Lewis Hamilton will start the US Grand Prix on pole position as he seeks to wrap up a fifth world title.
The Mercedes driver beat title rival Sebastian Vettel by 0.061 seconds but the German will be demoted to fifth on the grid because of a penalty.
Hamilton will clinch the title on Sunday if he wins the race and Vettel finishes lower than second.
Potentially crucially for Vettel, his team-mate Kimi Raikkonen starts second, ahead of the second Mercedes of Valtteri Bottas.
Vettel will also be behind the Red Bull of Daniel Ricciardo, who qualified fifth but will be promoted to fourth by the German’s penalty, which was given for failing to slow down sufficiently under red flags during practice.
Ferrari back on form a little too late
Hamilton had to pull out all the stops to seal pole on a track where he has won five of the six races held after Raikkonen beat the time the Briton set on his first lap.
It was an unexpected return to form from Ferrari, who had been closely matched with Mercedes for most of the season but had dramatically fallen away in the last three races.
Hamilton said: “That was very important. That was close. I didn’t know how close it was going to be but by the last run I knew it was quite edgy.
“I knew I had to do solid laps. The first lap was decent but not good enough and the second one was just that bit better. The Ferraris were really quick.”
The top three were all covered by less than 0.1secs.
Vettel surprised by Ferrari speed
Vettel said: “It was pretty close. Always a bit of a shame when you miss out on just that little time – 0.06secs you can always say you had them in there somewhere but I was happy with the laps I had.
“Today has been surprisingly close. I don’t think we expected to be that close.”
Vettel, who has had to fight back through the field a number of times this year after various incidents, employed some black humour when asked about his grid penalty and the need to make up ground if he wanted to keep the title alive beyond this weekend.
“I am used to it,” he said. “I know how to do it now.”
Only two weeks ago in Japan, he started eighth after errors by team and driver in qualifying, but crashed with Red Bull driver Max Verstappen as he attempted to fight up through the field, eventually finishing sixth.
This time, Vettel will not have to worry about Verstappen. The Dutchman qualified 15th because his car suffered a loss of drive at the end of the first qualifying session.
He will likely start 13th because of grid penalties for both Toro Rosso drivers, who qualified ahead of him.
Looking at the race
In theory, Hamilton should be able to control the race from the front, but there will be a concern at Mercedes about Raikkonen.
The Finn will start the race on the gripper ultra-soft tyres, while Hamilton, Bottas, Ricciardo and Vettel will be on the super-softs. It remains to be seen whether that gives the Finn a strategic advantage.
However, Raikkonen has not made up a place on the first lap of a race since the 2016 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix.
Mercedes will be trying to orchestrate the race so that Bottas stays ahead of Vettel, who needs to ensure Hamilton does not score eight more points than him to keep the title alive to the race in Mexico next weekend.
And the rest
Behind the big three teams, Esteban Ocon qualified his Force India best of the rest, on a weekend when it emerged the Frenchman is in the frame for a seat at Williams next year after it had looked as if he might end up sitting out 2019.
Ocon beat Renault’s Nico Hulkenberg, Romain Grosjean’s Haas and Sauber’s Charles Leclerc.
McLaren’s negative spiral continued as Fernando Alonso was knocked out in the first session and qualified 16th. His team-mate Stoffel Vandoorne, who has been dropped for 2019 and will race in the all-electric Formula E series, was slowest of all.
Zimbabwe and Bangladesh know each other intimately. The teams have played each other far more than they have anyone else, and have a rich shared history.
Shakib Al Hasan, Tamim Iqbal, Mushfiqur Rahim and Mashrafe Mortaza all debuted in ODIs against Zimbabwe, Mashrafe a whopping 17 years ago. On the Zimbabwe side, this is Hamilton Masakadza’s ninth tour to Bangladesh. Elton Chigumbura will also be making his ninth trip, while Brendan Taylor has made seven. Many of Zimbabwe’s squad members also have experience in domestic 20- and 50-over competitions here.
In other words, they have come to know each other’s strengths and weaknesses extraordinarily well. In recent years, it is Bangladesh who have displayed more of those strengths, and Zimbabwe’s last away ODI victory against them came as long ago as 2010. Zimbabwe also arrive in the midst of a seven-month losing streak, having been whitewashed by both Pakistan and South Africa in their last two series. A change of fortunes wasn’t suggested by their performance in their warm-up game against a BCB XI on Friday. Masakadza scored a century and Chigumbura a battling 47, but no other batsman reached double figures and the visitors sank to an eight-wicket defeat.
Yet, Zimbabwe may sense an opportunity in a Bangladesh squad who are walking wounded and missing two of their most senior players. Shakib’s recurring finger injury has ruled him out for another three months, while Tamim is yet to recover from the knuckle fracture he sustained after being struck by Suranga Lakmal in the opening Asia Cup match. Mashrafe and Mushfiqur have only recently recovered from injuries sustained in the same tournament, and neither is 100% fit. Even Mahmudullah was struggling with a little rib pain earlier this month.
The visitors will look to target Bangladesh’s stand-ins. The opening partnership was an issue for Bangladesh in the Asia Cup – Liton Das and Mehidy Hasan’s 120-run stand in the final being the exception after Nazmul Hossain Shanto and Soumya Sarkar failed earlier in the tournament.
That being said, Bangladesh still start Sunday’s game as firm favourites, and positive results in the next three games will obviously help their preparations for next year’s World Cup.
Bangladesh LWWLL ((last five completed matches, most recent first))
In the spotlight
After stringing together a series of 20s against South Africa, Hamilton Masakadza finally converted a start into a century in Zimbabwe’s warm-up. With his extensive experience of conditions in Bangladesh, Zimbabwe will look to their captain to set a platform for them at the top of the order. Masakadza has yet to win a game in his current stint in charge, and he has also registered just one fifty since he took over from Graeme Cremer after the World Cup Qualifiers meltdown.
Liton Das seems to be in good nick. He scored a century in his last international innings, though his maiden ODI century was not enough to overcome India in the Asia Cup final. But he followed that up by racing to the fastest double-hundred in Bangladesh’s first-class history, smashing a record he in fact already held after his 190-ball double in April, by 50 deliveries. With Bangladesh eyeing potential opening partnerships for next year’s World Cup, quick runs at the top of the order on Sunday would definitely help to cement his place.
Rubel Hossain is suffering from fever, but he could yet be fit for the first game. As they tinker with the opening slot, Bangladesh may pick both Imrul Kayes and Nazmul Hossain Shanto in the top order alongside Liton Das. At No. 7, it is a three-way battle between Mohammad Saifuddin and the uncapped Ariful Haque and Fazle Mahmud.
Sikandar Raza will slot straight back into a middle order that looks much more solid with him in it, but Zimbabwe have an opening conundrum to answer. Solomon Mire struggled through single-figure scores in South Africa, while Craig Ervine’s trial as a makeshift opener in the warm-up lasted just three balls before he was caught behind off Ebadat Hossain. Zimbabwe have also drafted Cephas Zhuwao into their squad, but the left-hander remains a hit-and-miss option.
The usual slow turning pitch at the Shere Bangla National Stadium is expected. A 2:30pm start means that the side fielding first will have to endure only about 90 minutes of hot weather. It promises to be a pleasant evening.
Stats and trivia
Bangladesh and Zimbabwe have played each other 69 times in ODIs, with Bangladesh winning 27 games at home and 13 away.
No player has scored more ODI runs against Bangladesh than Brendan Taylor, who has racked up 1222 runs in 46 innings. Both Masakadza and Chigumbura also have over 1000 runs against them
Three Bangladesh players have scored over 1000 runs in ODIs against Zimbabwe but only one of them – Mushfiqur – is playing in this game
“We are not expecting the wicket to be slow or with turn right from the start. We are hoping for a good wicket. But since this is Mirpur, it is tough to predict how it will play.” nMashrafe Mortaza on the pitch
“Having everyone around is a big plus for the team. Apart from Graeme [Cremer] who is still injured, we have everyone around which is a positive for the team.” nHamilton Masakadza is glad to have Sikandar Raza back in his squad
Bangladesh and Zimbabwe go as far back as the 1982 ICC Trophy, when they faced each other for the first time. Zimbabwe dominated till 2004, before their team disintegrated and Bangladesh were on the upswing. ESPNcricinfo takes a look at five big moments from Bangladesh-Zimbabwe matches.
Bangladesh break the duck
Following their shocking victory over Pakistan in the 1999 World Cup, Bangladesh lost 71 out of 75 international matches – this at a time when they’d become the tenth Test-playing nation. One pounding after the other had made the World Cup win a distant memory, and that continued into their 2004 tour of Zimbabwe, where they lost the Test series 2-0.
It was in the ODI leg that they finally broke their streak. After the first two games were washed out, Bangladesh prevailed in the third, by 14 runs. And they really had to earn it. Fifties from captain Habibul Bashar, Rajin Saleh and Mohammad Ashraful hauled them to 238 for 7 in 50 overs. Mushfiqur Rahman and Mohammad Rafique then stifled Zimbabwe’s middle order, before seamer Tareq Aziz took two late wickets to end a world-record sequence of 47 ODIs without victory.
Zimbabwe won the next two games to take the series 2-1, marking the end of the golden era of Grant Flower and Heath Streak. But Bangladesh had a win against Zimbabwe at last, having lost to them since 1982. The next time the two sides would meet, in Bangladesh, Zimbabwe were an unrecognisable outfit.
The Aftab-Rafique show on BNS’ farewell
Tatenda Taibu’s Zimbabwe were very low on experience, but in the 2005 ODI series, they had actually taken a 2-0 lead. Bangladesh fought back with wins in the third and fourth matches to set up a decider at the Bangabandhu National Stadium..
A government decision to shift cricket to the Shere Bangla National Stadium, in north of Dhaka, wasn’t welcomed in the fraternity. Nonetheless, it meant this would be the BNS’ last international match.
Rafique’s left-arm spin bowled Zimbabwe out for 198 in 49 overs. Sent out to open the innings, he then shared a 150-run second-wicket stand in just 21.4 overs with fellow big-hitter Aftab Ahmed. It was by far the fastest century-stand in Bangladesh’s history. Aftab’s unbeaten 81 came off 87 balls with 10 fours and two sixes, while Rafique cracked seven fours and four sixes in his 66-ball 72.
Bangladesh said goodbye to a stadium they had shared with their footballing colleagues with a lap of honour. But even with all the nostalgia, the Aftab-Rafique show had given the fans an inkling into what they may see over the next two years.
Taylor’s Miandad moment
Undoubtedly one of the greatest matches ever witnessed at Harare Sports Club. Let’s start with the set-up: Zimbabwe had squeaked home by two wickets in the series opener, and Bangladesh bounced back to take the second match by 62 runs.
With little to separate the teams, Bangladesh were bowled out for 236 in the third ODI after being put in by captain Prosper Utseya. Bits and pieces from the top order had carried Zimbabwe to 151 for 4 in response, when Shahadat Hossain returned for a second spell and claimed the first hat-trick by a Bangladeshi bowler. The fast bowler nipped out Tafadzwa Mufambisi, Elton Chigumbura and Utseya to leave the hosts punch-drunk and tottering. Then came the fightback that wrote Brendan Taylor and Tawanda Mupariwa into Zimbabwean cricketing lore.
With ten overs to go, Zimbabwe needed 83. In the last five, they were still 51 adrift. With 17 needed from the final over, Taylor heaved Mashrafe Mortaza’s second ball over wide long-on and slapped his fourth for a one-handed boundary in the same direction. Hearts stopped when Mupariwa was dramatically run-out, and injured, off the fifth. With his mum and dad looking on, and an entire stadium holding its breath, Taylor faced up to the final ball, needing five to win in an atmosphere of pure lump-in-the-throat adrenaline. “The most important ball of his career … here it goes,” bellowed a breathless Jeremy Fredericks on TV commentary. How did it end? With a gift from Mashrafe: a full toss that Taylor dispatched over midwicket to seal a nerve-wracking win.
Zimbabwe’s second coming
On a bright, crisp August morning, Zimbabwe returned to Test cricket after six years of slugging through international cricket’s backwaters. “Back from the wilderness …” said Pommie Mbangwa as he opened coverage of the game. “A grand occasion,” added Alistair Campbell a little later at the toss.
It was Shakib Al Hasan who called correctly at the toss, but from the moment he decided to bowl on a pitch that Kepler Wessels called “an absolute beauty”, Zimbabwe took control of the game, showing that they still had currency as a Test side. Vusi Sibanda and Tino Mawoyo – on debut – started with a century stand, before Hamilton Masakadza scored his second hundred (a decade after his first), and in the second innings Taylor added a maiden ton that allowed Zimbabwe to declare and set Bangladesh 375 in four sessions.
In between times, a Zimbabwean attack fatefully dismissed as “ordinary” by Tamim Iqbal before the match, snatched a first-innings lead for their side and closed out the game on an exhilarating fifth day. There was a palpable sense of destiny being fulfilled when Kyle Jarvis’ offcutter rapped Robiul Islam’s pads to spark joyous celebrations for the 130-run win at Harare Sports Club.
Zimbabwe had won their first Test in more than seven years, with four debutants in their side and a unity of purpose in their preparation and methods. This was their Test comeback, but it also revived something not seen in Zimbabwean cricket for even longer: hope.
Desperate Bangladesh sneak through
Bangladesh were having a really bad 2014, having lost 22 out of 25 international matches. On top of that, head coach Shane Jurgensen had resigned, the BCB banned Shakib twice, and Mushfiqur Rahim lost his limited-overs captaincy.
Against this backdrop, Zimbabwe arrived in Bangladesh having also endured a woeful year, their only high having come in a three-wicket win over Australia in August.
Shakib’s six-wicket haul kept them to 240 on the first day of the first Test, before Bangladesh took a slim lead of 14 runs. Zimbabwe were bowled out for 114 in their second innings, with left-arm spinner Taijul Islam taking the first and only eight-wicket haul by a Bangladeshi.
But there were a few more twists. In the 101-run chase, Bangladesh lost their first three wickets without a run on the board, with Tamim, Shamsur Rahman and Mominul Haque getting out for ducks, a first in 62 years in Test cricket. Captain Mushfiqur kept his head for more than 90 minutes, before Taijul, the bowling hero, took Bangladesh to a three-wicket win.
Bangladesh beat Zimbabwe seven more times during the tour, and then progressed rapidly through the 2015 World Cup and into more home series wins in the next three years. Zimbabwe, meanwhile, went the other way.
Bangladesh are now used to the unpredictable nature of the pitch at the Shere Bangla National Stadium, said captain Mashrafe Mortaza. While Zimbabwe expect spin to play a big part, Mashrafe warned that even turn can’t always be assured in Mirpur.
In the last three years, teams have struggled to push the scoring rate under lights. It has been more favourable for teams batting first as the pitch has changed nature with lots of use. As recently as February this year, the stadium was slapped with a demerit point when the second Test between Bangladesh and Sri Lanka ended on the third afternoon.
Since April 2015, the side batting first has won 14 out of 23 ODIs, averaging 241 per innings, while those chasing have managed only 196. Bangladesh’s 251 for 2 against Pakistan in 2015 is the highest successful chase in this period.
Mashrafe said that sides with tougher mentality – Bangladesh themselves since 2015 – have done well in Mirpur. But whenever they have been impatient, they have lost, as was the case in the tri-nation series final against Sri Lanka in January this year.
“Mirpur wicket is unpredictable because it changes behaviour almost suddenly,” Mashrafe said. “It keeps low or starts turning without warning. Batsmen have to quickly change their mindset in the middle, and also in the dressing-room. Most of the senior players have played here for more than ten years, so we are now used to the unpredictability. It obviously becomes hard for the opposition.
“Only when we started to believing in ourselves since 2015, did we have a good record here. In cases when we were mentally weak, like in the Asia Cup final [in 2012], we lost here.”
Mashrafe expected his players to be able to deal with whatever surface is prepared for the first ODI on Sunday. “Chittagong is predictably a batting wicket unless it is prepared slow or a turning track. Mirpur is totally different. It starts behaving differently after the half-time. I hope the boys won’t use it as an excuse. It is always helpful if we think of scoring 250-260, which always puts pressure on the opposition in Mirpur,”
Zimbabwe captain Hamilton Masakadza said that spin remains the major challenge for his batsmen, particularly in the subcontinent. “It is obviously one of the things you focus on when you play in the subcontinent. Spin plays a very big role. We have prepared for it. It is in the back of our minds.
“The main thing is to stay positive and back ourselves. We also have to deal with the challenge of spin. We can go forward from here after the recent disappointments.”
Sure it’s another Sri Lanka loss, and sure they are ruing their mistakes yet again, but at least this time it is specific moments that lost Sri Lanka the game, rather than overs upon overs of incompetence. Dasun Shanaka, whose run-a-ball 66 did the most to propel Sri Lanka toward respectability, pinpointed two of the instances in which his team had let the match slip.
The first of these was his own run-out, he said. Having just struck two towering sixes off Olly Stone in the 42nd over, Shanaka seemed as if he was just beginning a death-overs cannonade. But then, disaster. Thisara Perera mis-hit a ball into the leg-side, more or less directly to the fielder ranging close at midwicket. Shanaka took off from the non-strikers’ end, perhaps especially eager to regain the strike because by now he was seeing the ball so well. He had run about halfway down the pitch before he realised Thisara had correctly turned down the run, and was run out trying to regain his ground at the non-strikers’.
“There was no run there,” Shanaka said. “I came out too far. Normally I have this habit of coming down the wicket about two feet whenever a shot is played. It’s a fault that I have that I need to rectify – it’s not Thisara’s fault.
“When I went in we were 102 for 4, and I played my normal game without any pressure although we had lost wickets. If I had continued batting longer we could have got a result in our favour. If had stayed with Thisara for the 50 overs, we could have got around 290-300.”
Sri Lanka ‘s other costly mistake came when they were bowling, in what would turn out to be the final few overs of the game. Joe Root mis-hit a sweep off the bowling of Dhananjaya de Silva, and although the resulting top-edge was caught at short fine leg, Sri Lanka had too many men outside the circle – Kasun Rajitha having failed to come in from the boundary to mid off.
Umpire Lyndon Hannibal called a no-ball, denying the hosts the wicket. Had Sri Lanka reduced England to 112 for 3, the Duckworth-Lewis-Steyn par score would have reduced almost all the way to that total, meaning they could then have applied more pressure on Eoin Morgan and the new batsman as the rainclouds gathered.
“If we had not made a mistake of having five fielders outside the circle and got Root’s wicket it would have been a close game,” Shanaka said. “We could have built on the pressure from there and forced another mistake.”
For England, meanwhile, Morgan dwelt on the frustrations of a rain-hit series, and spoke about the many unquestionable positives for his side for what seems like the millionth time after arriving in the country. What choice does he have, really? England really have been that dominant.
But there was an area in which he felt his side had let themselves down in this particular game. No fewer than three clear-cut wicket opportunities were spurned, with a tough catch being dropped, an easy stumping being missed, and a run-out chance going astray. Elsewhere, he felt, the ground fielding has also been sloppy.
“The fielding wasn’t good,” Morgan said. “It was average. It’s definitely something we can improve on. We were better in the last game but today we weren’t anywhere near as good as we should be.”
Sri Lanka overcame their-now traditional mini-collapse to post a respectable 273 for 7, but the efforts of the lower order, who had propelled them to that score, were not enough to deny England another comfortable victory.
In yet another calm and proficient display of batting, England cruised to 132 for 2 at the end of 27 overs – captain Eoin Morgan and Joe Root hitting 56 in each other’s company to hoist the team to safety. When the forecast monsoonal deluge hit, they were 18 runs ahead of the Duckworth-Lewis-Stern par score. The series now sewn up 3-0, England head to Colombo’s dead rubber with the licence to give their second-choice players a run.
Sri Lanka can at least dwell on a few decent batting performances, chief among them that of Dasun Shanaka, who struck a run-a-ball 66 to re-energise the Sri Lanka innings after Moeen Ali and Adil Rashid had lorded it over the early middle overs. Had he not attempted a suicidal single just as he was starting to ramp up the big hitting in the death overs, Sri Lanka might have managed a score closer to 300. Other lower-middle order contributors included Thisara Perera, who made 44 off 41 balls, and Akila Dananjaya who hit a tenacious 32 not out off 26.
In response, the visitors just never looked like they were daunted by the target. The first over, bowled by Lasith Malinga, yielded 12 runs, with wicketkeeper Niroshan Dickwella unable to stop two balls from running away for four byes each. Jason Roy was comfortable against the left-arm spin of Amila Aponso, which you suspected had been specifically deployed to unseat him. Dananjaya struck twice in his first four overs to eventually get rid of both openers, but Morgan and Root – both monsters against spin – ensured England’s advance continued smoothly.
The only possible late hiccup for the visitors was when Root top edged a sweep off a full toss to short fine leg, but although the catch was completed, eagle-eyed umpire Lyndon Hannibal denied Sri Lanka a wicket. The umpire had spotted that Kasun Rajitha had not entered the circle at mid-off, and ruled that delivery a no-ball, on account of too many fielders being outside the circle. Even if that wicket had been awarded, however, England would probably have been ahead of the DLS par-score when the rains came.
Earlier, having arrived at the crease with the score on 102 for 4 and three wickets having fallen in the space of 13 runs, Shanaka had immediately cut a confident figure at the crease. He reverse-swept Mooen for four eighth ball, before tonking towering sixes off the spinners in the following few overs.
He probably should have been out for 24, though. He lined up the midwicket boundary with a slog sweep, but should have been caught on the rope by Alex Hales, who failed to close his hands around the high chance, while leaning backwards over the rope. A six was the result. England, in general, were sloppy on the field, several fielding lapses marring their performance, while they spurned three clear-cut wicket opportunities.
That Moeen had created so many chances before Shanaka arrived, was perhaps down to Sri Lanka’s top-order batsmen being more aggressive against him, compared to their watchfulness against Rashid. Having begun his spell the moment the first Powerplay concluded, Moeen was accurate and guileful, occasionally gaining substantial turn. He was the man who set in motion the mid-overs slump in the Sri Lanka innings, bowling and advancing Dinesh Chandimal through the gate in the 19th over, before getting Dickwella lbw – Dickwella having helped lay some sort of foundation for Sri Lanka with a 70-ball 52.
Rashid, whose variations the batsmen did not always read, was more difficult to milk for singles, and collected the third wicket in Sri Lanka’s mini-collapse, trapping the struggling Kusal Mendis in front with a slider. He collected 1 for 36 from his 10 overs; Moeen took 2 for 55.
Aside from the poor fielding, England’s other major failing was their bowling at the death. Olly Stone was expensive, leaking 50 runs from his seven overs, and neither Ben Stokes nor Tom Curran were especially miserly either. Given the paucity of Sri Lanka’s lower-order batting, England will feel they should not have given away even as many 74 in the last 10.
For all the statistical measures of Australia’s batting decline, nothing has spoken as loudly as the philosophical shift in focus suggested by Australia’s coach Justin Langer at the conclusion of his first Test series in charge. Talking technique may not sound like a big deal for the head coach of the national team, but coming from Langer it was a marked departure from much of what he is known for.
Over comfortably more than a decade, Langer has been synonymous with the phrase “character over cover drives”. So much so that it could easily be the title of one of his books. His achievements as a batsman and as a coach of Australia’s domestic sides have appeared to go hand in hand with a philosophy grounded in personal discipline and growth, as much if not more so than the MCC coaching manual.
But since his appointment as the national coach in May, Langer has seemed to be wrestling with the loss of plenty of former certainties as the sheer complexity of his task has become clearer. In the aftermath of Australia’s 373-run hiding in Abu Dhabi to lose the UAE series to Pakistan, he made a significant departure from that “character over cover drives” mantra, homing in on issues of batting technique as the key to arresting Australia’s wretched recent history of collapses.
In assessing how the touring team’s two first innings in Dubai and Abu Dhabi essentially cost them any chance of winning the series, Langer pointed out that in the concurrent Sheffield Shield round, a host of other batting collapses had also taken place, and recalled a conversation with the former professional golfer Lyndsay Stephen about mental skills being subservient to technical limitations. “If you look at this round of Sheffield Shield cricket, I know a number of the states have also had some big batting collapses as well,” Langer said in Abu Dhabi. “I’ve been in the State system for a long time and I’ve watched this and I think what I’m really intrigued about is you’re not allowed to use the word technique anymore.
“Lyndsay Stephen, the golfer, I remember having dinner with him and everyone says it’s all mental, it’s all mental. It’s all about the mental side of the game and I thought that’s interesting, yeah that’s what everyone says. But Lyndsay Stephen told me, ‘I’d rather have a guy with a good technique who is a bit softer mentally, than a guy who is really mentally tough with a really bad technique’. This is in golf. I said ‘what do you mean?’
“He said, ‘If you’ve got a good technique, you’ll hit most balls down the middle of the fairway and over time you’ll develop some confidence and you can learn concentration and that’s how you get mental toughness. If you’ve got a bad technique and you’re hitting the ball behind the trees or in the rough, it doesn’t matter how mentally tough you are, eventually you’re not going to be able to hitting it into the hole that often’.”
Turning his focus from golf to cricket, Langer indicated that it was now necessary for many Australia batsmen to look more closely at the technical underpinnings of their approach to batting, in a manner that would allow them to retain the skills that would keep them in the middle for long periods against a moving ball. In this, Langer essentially suggested that many players in the current system were playing for their state and country without the basic fundamentals that were once self-evident.
“I was brought up in Australian cricket where we did a lot of bowling machine work and we did a lot of talk on technique,” he said. “Technique to me is about footwork patterns and playing forward when it’s full, and [playing] back when it’s back. So they’re just really basics of the game particularly in footwork patterns and you talk about the great Australian players [how] they moved their feet like boxers, every one of them. They had footwork patterns and then from there you have the skill of run-scoring. And it’s a really important thing.
“The technique is really important and I think now there’s a lot of talk because of white-ball cricket that you just have wide stances and you just stand and deliver. Well that’s okay, but even in T20 cricket or one-day cricket and most certainly first-class cricket and Test cricket when the ball starts moving around, if you don’t move your feet, then you’re going to come unstuck. And that’s something we all have to do in Australian cricket. There wouldn’t be a state coach out there who would be saying it’s all rainbows and butterflies out there after this weekend’s cricket, because of the collapses.”
In charting a path forward, Langer argued that all players needed to learn to become better problem-solvers, aware of the intricacies of their own methods and able to tinker with them whenever problems arose. “After day two, I was up until about midnight watching batting videos, looking at ways we can get better,” he said. “What I know about Test cricket, I’ve been through all this before in a sense as an individual player. You come in, it’s really hard, and the only way you work it out is by problem-solving, and working hard.
“That was my formula as a player, and all the great players, the great players I’ve been lucky to play with, they’re just really good problem-solvers, they work it out, they work really hard, and they’re brilliant at concentration, so if I can take the lessons I learnt as a player into problem-solving of making the team better, then hopefully we’ll go okay.
“There’s certainly some focus we have to have. As we see just this week. We’ve got to work out, we’ve got a Test match here, first-class cricket, some T20s coming up. Then there’re some one-dayers. So the schedule is what it is. But the great players are able to adapt and most of them have got a good batting technique and the skill of scoring runs, so we can’t sugarcoat it any longer. If I’m a young batsman in Australia, it’s a pretty exciting time. If you work really hard on your basic game and you learn how to make runs, then there will be a huge opportunities in the Australian cricket team.”
Assessing the performances of Australia’s batsmen, Langer was warm in his praise of Aaron Finch, Marnus Labuschagne and Usman Khawaja in particular. We’re in a much different stage of Australian cricket history, aren’t we,” Langer said. “You guys have heard me say it before, it’s usually harder to get out of the side than it is to get into the side. It used to be a beautiful thing, if you were the hunter, it used to be a shocking thing when you were playing. If you were the hunted, well that’s sort of good, but you knew there were hunters coming at you all the time. There was always pressure.
“And in this instance, I thought Finchy played pretty well, he did really well, and he’ll learn a lot from this series. I was really impressed with Finchy. I thought Marnus played particularly well in this innings. He had a brainfade in the first innings. You’ve never seen anything like it. Two in two days. I’ve seen some stuff on the cricket field, but I’ve never seen that ever.
“And Marnus knows, so I’m not burning him, it was the dumbest thing I’ve ever seen in my life until what happened yesterday. I thought Marnus played well, and his leg-spin was a real revelation for us. As a young leg-spinner, there’s huge upside to that. Obviously Uzzy played really well, and he’ll have his knee operated on, hopefully sooner rather than later, so hopefully he’ll be right for the first Test match [against India in December].”
When he reached Travis Head, one of three Australian debutants in Dubai, Langer returned to his technical theme, by noting how much he could see the young South Australian evolving in his first Test series. “What I liked about Travis Head is his development – he’s working hard on his game,” Langer said. “The way everyone used to say he can’t play spin, well he has worked hard on that. He played a cut shot today. I’m getting a bit technical here, but we’re talking batting here, which I love.
“I love batting, that’s why it’s killing me at the moment. But he usually plays his cut shot from leg stump, today he played a beautiful cut shot, [like] Sir Donald Bradman, he got right across, he played that late cut for four. And obviously Shaun [Marsh] and Mitch [Marsh] haven’t had their best series, but we also know they’re good cricketers who have had a tough time. So there are opportunities for guys in the team, and there are opportunities for guys who are good blokes and make a lot of runs.”
Former selection chairman Rod Marsh has laid the blame for the Newlands ball-tampering scandal squarely at the feet of Cricket Australia, citing a “win at all costs” culture that he says was repeated at “every meeting” of which he was a part.
With CA’s chairman David Peever set to be re-elected as chairman for a further three years at the Board’s AGM in Melbourne on Thursday and the new chief executive Kevin Roberts due to start his role the following day, Australian cricket is still awaiting the release of two separate reviews into CA’s culture as an organisation, helmed by the corporate ethics expert Simon Longstaff, and another of the men’s team led by the former Test batsman Rick McCosker.
Marsh, who served as a selector from 2011 to 2016 and as chairman of the panel from 2014, said that there was no doubt in his mind the pressure to win in South Africa had contributed to the actions of Warner and Bancroft, with Smith’s tacit approval, during the third Test of the series in Cape Town, calling CA’s culture “toxic”.
“It wasn’t around when I was a player [but] it was around when I was a selector,” Marsh told News Corp. “At every meeting it was said we had to get to number one in every format. I felt extremely sorry for Davey Warner. Still the worse thing happened was when Steve Smith and Cam Bancroft going up in front the press at the end of the day’s play. That wasn’t necessary. It caused all the problems.
“Look, I will always support the players and there’s a reason for these things happening. They were under an enormous amount of pressure to win. It’s win, win, win, win, win at all costs, which is not the way the game is meant to be played.
“When it did come to a head, I think Cricket Australia realised they were to blame and the only way they could escape public scrutiny (to a degree, at least) was by imposing these penalties on the three players involved. They would have been delighted to tell David Warner about his punishment, as they would still have been seething over the role he played in the MoU saga the year before — another example of how bad things had become.”
In an interview to promote his new book, Marsh also expressed his strong disagreement with CA’s lengthy bans on Warner, Smith and Bancroft, describing ball-tampering as a practice so common even the soon-to-be outgoing chief executive James Sutherland was likely to have done it in his days as a seam bowler for Victoria.
“I wrote it in the book; every fast bowler that has picked up a cricket ball, he’s tampered with it, make no mistake about it,” Marsh said. “I even questioned whether James Sutherland might have picked the seam, a former fast bowler for the University club in Melbourne, who played some matches for Victoria, if he says he hasn’t, I’d ask him the question again.
“That [using sandpaper] wasn’t that smart. No doubt in my mind it was one of the dumbest things I’ve ever seen upon reflection. You can’t get away with that with cameras around.”
On the topic of Warner’s role in the team, Marsh has written in the book that CA’s management was “very aware” of the vice-captain’s unofficial role as the “attack dog” of the side. “But to my knowledge there was never any pulling him aside and politely inviting him to be quiet on the field,” he wrote, “except perhaps when another misdemeanour meant suspension.
“I know from past experience, and close up experience in the later years what the players have to go through. It’s not an easy thing. It sounds very glamorous. Sure they get paid exceptionally well but it’s a very, very difficult. The players have to be looked after and the players have to respect the game … you’ve got to show respect and if you don’t then the game will bite you as we’ve seen.”