Langer keeps faith in Hussey and North
Justin Langer believes Marcus North and Michael Hussey will make it through the Ashes as long as they stay focused and ignore the mountain of distractions. Langer, Australia's batting coach, was under similar pressure for his spot before the 2006-07 campaign and expects the struggling pair to be on duty at the Gabba next week.
The Australian contenders are having a difficult time securing their places ahead of the series, with Hussey (0), North (17), Usman Khawaja (13) and Callum Ferguson (7) failing in their various matches on Wednesday. However, Langer retains faith in the battling incumbents.
"Marcus North has got five hundreds in 19 Tests," Langer told ESPNcricinfo. "Mike Hussey basically averages 50 in Test cricket. They are very, very good players. What they have to do is eliminate the distraction of what has happened in the past and concentrate on getting balance in their stance and being ready for the first ball.
"You don't lose your talent and your ability. Sometimes because of distractions you might lose a little bit of focus. They're good enough and been around long enough."
Langer said the same approach is necessary for Ricky Ponting if he is to reach his peak against England. "Hussey and Ponting are absolute warriors of Australian cricket," Langer said. "I'm very confident that if they get their focus right they'll be fine and they're a very important part of us winning back the Ashes."
Australia named a huge 17-man squad on Monday for the opening Test, with the influx of new talent adding to the distractions of the under-pressure senior players. The outfit will be trimmed over the weekend and Langer understands what it's like to be a target before a major series.
"In 2006-07 there was a lot of conjecture about my place because Phil Jaques was doing well," he said. "The day that they announced the 12 players to be selected and I knew that I was in that side, the whole world was off my shoulders and then I could just focus and concentrate on playing the first Test."
In his new book Australia You Little Beauty - the English edition is called Keeping My Head - Langer writes about the moments in the 2005 Ashes when the pressure became too much.
The breaking point arrived during the third Test at Old Trafford when Langer, who was not out on the fourth evening, went back to the team hotel and was taunted by a couple of Barmy Army supporters. He almost punched one of them. "The pressure of the Ashes has built to bursting point," he wrote of the day.
Langer said the players in this series could escape those sorts of troughs by ignoring the distractions. "Mental toughness is being able to concentrate on what's important," he said. "It sounds simple, but it's the whole essence of peak performance.
"There are going to be so many distractions: media hype, all the stuff in public, worrying about winning or not winning the Ashes, thoughts about personal form, what's happened in the last week or two, thinking about their position in the side. All those things are pure and simple distractions. All that really matters is the contest between bat and ball and the psyches of each player on Thursday the 25th at the Gabba."
Peter English is the Australasia editor of Cricinfo