The joke was on Justin Langer at the Australian training session in Abu Dhabi.
Langer, a man that speaks so highly of the ‘baggy green’ cap had just finished his pep talk when suddenly Mitch Marsh decided to walk into the middle of the group and handed Langer an ‘Australian yellow floppy hat’. All the players burst out in laughter. Langer smiled, kissed the Australian emblem on the hat, pumped his fist and then started his discussion with skipper Tim Paine.
It has only been one Test, but Langer seems to have already created a strong bond between him and the players. By the end of his second Test, Langer could well achieve what Australian cricket has been striving for in the last seven years – a series win in Asia. Tim Paine, the captain and one of the men that defied Pakistan for over two hours on the final afternoon is aware of his team’s accomplishments but wants his peers to strive harder for that elusive series win in the sub-continent.
“It’d be a massive thing for any Australian side, and for this one in particular. I touched on it last week that not many people gave us a chance over here, which is a great opportunity for us to prove people wrong and a great thing to keep driving us.
“We’re trying to get better every day, and if we manage to play our best next week maybe that is possible. But we’ve got to turn up for a really tough match, it’s going to last five days and we’ve got to be on for all of those five days and every session,” Paine told reporters.
In the space of five days, Paine experienced the ebbs and flows of Test cricket. There was the tumultuous collapse on the third afternoon and then resilience of his batsmen on the fourth and fifth day. “Last week when we dropped the ball a little bit for a session, the game can be taken away from you really quickly here. We’ve got to take it, as boring as it is, a day at a time, a session at a time, and if we do that, we know we’ll be right in it at the end.”
While Paine ruled out any changes in the batting line-up, the skipper was tight-lipped about the batting order. Travis Head’s fighting knock in Dubai could elevate him to the No.4 spot with Mitch Marsh shifting down to No.5. “Yes, top six will be the same as the last Test. We may consider tweaking the batting order. I know guys had their individual meetings yesterday and all that stuff was discussed.”
One aspect that halted Paine from confirming his playing XI is the green looking pitch. The 22-yard strip resembled an English pitch in early April but is expected to get a couple of trims before the match starts on Tuesday. However, the lushness of the square could mean the reverse swing might not be as prominent as in Dubai.
“The wicket actually looks a bit different to what we were expecting. There’s a fair bit of grass on it but we’ll come back and take another look later. The square has a lot of grass on it. We might not see as much [reverse swing] which will be good for us and bad for us.
“Looking at it now you would think if that was in Australia you would be playing three fast bowlers. But with the heat around the next 24 hours, I’m sure it’ll change pretty quickly.”
On a personal front, Paine was satisfied with his performance in Dubai and credited his own peculiar method for his ability to concentrate for a long period of time. “Probably in the last 12 or 18 months I’ve probably been as fit as I’ve ever been. My wicket-keeping, to be honest, hasn’t changed too much. I keep that pretty simple. I do a lot of work at home by myself with a golf ball and I just find that that’s been the best way for me to prepare.
“It’s a good way to just make sure that I’m getting myself in good positions. I’ve wicket-kept a lot over the years so I know if my body and head are in a good position. I’ll catch more than I drop. That’s just been the focus for me.”
After the gruelling first match, Langer had stated the team would need to work ‘soft’ to be refreshed for the second Test, a theory Paine has been following in the last couple of days. “I think in England one thing I learned was I probably trained too hard and tried too hard. I was getting into games quite mentally worn out I guess. I was using quite a lot of energy even when I wasn’t at the cricket. So it’s just being able to relax a little bit more and not train as hard,” he concluded.