He’s been called the greatest batsman in the world. Now, going on 35, he’s about to head off to England to defend the Ashes trophy. He’s Justin Langer, and he sat down with Investigate’s Sport Editor, JAKE RYAN, to share the secrets behind his training, life on tour, and why we’ll shut out England
INVESTIGATE: How do you rate the new breed of Poms?
LANGER: To be honest, they are a very similar side to the last time we played them. They do however have a few new players that add strength to their squad. Strauss is a good player. I played with him at Middlesex, and he possesses great character and a strong will to succeed. He is also an excellent person, and I think that when you put people with strong character into your side, it only makes it stronger.
Flintoff is also a good player. I don’t know him personally, but he is aggressive and has a go so we will have to watch him.
I think we need to put them under a great deal of pressure early. There are definitely some old scars there, and if we can get on top early and apply the blowtorch, then hopefully we can open them up again.
INVESTIGATE: How’s it feel to get a bit of a break between New Zealand and the Ashes, and what do you get up to?
LANGER: It’s extremely important to get some time off from playing and traveling and get home to refresh. During the season you just work on trying to maintain fitness, but with the break you can really build on it and set yourself up for another big year. It’s a good chance to help the back out by doing some Pilates and yoga, and really test the back out as during the season you can’t do that – you have to tip-toe around it – and make sure you’re not pushing it to hard in case you miss matches. It’s also a good time for development. Doing some strong work in the nets, and trying a few things you don’t get a chance to do during the year.
It’s a great time just to spend with family. I’m away anywhere between six and eight months a year, so I cherish the time to spend with my wife and kids. I like to do the normal things I miss out on, like making the kids brekkie, putting them to bed at night, taking them for a holiday. A lot of people take these things for granted but they are very important to me.
INVESTIGATE: How serious was the back injury that you suffered going into the Boxing Day test?
LANGER: I did it at training three days before the start. I bent down to pick up a footy in the warm up, and I couldn’t get back up. I couldn’t walk, and I thought, jeez, this could be it. I’m very lucky we had a great physio, and from the outset I was absolutely committed to play. It taught me a valuable lesson, that if you have an absolute ruthless attitude and totally commit to something, you can overcome anything. I got worked on for sixteen hours a day for three days, and probably had a five per cent chance of playing. [Pakistan’s] skipper, Inzaman Ul Haq, pulled out with a back injury, and I was determined to
show him up.
I still look at Steve Waugh four years ago when he played his last test in England with a seven-centimetre tear in his calf. It was one of the most phenomenal efforts I have seen, and just shows that if you have the right attitude, you’re desperate, and you have great support, you can overcome the pain and get out there and play.
INVESTIGATE: You have captained a few of the sides you have played in, including the Australia A Side. How big an honour is it?
LANGER: Yeah, it’s a massive honor to captain an Australian side, and I was very privileged to do so, however I hold the West Australian captaincy right there beside it, and am very proud to have been bestowed such an honor. I also captained Middlesex in England and that was fantastic as there is a lot of prestige and tradition surrounding the county clubs.
Another honor that I hold up beside the captaincies is that I now do the team song in the Aussie team. It’s a tradition that has been handed down from Geoff Marsh, to Ian Healy, to Merv Hughes, to Ricky Ponting and when Rick got the captaincy he handed it down to me. A lot of people might think it’s a bit of a wank, but it’s a very special thing amongst the boys involved, and I’m very proud of being able to do it.
INVESTIGATE: You’re turning 35 this year and still playing amazing cricket. Have you had any thoughts about when you’re going to give it away?
LANGER: Of course I’ve thought about it, yeah. I mean, I am 34, but I can honestly say that I’m enjoying my cricket more now than at any other time in my career. I have been around for a long time now and virtually seen it all, so I no longer have any fears or doubts about my batting. I have no fear about different situations, different bowlers, and that’s a great feeling to head out to the middle with a clear mind, and without fear of failure.
I don’t have those insecurities that dog younger and less experienced players and it’s great to be able to play without fear, or the fear of failing, and as long as that remains and I’m still enjoying what I do, than I will be playing for a while yet.
INVESTIGATE: You grew up alongside fellow West Australian Damian Martyn. How close are you guys?
LANGER: Me and Damian have known each other since we were 13 years old, and I probably see more of Marto than I see of my brothers. I’m very proud of Marto and what he has achieved. He virtually had to draw a line in the sand and turn his career around six or seven years ago or he was gone, and he did just that. He made the decision to put his cricket first. He got fitter and works as hard as anyone in the squad. He was the most talented youngster I’ve seen. At 18, 19, 20 he was the best going. I rated him better than Lara, but I’m just wrapped that he got it together, worked his bum off got it right, and now he will end up being one of Australia’s great batsmen.
INVESTIGATE: And what about your relationship with opening partner and that amazing maroon, Queenslander Matty Hayden.
LANGER: Let me guess Jake, you’re a bloody Queenslander.
INVESTIGATE: Was I that obvious?
LANGER: No, couldn’t really tell mate. No, it’s amazing. I describe it to people as it’s like going to work with your best mate everyday. We first opened together against the Poms four years ago and we haven’t looked back since. Our careers are very similar. We both had to work hard for our opportunities, and had our fair share of setbacks early on. We help each other out both on the field and off, and he’d do anything for you. He’s a great fella, and like I said, I’m lucky to go to work with my best mate everyday.
INVESTIGATE: You have hit 21 centuries and a great 250, what would you say however was your favorite or most important innings?
LANGER: There was the 100 I scored against Pakistan in Hobart. I was under the pump and a few people were calling for my head, so I dug a nice one out when I really needed it. It was a big relief and gave me some much-needed confidence and released a whole heap of pressure that id been under.
The 250 against the Poms. Boxing Day Test at the MCG in an Ashes series it doesn’t get much better. You dream of that stuff as a kid, so that was pretty amazing, and then the 190, and 97 I scored against the Pakis just recently. Facing the world’s fastest bowler Shoaib Akhtar on the world’s fastest and bounciest wicket and playing on my home deck at the WACA in front of all my family and friends was pretty special too.
However I think the best stat is that I am one of only four players that played in every test when we set the record of 16 straight test match victories. To know I had contributed to every one of those victories, and that I was lucky enough to play in every one, is very special to me.
INVESTIGATE: Do you think that even though you haven’t played in the Australian One Day side since 1997, you could still be an addition to the side as they head towards the world cup?
LANGER: Look, I’m pretty realistic about that. You know with Gilly opening it takes away that specialist batsmen position, so probably not. It’s very frustrating, and it’s been a disappointment through my career, but I love being a test player, and I’ve really enjoyed my test career, so I just concentrate on the things that I have control over and leave the rest to the selectors.
INVESTIGATE: How hard is it to have to hit the road and leave your family behind?
LANGER: It’s the hardest part of the job, no question. You know I’ve faced Muralitharan, Wasim Akram, been able to see the world and enjoy some amazing experiences, but it’s very tough to leave them behind. I suppose the novelty has worn off a little. I have three girls and my wife is pregnant with another, and they mean everything to me, so it’s getting harder to leave every tour now.
INVESTIGATE: Your still heavily involved in the WA community and are involved in a lot of charities and guest speaking. Is that a career path that you will pursue when you leave cricket?
LANGER: I think so. My public speaking has developed a long way since I did my first speech in 1993. I filled in for Terry Alderman in Esperance in WA and really enjoyed it. Since then I have improved and gone from strength to strength, and now when I’m home I can do up to five talks a week. There’s a lot of financial reward in it as well, and it’s great to be able to pass on some experiences and give some tips about how to be successful and stay on top of your game.
INVESTIGATE: Tell me about Zen Do Kai, and what has it taught you?
LANGER: Zen Do Kai is a form of martial arts that has been a huge influence on me. As a youngster, I was a bit of a loud-mouth, a smart arse, so it was good in putting me in my place so to speak and teaching me a lot of discipline. I used to go to the sunrise dojo at 6am, and that took a lot of discipline, especially as a young bloke. I also learnt a lot about respect. I once headed onto the mat before my master and bowed, and next moment I was face up on the mat. I turned around and asked what that was for, and he replied, ‘You disrespected me, this is my dojo and im the teacher, and you walked in front of me. You show respect and allow me to go in front’. Fair to say I never did that again, and to this day still let people older than me to pass in front of me first!
I also love boxing and enjoy the discipline and the hard work that involves. There is no-one fitter than a boxer and it’s the ultimate sport of power and endurance. The other great thing is that it’s just like batting. It’s very technical and you need to keep a level head when the pressure is on. There’s no where to hide when your boxing, so you need courage as well. It’s like all combat sports.
INVESTIGATE: You’re renowned for your grit and ability to dig in and just keep scoring when the pressure is on. What gives you that mindset and determination?
LANGER: I’ve always lived by the motto, ‘the harder you work, the harder it is to surrender’. Like I said earlier: I now play without fear, and that comes from the fact that I know I have put the work in, and I don’t want to waste it. Concentration is another part. The ability to block out all distractions and just concentrate on what I need to do. You know, watching the way the ball comes out of the bowler’s hand, seeing it off the pitch, my footwork. It’s the ability to be able to do the same things, the right things, over and over again. I find that the fascinating thing about cricket, just trying to master the mind and be in a place of total concentration, because that is a battle in itself. I think you can learn to be resilient and hard-working. I believe that the pain of discipline is nothing like the pain of disappointment. That just makes you want to keep working, as you never want to leave yourself short, and you never want to lie to yourself. At least if you know that you did everything in your power to get your preparation right and didn’t leave a stoned unturned than you can always be happy with your result.
I think constant improvement is another reason. I’m always looking for ways to improve my game, and when I see young guys hit a plateau, I say to them to try something else. What can I change and do differently to improve my results. If you keep doing the same things, you will keep getting the same outcomes. I was born into a family of extremely hardworking people so I suppose you can so it’s in the genes, and I knew that if I wanted to achieve anything, there was only one way to go about it. I think the other thing is that you need to smile into the face of pressure. People get tense and tighten up when they’re under the pump, and that can lead to their downfall. You need to relax and enjoy the competiton if you want to perform. Like Bruce Lee said, ‘Tight mind, loose body’.
INVESTIGATE: Justin, where do you get your inspiration?
LANGER: I get it from a lot of different people. I admire successful people and always surround myself with successful people. It can only make you more positive and want to keep achieving and constantly improving yourself and your performance. These people are leaders and inspire you to keep working. I admire the guys in the Australian cricket team. Not only are they hard workers and talented players, but also they are also all great people.
The kids I meet with cancer and their families. These people are having to deal with some terrible issues, but the way they smile and attack it head on, and the strength and love that their families provide is unbelievable, and I take so much away after seeing those people. And of course my family. They drive me to successes, and are always there for me when I come home.
INVESTIGATE: Who were your idols growing up?
LANGER: Number one was fellow West Australian Kym Hughes. He captained his country and was a fantastic batsman. Dennis Lillie was intense, and Alan Border was a genius. I also loved Graham Wood and Rod Marsh. Rod has been a mentor of mine growing up in WA, and has been a great help to my career. I also love Viv Richards. I remember stories of Viv being this massively strong gladiator, and he was an amazing batsmen.
INVESTIGATE: How do you prepare for a game, and do you have any weird superstitions?
LANGER: I like to pad up in the nude and walk around the hotel practicing my shots! No, I have no weird superstitions. I’m pretty relaxed and try to stick to the same routine all the time. I use a journal and try to stick to the same things in my lead-up that allow me to play well. The day before I watch a DVD of one of my 100’s I’ve hit for reinforcement. It just allows me to relax and be positive, knowing that I’ve done it before. I have cues that I run off, and I make sure that I’m doing them all right. Like hitting the balls in the nets, just making sure everything’s in the right order and being confident and relaxed. I always listen to music and try to stay relaxed the day of a game. I don’t eat much breakfast, just enough to get me through, and just concentrate on staying loose and relaxed and not worrying to much about batting. When I do worry too much, I tense up and get a little agitated and go back into my shell, and then I don’t play well. If I’m happy, relaxed, laughing, and enjoying myself than I will play good cricket.
INVESTIGATE: Who are the funniest teammates?
LANGER: When I first started Merv Hughes was the man. He was an absolute larrikin, and a bloody great bloke. Always great for a laugh. Glen McGrath would have to be the biggest idiot as well, and the most annoying. But he is the best bloke, a great fella. Now I’ve read a bit of the Bible, and it’s full of stories about miracles, but if you want a miracle you don’t have to go far past Glen’s 50 against NZ. I tell you, that’s the next story in the Bible.
INVESTIGATE: Who do you hang out with on tour?
LANGER: I hang out a lot with Matty Hayden and Damian Martyn. We like to get down to a Starbucks and grab a coffee and just talk shit really. Haydo’s a great fisherman too, so if we get a chance we sneak down and throw a line in.
I enjoy golf, but we don’t get a lot of chances to play. If we do I usually have a hit with Punter [Ricky Ponting]. It’s changed a lot though in recent years as a lot of the guys bring their wives on tour and don’t have as much time to spend with the boys.
INVESTIGATE: Any good stories?
LANGER: After we won the first test against the Sri Lankans we sang our song on the Gali lighthouse, which is no longer there after it was destroyed in the tsunami. After the second test in Candy we had to take a bus back to Colombo, which is an eight-hour bus ride. We organized with local police to stop on the bridge at the border and sing the team song. We were given exactly two minutes and there was traffic backed up as we pulled out the eskys and sung the song on the border. That was pretty special.
INVESTIGATE: Who do you see as the next big thing in Australian cricket?
LANGER: I think Shaun Tate from South Australia is very good. He’s very much like Jeff Thompson as he bowls with that slinging action and is very nippy. Dan Cullen, also from S.A., is an off spinner who looks pretty good. West Australian Shaun Marsh is very promising, and Shane Watson, who we have already seen a bit of, has plenty of ability and has the ability to be the next Jacques Callas.
INVESTIGATE: Who do you see as the next
nation to stand up and challenge the Aussies?
LANGER: Tough question. I suppose we will see how the Poms shape up very soon. India is the next- best team at the moment and we just beat them over there, so I don’t really know. I think you will see that the Aussies will probably drop back a little in the next few years as players retire. You know when you haven’t got McGrath and Warne teaming up, and once-in-a-lifetime players like that bowing out of the side, the pressure will be on the players coming in to maintain and build on that standard.
INVESTIGATE: Have you accomplished the goals you set yourself as a youngster, and what are the goals that you still want to achieve?
LANGER: I suppose eight years ago I had played eight tests and got dropped and it looked like I would struggle to get back in. Even my wife thought that was it, so to get back in was great. I played another 40 and got the chop again, before I worked my way back in and now I’m on 88. One of my goals is to get to one hundred test matches, so I need to maintain my workload and my form and get the twelve needed for my hundred and then keep going from there.
I’ve achieved a lot more than what people have expected, but not what I have expected, and I knew that if I did the work and kept believing in myself than I could play great cricket. I’ve learnt, however, not to look to far ahead. Just concentrate on what’s in front of you, do the right things, and the results will take care of themselves. My next goal is to play in the first test of the ashes at Lords. I’ve never played there and it’s 81 days till the first day of play, so I’m very excited about playing there as its always been a dream to play at the Lords. It’s steeped in tradition and prestige and it will be great to make my debut there in the first day of an Ashes series.
INVESTIGATE: What about Brett Lee. How stiff is he, and will he get his chance?
LANGER: Look, he probably is a bit stiff, but it’s all about timing. He is doing everything right, and will be the next to go in if Dizzy (Jason Gillispie) or Kaspa (Michael Kasprowicz) go down. Dizzy and Kaspa have been brilliant and you can’t drop them. I mean, that’s why we are so good. We suffocate the opposition with our attack, and if you were to drop one of those boys they would be even stiffer.
Undying credit has to go to Brett. He has trained that hard, his fitness would be equivalent of an Olympic athlete, he’s done everything right. He is a great role model for persistence and if he gets his chance his going to come in and play some great cricket.
INVESTIGATE: What about the famous ‘Wall of Quotes’ you have at your house?
LANGER: I always read, and have always written things down. My wife was horrified when we moved into the new house and I started writing on the walls. I have my own room out the back were I have a gym and a few bags hanging up. I hang my memorabilia on the walls as well as quotes, and it’s just a great place to go to. Whether it’s to chill out and relax, or do a workout, you can’t help but feel something when you’re in that room.
INVESTIGATE: What about hoolios and nerds? What are you?
LANGER: I think I’m a nerd. I’m married, I have a family, I like to read, but the boys keep roping me into the hoolios. So at the moment I’m a hoolio but I think I should be in the nerds.
INVESTIGATE: Finally, your prediction for the Ashes?