Ashes build-up is just pure theatre, says Justin Langer

(Photo: Scott Barbour / Getty Images)

By Chris Stocks

Justin Langer was regarded as one of Australia’s chief Ashes irritants during the five series he played against England.

The spiky former opening batsman was victorious in four of those campaigns – the glorious English summer of 2005 the only time he tasted defeat – before bowing out in style with retirement at the end of Australia’s 5-0 whitewash in 2006-07.

But unlike former team-mate Glenn McGrath, he is refusing to predict a similar result in this upcoming series.

“I’m going to be very diplomatic here because I know the next thing will be that I’m saying all sorts,” said Langer. “Glenn McGrath might go for 5-0 but I usually like to under promise and over deliver.

“I just love the theatre in the build-up to an Ashes series, I can’t wait. I’m really enjoying the banter already. But what’s really important is when the first ball is bowled at Brisbane – that’s what matters.

“All the words, all the speculation and all these stories building is great – it means cricket is on the front and back pages of the newspapers. But what really matters is who has got the steel on day one at the Gabba. I can’t wait for that.

“There’s nothing better than Ashes cricket. Nothing beats the feeling that builds up to it then the action starts. I can’t wait.”

Steve Smith, Australia’s captain, ratcheted up the pre-series war of words yesterday (Thursday) by saying that his side will try and open up English wounds from the 2013-14 Ashes, when the tourists were again steamrolled 5-0 after falling to a heavy defeat in the opening Test.

“The first Test match is going to be really important, we need to set the tone again and hopefully get them on a similar path to what we did in 2013,” said Smith on Cricinfo. “A few players were out here for that tour, and hopefully we can get them thinking the same way, open a few of those scars up as such, get them thinking ‘oh, not this again’ and that kind of thought process.

“I know Trevor (Bayliss, England’s coach) very well and he’ll ensure they’re very attacking and those kinds of things. We just need to stick to our guns and ensure we prepare really well and make sure we’re doing the basic stuff really well out in the middle.”

Langer is now Western Australia’s coach and he hopes the presence of Test hopeful Nathan Coulter-Nile in his state side’s XI that faces England in their opening warm-up match over the weekend can inflict some early psychological scars on the touring batsmen before the Ashes even begin.

Coulter-Nile, who has 42 limited-overs caps for Australia, has yet to make his Test debut but has a chance to stake his claim for an Ashes spot over the next two days when he captains a Western Australian XI against Joe Root’s team.

“The truth is, my only concern is our Western Australian players get some good match practice,” said Langer. “It’s the same with England. This is their first game here but for Nathan my preference would be he doesn’t play against England to be completely frank because why would we give them a look?

“That said, there could be a psychological advantage the other way as well. If he bowls really well, bowls fast and gets some wickets, the early psychological advantage in terms of batsmen is if he gets you out a couple of times, it’s always in the back of your mind.

“That’s what he’ll be aiming to do, for sure – make the most of the opportunity, inflict a few psychological early scars on the England batsmen by getting a few wickets and put his name up for Australian selection.”

Coulter-Nile has his work cut out to break into the Australia XI for Brisbane given he is behind Mitchell Starc, Josh Hazelwood and Pat Cummins in the pecking order.

Langer, though, believes the 30-year-old has a realistic chance of playing in the Ashes.

“Yes, I think so,” he said. “We know how fickle fast bowlers’ bodies can be so therefore he’s got to be in line – there’s no doubt about it.

“That’s why I would probably have him undercooked rather than overcooked going into the first Test.

He certainly has to be in line for Australian Test selection.

“He’s worked very hard on his batting so if he comes in at eight or nine and gets a few handy runs it’s always nice. It strengthens the depth of the team.”

Another Western Australian player in Hilton Cartwright is also a contender to play in the opening Ashes Test at the Gabba later this month at number six.

The 25-year-old Zimbabwe-born batsman will face opposition from Glenn Maxwell for that position but Langer said: “He averages 50 in first-class cricket – he deserves to play and has to be the frontrunner to bat at six for Australia.”

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