Justin Langer, speaking on the Somerset Stories podcast, recalled his memorable debut as a Test opener in 2001, which culminated in a century at The Oval, and a bloody ear from an Andy Caddick bouncer.
Langer, who was slotted primarily at No.3 for the first 39 Tests of his career, got an unlikely promotion to the opener’s slot on the eve of The Oval Test, with the Ashes already in Australia’s kitty.
“Steve Waugh rang me the night before that fifth Test at The Oval in 2001,” Langer recalled, “and he said, ‘We’ve decided you’re gonna open the batting tomorrow. And I said, ‘I haven’t opened the batting in my life and I am batting worse than anyone – I am batting worse than Andy Caddick! It’s impossible for me to open. He said, ‘No, you’ll be a good opener’.
“I was honestly in the worst form of my life, but the very fact that I could walk out with Haydos [Matthew Hayden] – I got great strength from that. It’s like batting with Russell Crowe in the Gladiator, you know. Haydos walks out, he thinks he’s Crowe from Gladiator, I swear to god. I took some confidence from that and I got really lucky.
“I still remember I got caught off Caddick’s bowling for seven but Caddy bowled a no ball. From there on, I ended up getting a hundred, and Caddy knocked me out. I had to retire hurt. I will never forget, because I went up there at The Oval, I got a hundred, and then Caddy hit me in the helmet and probably sledged me like no one … Caddy was, without doubt, my top three most hated opponents because you and I both know, no one talked more rubbish than Caddy.
“But he also became one of my favourite teammates when I played at Somerset, he became vice-captain in my first year. I loved Caddy. I hated him as an opponent, what a k***, he was a first-class k*** of the highest order. Anyway, I get knocked out, Caddy hit me in the head …”
Nine balls into his ton, Langer was struck on the side of his head by a Caddick bouncer, resulting in a gash below his left ear. He was helped off the field, the gritty, unbeaten 102 marking the start of a memorable association with Hayden, which, over the next six years, yielded 5,665 runs together.
“We went up in the change room,” Langer went on. “We’re up there, I’m lying there, gonna have a brain scan and the team manager rings my mum and dad in Australia, cause they’re watching on telly and panicking.
“My mum goes, ‘Are you alright, darling? I go, ‘Mum, am I alright?’ Got blood pouring out of my ear, I thought I had a broken jaw, had a bleed in my brain, and I’m going, ‘Are you joking, mum? Am I alright? I just got hundred, I’m back! Back mum! Don’t worry about the hit. I’ll be fine. I’ve been hit on the head plenty of times. I said, ‘Don’t worry!’ and my mum was so cool.”