x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 18 January 2018

Langer makes a point

The former batsman told the Australian team that England hate being taken out of their comfort zone. And they have shown he was right, comments Gideon Haigh.

Late on the second day of the fourth Test at Headingley, the chances of an England victory were virtually extinct. Such is the English propensity for nostalgia, one half expected a Headingley '81 battle cry, in the spirit of Foch at the Marne: 'My centre is giving way, my right is retreating. Situation excellent, I am attacking.' No, even the reserves of nostalgia had been exhausted; there truly was nothing to be extracted from this ruinous rout.

So what happened? The truth is that this Test was perfectly foreseeable, as a continuation of broad-based Australian improvement since the first innings at Lord's, broken by a single poor day at Edgbaston, against a steadily weakening England, with home observers blind-sided by their obsessive preoccupation with Andrew Flintoff and all his works. Australia finally fielded a formation optimal for the conditions, and when Strauss perished prematurely, dominoes have offered sterner resistance.

England's attack then looked weary and woebegone, partly from the endeavours at Edgbaston, partly from the paltry total they were defending, and, if you believe the former Australian batsman Justin Langer, partly from le vice anglais of chucking in the towel, bucket and sponge when things go wrong. The Sunday Telegraph chose a cruelly apposite day to publish a dossier written by Langer and circulated among his former teammates and successors before the first Test.

Judgements that might have jarred a little after Lord's seemed to fit exactly in the circumstances of an innings-and-80-run defeat: "They [England] are the best in the world at tapering off quickly when things go a bit flat for them. This is also a time when most of them make all sorts of excuses and start looking around to point the finger at everyone else. It is a classic English trait. They love being comfortable."

It was difficult, for instance, to dispute Langer's pithy assessment of Jimmy Anderson, who in addition to his skills when the ball is swinging was revealed at Headingley to have a vampire-like susceptibility to sunlight: "Can swing the ball well but again can be a bit of a pussy if he is worn down. His body language could be detrimental to them if we get on top of him early." Certainly, Anderson's return to the dressing room after his dismissal from the third ball of the last day was so slow that one feared he might not make it, and Michael Vaughan's response didn't actually sound like a ringing retort: "I think describing James Anderson as a 'pussy' is very harsh but it goes to show that there are no secrets in international cricket."

Whether Langer is right or wrong in his views, the leaking of the dossier to a media masochistically ravening for condemnations is probably more significant than the contents. In 2001, a dossier prepared for the Australians by their coach John Buchanan found its way into the media, where it was pored over like the plans of a secret super weapon when all it revealed was Buchanan's flair for pop philosophy.

At the post-match press conference, Ponting took particular pleasure in the story on the Telegraph's facing page calling for the rehabilitation of 39-year-old Mark Ramprakash for the Oval Test: he thought it betrayed panic. It may well be a sensible expedient, given Ramprakash's record against Australia and on his home ground, but Australians thrive on what they perceive as signs of panic, and weakness in general. They have had a rich variety to savour here.