Reputations cloud perception more than reality itself. Justin Langer knows a thing or two about that. In a team full of beautiful swans, he was the ugly duckling. With stroke-players like Mark Waugh, Michael Slater and Damien Martyn around, Langer was cast as the stonewaller. He finished his career with a strike-rate superior to the trio.
He was considered a grafter, yet few openers can boast of a scoreboard where they outscored Matthew Hayden 63 to 3, like Langer did at Hobart years ago. He still keeps a photograph of that scoreboard. But, that's the way it's been with Langer - he's better than you think he is. Just ask Javagal Srinath.Speaking to HT, the current Australia batting coach spoke of his maiden double ton that helped seal a 3-0 whitewash for Aussies against visiting India. "It was the New Year's Test in Sydney - the first Test of the new millennium. Javagal Srinath kept saying, 'You're the worst batsman I've bowled to in Test cricket'.
I had a few close calls and he even got me bowled off a no-ball when I was on 40. 'You're the worst batsman I've bowled to,' he said again after the ball," recalls Langer, who went on to score 223 as Australia won by an innings.
Twilight: new don
For a player who almost always looked on the verge of being dropped, Langer went on to play 105 Tests. By the time he bid adieu to first-class cricket after 18 years at the top level, he was Australia's all-time leading first-class run scorer --- accumulating 28,382 runs and bettering Sir Don's Australian record of 28,067 runs that stood for almost 60 years.
On breaking the record, the 41-year-old said, "That was a great feeling. I was humbled by it, but I obviously played a lot more cricket than Sir
Don. It was almost towards the end of my career, it was a goal that I had set for myself then. It kept me going and it was great when I finally achieved that."
Meditation & martial arts
Ever the calm hand, Langer experienced highs and lows, which brought both emotions of rage and innate peace. He's well equipped to handle both --- he is a martial arts expert with a taekwondo black belt and an avid
practitioner of yoga who took time out when on tour in India to pay a visit to the ashram of noted yoga guru BKS Iyengar.
"I think meditation is very good for practicing your concentration out in the middle. In 1993, when I just started playing Test cricket, it was John Wright who got me into meditation, when I was playing a series against New Zealand. I didn't even know what he was talking about. But, then I got dropped and saw an advertisement in the newspaper, and that's how I got into it," he recalls.
The future of India's golden generation is the subject of much discussion. Langer, who retired on a high alongside Glenn McGrath and Shane Warne after completing a 5-0 whitewash in the Ashes, feels the likes of Rahul Dravid and VVS Laxman should have a say over their destiny.
"Everyone can talk about when they will retire, but at the end of the day only they will know when is the right time. They just need to follow their heart; they've earned the right to decide when to go. In a perfect world, you would want to go out on a high, but the world isn't always perfect. From my point of view, I retired with Shane Warne and Glenn McGrath and a 5-0 series win and it was very satisfying," said Langer.