Hussain - who inserted Australia at the Gabba last year only to see them romp to 364 for 2 - might view it slightly differently.
Dileep Premachandran, Wisden Cricinfo's assistant editor, will be following India throughout their Test series in Australia.
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