Tuesday, 20 September 2011

Book Review - Keeping My Head by Justin Langer

I'll start by saying that Justin Langer was my kind of cricketer. He was not the most naturally or obviously talented of the great Australian side of the past fifteen years, but he was the one who you knew you would need to dig out. While Matt Hayden, Ricky Ponting, Damien Martyn and Adam Gilchrist were the more obvious "flair" players, Langer was a class act, a player who made the most of his talent and was prepared to graft when the going got tough. I can relate to that sort of bloke, far more than someone who only scores runs when conditions favour batting.

He nearly became a Derbyshire player too. Tom Sears approached him back in 2005 to lead us, but he decided to opt out of a return to county cricket until he had retired from the international scene. It was a shame, as he later made a good fist of leading Somerset and would have been a talismanic skipper at the County Ground, the sort of man that Chris Grant is now seeking.

Sadly there is no mention of this in Langer's book, but it is nevertheless one of the best cricket autobiographies I have read. It is true to the name too, as Langer does the writing and shows himself as adept at the written word as he was at the top of Australia's innings for so long. His section about his Test debut against the mighty West Indians is enthralling stuff and you feel you are at the other end as he confronts the "huge monster from Trinidad", Ian Bishop. "Kill him Bishy" shouts Keith Arthurton and I felt myself gulp, remembering the sight of Bishop running in prior to unleashing a thunderbolt in Derbyshire colours. There must have been many easier Test baptisms and Bishop hit him on the back of the helmet second ball, splitting it open...

Surviving Bishop and Ambrose was a feat in itself, but after a few hiccups Langer became a fixture in the Australian side. There are a number of lovely stories, especially those of tour experiences and the celebration of successes. Many are laugh out loud funny, such as the eating challenge with Mike Gatting (I know where my money would have been...) while the benefits of touring India with Matt Hayden, a talented chef with an extra cricket case, are made patently clear. His perspective on the great fast bowlers of the era is especially interesting, with the dubious pleasure of facing up to Shoaib Akhtar at full throttle a highlight.

What shines through is Langer's honesty, both in his assessment of himself at various points of his career and of other people. So too does his love for his family and one of the nice things about the book is that his wife gives a different perspective on events, highlighting the many challenges of being married to an international sports star.

This book is a long way removed from a standard, formulaic cricket autobiography, the type that is effectively written from reports in Wisden with "My World Eleven to take on Mars" at the back. By the end of the book I felt I knew more about the player and the man. I liked Justin Langer beforehand, but had even greater respect for someone who Michael Vaughan called "a tough little bugger, mentally very strong and very Australian" by the time I sadly came to the last page.

Tough without question and a very fine player. An excellent writer too and I hope there's plenty more material inside him.

Keeping My Head  by Justin Langer is published by Allen and Unwin and is available from all good book stores in paperback, priced £8.99


Anonymous said...

If ever we need a new Head of Cricket at Debyshire my first choice would be Langer. I'm affraid though Australia will know of his ability and find him something. I note their manager is leaving with surely Langer being one of the favourites to take over.

Peakfan said...

Good call Ben, but Australian cricket would be silly to not use a man of Langer's calibre and credentials

Anonymous said...

Don't rate him as a man manager