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July 9, 2004
Australia 2 for 370 (Langer 159*, Hayden 117, Martyn 56*) v Sri Lanka
For those of a statistical bent, Justin Langer and Matthew Hayden were quietly becoming the weak link in Australia's juggernaut: only one century stand in their past 21 attempts. Those of a statistical bent were today nearly given the thrill of their lives. Ultimately two belated wickets on this opening day at Cairns kept Australia to 2 for 370, offering Sri Lanka some respite and dashing dreams of Langer and Hayden going where no men had gone before. For until then, they had hoisted 250 on the scoreboard so nonchalantly that no opening tally seemed ungettable.
And yet, the attraction of Langer and Hayden's batting had more to do with the how than the how much. Usually there is a hint of helter-skelter, of frenzied crossbat innovation, about their business. For four hours today they offered the broadest of bats and not a ghost of a chance. They scurried hard singles and dispatched anything loose, of which there was plenty. Only occasionally, and then very purposefully, did they lunge across the line. Seldom did they clout in the air.
Of course, these two are nothing if not flexible in their mindset, and shortly after lunch, with Sri Lankan heads sinking, Hayden saw fit to flout that commonsense mantra. Few sixes are genuinely elegant, but Hayden picked up a Chaminda Vaas outswinger so early, and so cleanly, that seagulls could have perched on his immaculately vertical bat. That ball sailed 20 metres over mid-on. A couple of overs later, more wristily this time, he deposited an offbreak from Thilan Samaraweera over mid-off.
This was their sixth double-century stand in Tests, two more than even Gordon Greenidge and Desmond Haynes ever managed. Never before, though, had slaughter seemed quite this straightforward.
To suggest that Langer and Hayden have been less dynamic of late is to talk of them collectively. Individually speaking, Langer's unbeaten 159 is his seventh hundred in 19 Tests, a ratio few openers in history have bettered. Hayden's ratio, all the while, splurges ever more Bradmanlike - and this, for once, is not a far-fetched analogy. Hayden's 117 was his 15th century in his past 31 Tests; Don Bradman, in his last 31, made 16.
Where Hayden and Bradman differ is in the latter's insatiability. Why grind out one hundred when three are in the offing, was Bradman's philosophy. Hayden gets bored faster. After tea he started wandering extravagantly across his stumps, physically taunting the bowlers. At one point he charged at Vaas and, with the flattest of bats, hoicked a delivery from wide of off stump over midwicket's head.
He might have been dobbed in for intimidatory batting. Instead Samaraweera was brought back and Hayden, with the partnership worth 255, shovelled a leg-side half-tracker from a half-baked part-timer down backward square leg's throat.
Marvan Atapattu's decision to bowl upon winning the toss had long since backfired. Inevitably he was seduced by the pre-match whispers of a trampolining, lightning-fast, WACA-style wicket. Atapattu is not the first to be sucked in: this was the seventh Queensland Test in a row where a captain has chosen to bowl, with mixed success, after winning the toss.
In the event, the bounce was plentiful but also reliable. It was the batsmen, chained down last week by a low and slow Darwin pitch, who relished it most. Atapattu's blunder became obvious from the eighth over onwards, by which point Nuwan Zoysa had been clobbered out of the attack and Samaraweera introduced in desperation.
Samaraweera, an offspinner, turned out to be the tidiest of the bowlers. Zoysa was hopelessly wayward and lasted just 11 overs. Vaas, steady of line, seemed strangely sluggish of speed. The legspinner Upul Chandana, employed only reluctantly, mixed up his pace but was otherwise innocuous. Lasith Malinga, with his hard-to-detect low slinging action, should have been called on before the score had scaled 60. By then the batsmen were set, the initiative lost.
It was Malinga who ousted Ricky Ponting, who himself had been inclined to bowl first, when he wafted eagerly at a widish delivery and holed out at cover (2 for 290). He had looked utterly at ease since Hayden's departure, driving gunbarrel straight and packing up clinically in defence. Damien Martyn, at his most silky and sublime, followed the captain's example and scooted imperiously to his fifty in 56 balls.
Langer had punched the tropical air ecstatically after raising his hundred courtesy of a wild overthrow. He then faded contentedly into the background. He was the aggressor early, particularly severe on Zoysa's dismal early overs, launching into two savage pulls off the backfoot and two crunching cover-drives off the front. His lunchtime 56 comprised 10 fours, most drilled along the ground and all clumped with a muscular backswing.
Still outpacing Hayden, he added another 62 in the second session but only 41 between tea and stumps, battening down with intent. Everything Langer did today - from the manner in which he power-walked off for lunch, to the way he returned after tea wrapped in a sleeveless sweater - bore the image of man who planned to carry on and on.
For those of a masochistic bent, tomorrow might be well worth watching.
Christian Ryan is the editor of Wisden Cricinfo in Australia.
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