Since assuming the reins after the worst scandal in the history of Australian cricket, the West Aussie knew if he rebuilt our reputation for playing hard but fair on the field, the public would come back too.
Langer also knew if he could build belief in his squad to play cricket as a collective, the wins would also return, as one did in Perth, with the second Test victory breaking a 10-month drought and levelling the four-Test series 1-1 ahead of the Boxing Day spectacle.
While it was poetic the inaugural Test played at the $1.8b Perth venue produced the first win of the Langer-Paine era, the manner in which it was achieved was new territory for these Australians but one that would suit the gritty coach to a tee.
It’s these elements, with the dark shadows of South Africa still hovering, that make the 146-run win in Perth possibly the most important for an Australian side since names like Border and Taylor led them.
It also reminded us Test cricket was not only the best format of the game but can still thrill and engage for five days straight if played with flair and balanced aggression on fair and fiery pitches.
Langer’s first win as coach in front of his home crowd would pale in significance to the joint effort of his men to stifle the Indians and give the coach and cricket fans some positive feedback so desired.
No Smith, no Warner, no Bancroft, no mid-pitch berating… no worries. Victory against the world’s no.1 Test team without their star trio was impressive enough but even moreso was it was built on the character that defined Langer during his gritty career, all while the opposition did its best imitation of Australia’s previous abrasive nature to try upset the zen Langer had his players in.
To borrow a phrase from AFL (which had no trouble regularly filling the 60,000-seat venue this winter), every person in Australia’s XI played their role.
Let’s start with Nathan Lyon, who loomed an unlikely hero with the bat in the Adelaide Test and proved so with the ball here. When did a spinner last take the most wickets in a Test match in Perth?
His eight scalps make him the leading wicket-taker in this series and within striking distance of third-placed Dennis Lillee’s 355 Test wickets on Australia’s all-time list. Lyon has also taken more wickets in 2018 than any other bowler in the world. Come in spinner? We’ve had him for years.
Lyon emerged from a chorus line of doubt and the large shadow of Shane Warne to Test cricket’s greatest off-spinner and most central to Australian cricket’s renaissance, long before the cult hero nicknamed ‘Garry’ brought our broken side back to the baptism table with his bowling in Perth.
His five wickets in the first innings on a pitch that favoured fast bowling came from subtle changes in flight and angle that prompted even the great Sachin Tendulkar to sing his praises online.
In the Adelaide Test, the proud tail-ender was the only batsman apart from Travis Head to show any first-innings grit, his 24 not out kicking Australia’s top six into action in the second and proved crucial runs as the Aussies, again led by ‘Garry’ with the bat, pushed for a shock win late on day five.
When WA’s Mike Hussey retired from international cricket in January 2013, he raised eyebrows outside the dressing room when he anointed Lyon as the team’s new leader in its victory song ‘Under the Southern Cross I Stand’, a revered position also once held by Langer. Hussey said it was Lyon’s character that swayed him to hand over the hallowed duties to the then 19-Test spinner.
While Lyon said he would write the lyrics to the song – first brought to Aussie dressing room by another sandgroper Rod Marsh – on paper for the newer faces to sing from after victory in Perth, the youngsters seem adept in most other areas now Langer, Paine, Lyon and co are on the board.
The only way is up for this Australian side, even if they eventually lose this series to India.
The positive signs our refreshed top six showed in Adelaide evolved into action on the unfriendly Perth pitch, where they finally showed mettle to build several long and telling partnerships the coach knew was key to victory against an Indian team with four quicks and no spinner.
Test debutant opener Marcus Harris looked every bit David Warner except in strike rate. He has scored valuable runs at the top of the order and looks every bit aggressive as his predecessor where it counts. Whoever selectors choose to open the batting come the Ashes early next year, 30 runs off 130 balls are better than 30 off 30 … the toll extracted on the opposition just as valuable as the runs.
Paine too proved his credentials not only as a worthy batsman but a steely leader who can steer this new band of Australian cricketers to play fair and aggressive cricket with old-fashioned larrikinism.
No one in the world is better behind the stumps than Paine and Australian cricket should be grateful the gloveman will be our leader for at least 12 months once Steve Smith returns from his ban.
When Langer called the Australian captain the “toughest prettiest boy I’ve ever met” after the loss in Adelaide, we weren’t quite sure what he meant.
After what we witnessed in Perth, Virat Kohli, the Indians, and all followers of Australian cricket do.
David writes about sports and lifestyle for WAtoday.