By Justin Langer
The spirit of the West Indies is an indelible part of my journey in cricket. Seventeen years ago when Australia regained the Frank Worrell Trophy in Jamaica, I had a tattoo needled into my left butt cheek. That tattoo is similar to the engraving of the kangaroo and palm tree which lies on the silver plaque sitting on the cherished Frank Worrell Trophy.
I didn’t know then just how important that tour was to Australian cricket. On reflection, I understand now. Against all odds Australia triumphed and I learned so much about the Australian way of winning, even though I was sitting on the sidelines, running drinks with a young Ricky Ponting.
Amongst the contest out on the field, we also learned about the passion of cricket and of another way of celebrating the game through music, dancing and talk.
It is said that cricket in India is like a religion. In the West Indies, it is a combination of theatre and a night club. The passion for the game is intense, but regardless of the result, the West Indian people seem to have so much fun.
From the moment we arrived at the ground each day, to the moment the last drinks are called in the hotel, there is music, loud, loud music. People dance and sing and smile and laugh. When they are not doing that, or drinking beer or rum, they are talking cricket. To be more specific, they are usually arguing more about cricket, than just talking about it. Such is the passion, that they are all experts, who have an opinion on the fortunes of their national team and the triumphs or downfalls that go with being the West Indian cricket team. Because of this passion I am going to miss the West Indies. The West Indian people have shown me, once again, that amid the new age of professionalism, cricket is still allowed to be fun. We have had so much fun on and off the field and while it has been tough for many reasons, I hope to return again one day.
Promisingly, this Test series has uncovered some hope for the West Indies. Their enthusiasm and on-field spirit has again matched the passion of their supporters, and/or critics. Throughout, we have had to fight hard to regain the trophy. The contest provided by the Darren Sammy led West Indies on slow, lifeless pitches meant we had to find new ways to win away from home. Our slow scoring rates were a reflection of West Indies discipline and the tough batting conditions. Unlike the summer, where we dominated with the bat, our top seven batsmen had to work overtime to find breath against the suffocating strategies of the West Indies attack and the conditions we were playing in.
Only Matthew Wade scored a century. And what a hundred it was! On a Dominican pitch that was bouncing and spinning more than we see in India, he swept, cut and drove his way to a maiden Test century. Not only did achieve this proud milestone in only his third Test match, but he also went against the trends of the series by scoring it in almost, run a ball fashion. His aggression was entertaining, inspiring and ultimately match-winning; all qualities of a high class Test player. In the absence of Brad Haddin, Matthew Wade has been one of the highlights of the tour. Most impressive was his obvious improvement throughout the summer. By the end, his feet were dancing behind the stumps, he was scoring valuable runs and his energy was infectious.
Other questions were also answered for us. Although not prolific, Ed Cowan’s contributions were promising. He fielded brilliantly, batted well and provided important leadership and character to the squad. On ANZAC Day, he was invited to address the team about the importance of our past soldiers. His presentation was outstanding. In the process he unraveled the type of people we need to take Australian cricket forward.
For our younger players like Nathan Lyon, David Warner, Mitchell Starc, James Pattinson and Peter Forrest, the last six months have been valuable. While we would like Ricky Ponting and Michael Hussey to play forever, they will one day move away from the game they love. Before this happens, the more these guys can learn and develop the better off we will be going forward.
Michael Clarke’s on field captaincy was fantastic. If his declaration in Trinidad is anything to go by then we might be spending some time on the edges of our seats, but this positive, aggressive attitude will be great for Test cricket, which hasn’t been let down, once again, by this series. Little things like unusual, but well thought out field placements, or throwing the ball to Mike Hussey or Davie Warner for a few overs, keeps everyone enthralled by what is going to happen next. Like an impatient schoolboy, he is never going to let things get boring, it is just not his way. The game of Test cricket will be better off for this approach.
I believe the game will also be better off if we continue playing Test cricket on pitches offering more life than those in the Caribbean. The slower scoring rates and lack of bouncers almost negate the pageantry and entertainment that is synonymous with West Indian cricket. Our summer at home was a fascinating showcase of Test cricket that kept moving forward. At times this series, the cricket was more an arm wrestle than an entertainment package. Imagine West Indian cricket being played on lively, bouncy pitches with high scoring rates and a high rate of attrition for those batsmen not willing to put their skill and courage on the line every time they went to the crease.
If the West Indian crowds are like a nightclub during the day now, imagine the frenzy if the cricket was being played at a similarly frenetic pace. Caribbean cricket would then be one of the great Test cricket showcases on earth. This said, the cricket was tough and grinding but fascinating to watch. At no stage did we feel like we could steamroll our opponent.
On paper, some may have predicted such an outcome, but players like the run-machine Shivnarine Chanderpaul, Kemar Roach, Shane Shillingford and Sammy just wouldn’t go away.
Looking forward, such competition will be an excellent lesson for our developing team. Old pros like Ponting, Clarke and Hussey have seen it all before, but our younger, less-experienced players will be better off for the battle.
Ben Hilfenhaus continues to improve and lead the attack, while we pray Peter Siddle and Ryan Harris stay fit and strong, during the development periods of younger players like Pattinson, Starc and Pat Cummins. After being away from home for much of the last 44 weeks, it goes without saying that I am delighted about being home with my family, friends and simple luxuries of Perth life, but I have left with a tinge of sadness. There will be no tattoos this time, but rather more great memories and friendships from the magnificent West Indies.
(Justin Langer was an integral part of the all-conquering Australian cricket team and formed one of the greatest opening partnerships in the game with Mathew Hayden. Langer played 105 Tests and scored 7,696 runs, including 23 Test centuries. In 2009, he surpassed Sir Donald Bradman as the most prolific batsman in Australian cricket with a total of 28,068 first-class runs. In November 2009, he was appointed as Batting/Mentoring Coach for the Australian cricket team and in May 2011 was appointed to the full-time role as Assistant Coach. Langer espouses the philosophy of encouraging excellence which incorporates his belief in the power of passion, vision, leadership, mentoring and developing a winning mentality. He is a keynote speaker, performance consultant, mentor, philanthropist and author. Read all about Langer on his website http://www.justinlanger.com.au/)