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Grittiest comeback

Made to open, Justin Langer made history. By Amit Varma

Amit Varma

When Justin Langer was dropped from the Australian eleven at the start of the Ashes, it looked like the end. Damien Martyn replaced him in the team and shone, Ricky Ponting took over at No.3 and sparkled, and Langer joined the Lost Generation of the likes of Greg Blewett and Darren Lehmann and Michael Bevan and Matthew Elliot, players who would have walked into any Test team in the world but Australia.
Then an opening vacancy appeared, and Langer got a one-Test window to establish himself in an unfamiliar position. He walked out at the Oval against an England buoyed by their unlikely win at Headingley; against the new ball, against Andy Caddick and Darren Gough, he looked utterly uncomfortable but, against all odds, survived. A man known for grit, not flair, character, not flamboyance, he struggled his way to one of the most ungainly hundreds you'll ever see in the Ashes. The aesthetics were dubious, but scorecards don't care about beauty.
He made an equally ugly century in his next Test innings, against New Zealand at the Gabba. He made Chris Cairns and Dion Nash look like Dennis Lillee and Jeff Thomson, and Mikey Slater must have gritted his teeth at Langer's obvious discomfort. But this dimunitive fleet-footed batsman with a short backlift and nerves of steel had fought too damn hard to get this far, and he would fight harder to stay. In his very next Test, at Hobart, he was dropped early but made his own luck, with yet another hundred; this one would have given Slater a complex for its scintillating strokeplay. He made only 75 at Perth, adjudged caught behind off a no-ball, but knocked up a century in the first Test against South Africa at Adelaide, a hundred he reached with a six, and that contained 15 fours and only 14 singles. Four centuries in five Tests as opener, 539 runs at an average of 90 - wouldn't we all love to be Langerous?

Amit Varma is a writer based in Mumbai. He writes the blog India Uncut. @amitvarma