Australia’s Test selection for the Pakistan series was made not only with the summer of 2019-20 in mind, but also with Justin Langer‘s ultimate goal at the end of his current road with a slowly maturing team: knock India off on home soil in 2022.
If this sounds like a long way off, then it was even further away on the day Langer was unveiled as coach in May 2018. Nevertheless, it was one of the first things on his lips: “If I fast forward it, the Indian tour against India, the Test tour in three or four years’ time, to me that’s the ultimate. We will judge ourselves as a great cricket team if we beat India in India.”
Eighteen months older and wiser, but with a sturdy record building, Langer has observed India’s recent home domination with the sense of a goal to reach. India have now won 11 home series in a row, and are tipped to make it 12 at the end of their ongoing series against Bangladesh.
Langer is adamant that the growth he wants to see from Australia’s Test team will be given its truest measure by that particular challenge. A tight series defeat in 2017 provides reason for optimism, but Virat Kohli’s team has only grown in strength and stature since.
“It reminds me of how hard it is, that’s for sure,” Langer told ESPNcricinfo of India’ intimidating home form. “It’s always been the case that it’s been hard to win in India. But that’s the expectation and we’ve got a couple of years now to find that maturity I’m talking about, to be nice and battle hardened and as ready as possible for that series.”
“It reminds me of how hard it is, that’s for sure. It’s always been the case that it’s been hard to win in India. But that’s the expectation and we’ve got a couple of years now to find that maturity I’m talking about”
Langer on India’s stunning recent home Test record
By maturity, Langer means the consistency of the Australian side, whether in bad times or good. Since he took over, the team captained by Tim Paine has enjoyed some dizzying highs – the Dubai escape against Pakistan, a commanding win over India in Perth, a thrashing of Sri Lanka and the retention of the Ashes via outstanding displays in Birmingham and Manchester. But the vast majority of these have been followed by defeats, whether a wasted chance in Abu Dhabi, an abject display in Melbourne or a mentally and physically tired show at The Oval.
“I think it was an indication of the maturity of our team,” Langer said. “I don’t mean maturity in age but coming together as a group, it takes great skill but it takes time, great mental toughness and endurance, to be able to back it up over and over again. On one hand, it is a really good thing we’ve got lots of growth for this Test team and this group of players, that’s the up side. When you’re going through it you’d love to see more of that consistency, but I look at it from a bigger picture point of view, it means we’ve got areas we can keep getting better in.”
The tactics used in England borrowed heavily from the successful 2004 tour of India, where a great Australian side swallowed considerable ego and flair to win the series with a grinding form of cricket that wore the hosts down rather than blasting them out. In identifying and pushing the likes of Travis Head, Cameron Bancroft and – whenever Paine decides to step aside – Alex Carey, Langer and the selection chairman Trevor Hohns are clearly looking for the sort of durability capable of sustaining that approach.
“It’s such a balancing act because the expectation is the Australian cricket team performs well all the time,” Langer said of the search for team balance. “But it’s always nice, whether it’s now or in days gone by, to have a lot of senior players with a couple of young guys come in, that’s the perfect scenario. You don’t necessarily want all senior players, although it works out sometimes, and you don’t want all youngsters because that’s exciting but also lack of experience doesn’t always demand the results you’re looking for. You’ve got to get the balance right, whether it’s this summer or anytime I think.”
The withdrawal of Will Pucovski does not mean that Langer or Hohns will forget about the 21-year-old batsman. On the contrary, Langer has already seen from Pucovski evidence of the sort of batting he thinks will be necessary not only to succeed in Test cricket in general, but in India in particular.
“He just seemed to have so much time,” Langer said of Pucvoski’s batting in an early season Shield match against Western Australia at the WACA Ground. “Also his ability to… he batted a session for probably 20 runs I reckon. In the modern world we live in, people might see that as a negative, but I thought it was just brilliant. He absorbed great pressure for two hours and looked unflustered. He seems to have a really good temperament, if they bowl good balls he’s got a defensive answer for it; if they bowl anything loose he seems to be able to pounce on that. That’s a pretty good formula for a good young player.
“We’ll only know through experience, but he’ll keep learning. All these young guys are on this incredible journey, which I’ve lived through and know how frustrating it can be, how daunting it can be. But they’ve all got their different struggles and Will’s an example of that. He’s had his struggles and what’s most impressive about him is through it all he seems to be able to consistently score runs and he also has a smile on his face and seems to get on with it. He’s an impressive young fella.”
The incredible journey Langer speaks of has a logical crowning moment in his mind, and it isn’t necessarily at the MCG on Boxing Day or in a World Cup final. On the distant, punishing fields of India, he will hope that the project begun in the aftermath of the Newlands scandal will finally be accomplished.