Justin Lee Langer
November 21, 1970, Perth, Western Australia
Left hand bat
Right arm medium
Justin Langer was perhaps the first Test opener in history to average in the mid-forties yet always be scrabbling for his spot in the side. Or at least that's the perception: in a land of dashers and crashers Langer was seen as a grafter, a battler, only ever a couple of failures away from oblivion. The reality was somewhat different. Yesteryear's ugly duckling turned into a stroke-playing swan, racking up more Test hundreds than those national treasures Doug Walters, Ian Chappell, Mark Waugh and Bill Lawry, and scoring an eye-popping 1481 runs in 2004. Always an effective cutter and driver, he indulged in unseemly crossbat hoicks from the first over. Together with his bludgeoning comrade Matthew Hayden, he screwed up textbooks and record-books alike, making Greenidge and Haynes look like strokeless stonewallers. It was a miraculous reinvention.
Clanged on the helmet by Ian Bishop on debut, Langer fought on to make 54, but played only eight Tests in six years. He returned at No. 3, as the selectors sought to mould him into the next David Boon - and for a while he exceeded even those lofty ambitions. After rescuing the unrescuable Hobart Test of 1999-2000 with Adam Gilchrist, then slaughtering a blistering 122 in Auckland, Steve Waugh called him the world's best batsman. The feeling was mutual; Langer's devotion to Waugh saw him nicknamed 'Mini-Tugga' alongside `JL' and `Alfie'. His bond with Hayden was even closer. The pair missed each other when they were apart, exchanged bear hugs in the middle, and gave the impression always of two boys living out a dream.
Langer may be short of stature but he is tall in enthusiasm (he's already written two books) and boasts a black belt in taekwondo. His strong-willed performances were a highlight in a batting line-up that failed to fire against England in 2005, and with 394 runs at 43.77 he was Australia's leading scorer. He also took blows to the helmet and body, which are a common theme of his career. In a season disrupted by a cracked rib and a hamstring problem, Langer's 100th Test was delayed until the final match against South Africa in Johannesburg, where he turned into a Makhaya Ntini bouncer before scoring a run. Taken to hospital with a head cut and concussion, he spent the rest of the game in the hotel or dressing room and considered quitting altogether before placing the option below regaining the Ashes, and once that goal was achieved, he joined Shane Warne and Glenn McGrath in bowing out at the end of the series.
He played only eight one-day internationals, something that bugged him no end, despite a Gilchristian strike rate of 88.88. With Langer, you see, perception was everything.
Cricinfo staff January 2007
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