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How an Ntini bouncer nearly made Langer quit before the 2006/07 Ashes

by Wisden Staff 3 minute read

Australia head coach Justin Langer, speaking on the Somerset Stories podcast, revealed how he almost quit cricket after being struck by a vicious bouncer months before the 2006/07 Ashes.

Langer eventually retired in grand fashion after helping Australia reclaim the Ashes on home soil, but the dream finale almost wasn’t to be when a concussed Langer had to be taken to hospital after copping a Makhaya Ntini bouncer during the 2006 Johannesburg Test.

“In my 100th Test match, I got knocked out – first ball – by Ntini,” Langer recalled. “I was tossing up whether to retire or not. My old batting coach – I got back to Perth after that series – and I was like the old boxer, trying to throw in the towel. He goes, ‘Time to retire, mate. It’s time to retire.’

“I don’t obviously get hurt by this anymore, I said, ‘I appreciate what you’re saying, but we’ve promised we’re going to win back the Ashes before I retire. And I will never forget – it was like that Rocky Balboa moment – the music comes on in the car and he goes, ‘Righto, well if you’re not retiring, we’ve got some hard work to do.’

“So we got into the nets and it was horrible. I was on the bowling machine and I was ducking and waving, I was playing pull shots trying to get the confidence going. When you get hit as badly as I got, it’s really hard to get over psychologically, right.”

It was then that he got an unexpected call-up from Somerset, which turned out to be a much-needed shot in the arm. “I had been doing this for about three months in the winter and then Brian Rose rang me up, out of the blue. He said, ‘JL, just wondering if you’d like to come play for … I think Dan Cullen, the off-spinner, was going home and they needed a replacement player, and Rosie rang and said, ‘I need you to come over, and you are going to play mostly T20 cricket and two first-class games.'”

“I said, ‘You want me to play T20 cricket? Sure you haven’t got me mixed up with [Sanath] Jayasuriya or Chris Gayle or someone?’. He said, ‘No, no, we want you to play T20 cricket.’ I nearly fell off my seat!”

The move sparked fresh life into Langer’s ageing career, and a three-year association with the club. He smashed 342 in a county game to create a new Somerset record, and carried the form into his final Test series, garnering 303 runs at 43.28 to help Australia complete a 5-0 drubbing.

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