The Final Frontier tour of India in 2004. Headingley 1989. Pune 2017. It is quite right that a Test victory like this – coming back from 122-8 on the opening afternoon to win by a massive 251 runs – earns comparisons to the most important historical reference points in modern memory for the Australian Test team. The size of stage and scale of comeback, combined with Steve Smith’s epic twin tons – not to mention Nathan Lyon’s final day clinic – immediately ensure that it will be a result talked of for generations. Edgbaston 2019 – get used to the sound of it.
Justin Langer, who fits the bill as a student of the game, knows all about this. But equally, he is mindful too of the recent history. Just last year, Australia batted 140 overs, longer than they ever had in a fourth innings, to secure an astonishing draw against Pakistan in their first Test after the sandpaper farrago. But less than a week later, they were routed in the second rubber. Earlier in 2018, before the wheels fell off in Cape Town, Smith’s side posted a highly impressive victory at Durban to start the series. Similarly, after Australia’s Pune ram raid to begin in 2017, they weren’t able to stick the landing the way the class of 2004 did in India.
“We’re aware of those, so the boys have already talked about it a bit,” Langer said, noting the team value of humility that he now wants to draw on to keep his charges grounded. “We’ve still only won one Test match. But we’ve got a pretty clear view on how we think we can beat England in this series. I go back to 2004, India, when we finally beat India in India – we had a very, very clear plan. Adam Gilchrist drove that, remember he was the captain at the time, [Ricky Ponting] was injured, so he drove that. We’ve got a really clear plan for how we can beat England. We’ll stick to that.”
To celebrate the Birmingham triumph, the coach is pointing at the type of personnel picked for the task. “From 122-8 and to win like we did shows incredible character, incredible fighting spirit,” he said. “Whilst we could have picked any of the 17, look at the guys we picked and you go, yeah they are all fighters.” No player exemplifies that, Langer believes, more than Matthew Wade, who made a second-innings century in his return as a specialist bat just 18 months after his cards were marked never to play again. “He has done exactly what we said he’s got to do: you’ve got to knock so hard we can’t not pick you.”
Langer said Peter Siddle, who was selected ahead of Mitchell Starc, was near enough to the best on show across the five days but what that means for Australia’s fast bowler shuffle is unclear ahead of Lord’s. There is no doubt that Pat Cummins, who picked up his 100th Test wicket with the third of the four he claimed on Monday, will lead the attack once again. Form would suggest Siddle will join him once more. “What a brilliant problem to have and one we haven’t had for a long time,” Langer said of having Starc and a bowler of the calibre of Josh Hazlewood outside the XI. Both will play in the three-day game at Worcester beginning on Wednesday.
As for the imperious Smith, one UK back page went as far as declaring him the new Bradman and, for Langer’s part, he can see nobody better in the sport at the moment. “I said during the summer that Virat Kohli is the best player I have ever seen but that’s just another level,” he said. “Let’s face it, when he first came in, leg-spinner, unorthodox [everyone thought] I’m not sure this kid’s going to make it. Then he goes away [and decides] ‘I don’t want to be a leg-spinner, I want to be the best batsman in the world’, then he transforms himself and he is the best batsman in the world with Virat. It’s a great credit to him.”