"The art of competing, I'd learned from track, was the art of forgetting, and I now reminded myself of that fact. You must forget your limits. You must forget your doubts, your pain, your past."
Adam Gilchrist once penned a book called Walking To Victory. For Justin Langer, a more appropriate title might be Reading For Victory. Like a bowerbird, he pulls quotes, observations and stories from all over sport, business and life to inform his coaching of the Australian team and to provide him with examples and experiences to throw at his players. One of his recent reads has been Shoe Dog, the memoir of Nike's founder Phil Knight, and the above line can be found within its pages.
Knight's story, while ending with Nike's domination of the global market for sporting footwear, includes plenty of failures, wrong turns and false dawns. It goes a long way toward demonstrating that even the most successful individuals or organisations tend to fail a lot more often than they succeed, even if the ultimate success may be larger than the many individual failures that led to it. In his assessment of Shoe Dog, Bill Gates lauded it for uncovering the non-linear nature of long-term success.
Gates wrote that the memoir is "a refreshingly honest reminder of what the path to business success really looks like. It's a messy, perilous, and chaotic journey riddled with mistakes, endless struggles, and sacrifice. In fact, the only thing that seems inevitable in page after page of Knight's story is that his company will end in failure".
Being able to face the knockdowns and defeats then continue forging on towards the final goal is a pretty relevant message for Langer and Australia this week, having lived through the trauma of Headingley. For all but the final hour of the Leeds Test, the tourists were set to record a famous victory of their own, claiming the Ashes without the services of their best batsman Steven Smith. The intervention of Ben Stokes, the staunch support of Jack Leach, and a good degree of tightening up by the Australians added up to a memorable finish but also a sequence that left Langer and his team feeling not just pained, but ill.
As Langer reflected, this was all the harder to take for the fact that Australia's preparation for this Ashes campaign, over a period of several years since their failure to retain the urn here in 2015, has been rigorous, attentive to the lessons of the past and with very little expense spared. The return of Steve Waugh for the final two Tests of this series, having originally been slated only to be working with the team for Edgbaston and Lord's, is yet another example, but there are others like the use of Dukes balls in the Sheffield Shield and the Australia A tour run parallel to the World Cup.
There has been tactical and cultural humility, too, dovetailing a more considered approach to playing English conditions - shut down the scoreboard in the field, leave the ball diligently with the bat - with the wider change in attitude and outlook charted by Cricket Australia in the wake of last year's Newlands scandal. Knowing all these details intimately, and having taken such a major role in their planning and execution, it is little wonder Langer was close to bereft at the moment Stokes carved Pat Cummins through the covers to level the series at 1-1.
"The main challenge, the biggest one, is that you know how much work's gone into winning this Ashes series," Langer said. "It's been huge, from the preparation, the Australia A stuff, the selections, everything that's gone into it, and it was that close, we were that close. That's the toughest part of it, we were that close, and we let an opportunity slip. Therefore, when you let an opportunity slip you can dwell on it or you can use it as fire to make sure it doesn't slip next time.
"Everyone in that change room, probably a lot of Australians felt it, but felt completely sick after that. I actually felt physically sick after it, and then I went back to my room, I wasn't sure whether to cry my eyes out or smash my hotel room. For most people it's just a game of cricket, but when so much goes into it, it means a lot. You do take it personally because I know how much work's going into it.
"That was the biggest part of losing last week, that we felt we were so close and we let it slip. You never like to let opportunities slip in your life. That's ok, we'll make sure we learn from it, we'll learn a lot of lessons from that, short term and long term, and hopefully we can do it better next time."
How Australia do it better is a fairly straightforward question. They need more runs - Langer pointed to the fact that Australia seldom lose a Test match when they score more than 300 in their first innings - and a tad more composure with the ball at vital times They must also remember their strengths, whether it be greatly improved catching at Headingley, or Nathan Lyon's strong record of creating chances when bowling to Stokes, even if none were able to be turned into victory in the third Test.
"It was a tight game alright and we'd rather be on the other side of it," Langer said. "For most of the game we played pretty good cricket. Still have to bat better, we haven't got 300 in the first innings yet. Every time we've got 300 we've at the very least won the Test match in the first innings over the last 20 Test matches. It's a huge focus batting well in the first innings.
"The last week of coaching has probably been one of the most challenging weeks of my coaching career after what happened at Leeds. That said, as challenging as it has been, it's been awesome. I've loved this last week of coaching, because you can sit back and feel sorry for yourself or put it under the carpet or you can work out ways to make sure we are up for the first ball of the next Test match."
Asked about those many written and verbal lessons about coping with failure, in the context of this Ashes series, Langer returned to another of his stories: that of how, as a child, Muhammad Ali had his bike stolen and used the pain of the experience to help fuel his legendary boxing career. Forgetting is vital to an athlete's mindset, but so too, at times, is remembering.
"The champions all have had times of adversity. Whether it's in business, sport or life," Langer said. "The ones who come back from it - think about Muhammad Ali getting his bike stolen.
"We felt a bit like we got the Ashes stolen the other day. And to England's great credit, that's what they did. They won that Test match , so we felt a bit like it'd been stolen from us. Now we've got to work out what we're going to do, and use that as fire.
"We're not going to feel sorry for ourselves and let it slip. The great players and great teams - in business and life - they have their ups and downs but they always fight back from it. You wouldn't see one champion player, one champion team, one champion business that hasn't done that."
Vital, too, will be a sense of equilibrium and peace about the results to follow. Having done all the work, the preparation and tried to choose the right teams for Old Trafford and The Oval, Langer and his team will also have to let things go, and acknowledge that days like Stokes' at Headingley can happen in sport.
As Knight put it: "Hard work is critical, a good team is essential, brains and determination are invaluable, but luck may decide the outcome."