Richardson to Klinger: Langer's Perth dynasty
"There's not much I don't decide over my morning meditation," laughed Justin Langer, shortly after Perth Scorchers won their third BBL title in four years. That's half the titles ever. "It's a good time to organise my thoughts."
This has been Langer's morning ritual since 1993, the year of his Test debut, and the burning issue on the morning of the final was simple: should he pick Jason Behrendorff or Jhye Richardson? Behrendorff had more wickets for the Scorchers than anyone else, had proved himself time and again at the WACA. He was also a left-hander, and was well suited to bowling at Sydney Sixers' all-southpaw top three. But he was returning from injury.
Six weeks ago, no one had heard of 20-year-old Richardson. But he had impressed in the seven games he had played, and even clocked 149kph on one occasion. It couldn't have been an easy decision.
"It was such a dilemma. I reckon I asked at least 50 people their opinion whether we should go Jason or Jhye," Langer said. "So I'm in my backroom at 6.50am, doing my meditation, and it was crystal clear. So I sent a text to the selectors at about 7.20am. I said this is the decision, we are picking Jhye, and they said 'yeah, fair enough'."
He then made three phone calls: To Richardson, Behrendorff, and Cameron Bancroft, who played a T20 for Australia a year ago but could feature in just two games this season. "I have to admit I wussed out and did the easy one first. I could hear it on the other end - he was so pumped!"
A week ago, Richardson sat out a game in Hobart with a rib injury. There have been ankles problems lately too. "I have had a lot of soreness throughout my career already. So I know my body pretty well," he said. Before the Hobart game, Langer asked Richardson how he was feeling. "Ah, a bit sore," he replied.
Langer told Richardson he was going to walk away and return in five minutes and ask again. When he did, Richardson replied: "nah, I'm going good". Langer asked again on Friday evening, to scope Richardson's availability for the final. "I'm going brilliant, feeling good! Can't even feel it," said Richardson. "The young fella is getting a bit streetwise," said Langer.
In terms of his cricket, streetwise is an understatement.
Richardson hails from Wandi, 45 minutes south of Perth "in the bush" and learnt "everything I know from my brother Tory playing backyard cricket". He is short, lean, has a whippy action and is mighty quick through the air. He hurries batsmen with pace and lift and may perhaps be the only fast bowler on the planet to utter: "I love fielding the most out of the three disciplines of cricket."
In the third over of the final, Richardson brilliantly ran out Nic Maddinson from fine leg on the second. In his second and third overs, he dismissed Brad Haddin, Moises Henriques and Jordan Silk, just as Sixers were getting back in the game. With 11 balls left in the innings, his safe hands, again at fine-leg, dismissed Johan Botha, as he threatened to pocket handy runs. This was a telling contribution that helped restrict Sixers to 141.
Afterwards, he was articulate, but operated solely in simple sentences. "At the start of the season I wouldn't even have dreamed of this," he said. "Unbelievable. Perfect result. Speechless. I had one focus, just trying to bang it in and use the pace of the pitch and luckily they hit it in the air!"
Richardson is the baby of an experienced squad. Six of the XI for the final were over 30, and the other five were products of the Western Australia system (all under 24), which Langer finds "hugely satisfying." Mitchell Marsh and Shaun Marsh were absent, injured and on international duty respectively. Nathan Coulter-Nile and Joel Paris were injured too, Behrendorff and Bancroft couldn't get a game. Yet, the squad's depth emerged.
Mitchell Johnson, who Langer thought had lost his hunger for the game when they met just before the tournament, was a revelation. "All the guys have looked after me perfectly, you can go to them and ask the questions that you're not sure about and get the answer that you need," said Richardson. "Guys like Mitch have played Test cricket for years and have so much knowledge up there. Being able to ask him questions, and even guys like Behrendorff on the sidelines, you get little things that you wouldn't even have thought of."
"To think he was only borderline playing today," said Langer. "Then to go out and do that, it's a huge credit to what we do here."
What Scorchers do here is win titles.
When Richardson's work was done, out strode Michael Klinger and Sam Whiteman. Whiteman, the first Western Australian Yorkshireman (Tim Bresnan is the second), swung from the hip, broke the back of the target, and then got out. But Klinger batted through, hitting Johan Botha down the ground for six to win the game. He had 71 by then. No one has scored more runs for Scorchers ever, no one has more runs in the BBL ever, and by making 334 runs this summer, he was prolific once again.
Next month, Langer will coach Australia in the T20s against Sri Lanka, and Klinger is one man he would dearly love on his team sheet. "I really hope he gets picked," he said of Klinger, who will turn 37 in July. "I know it would be a dream come true for him. Even if it's just for three games, he deserves it. He's an outstanding person, an outstanding professional and deserves to be enjoying the success he's getting now. He's just shown over so many years what a champion he is."
Klinger is a bashful, charming type, but he will not hide his desire. "Hopefully he's [Langer] a selector! I don't think he is," he laughed. "He needs to have a word to the other four! I hope so, mate, I hope so… It would be a dream come true, but I don't know what their outlook is."
Langer laughed off the idea that what Perth has, with all these titles, classes as a "dynasty", a phrase that is totally at odds with T20. Most of us own socks older than the sport, so how can it have dynasties? But the link from Richardson to Klinger through Whiteman and Ashton Agar and Turner (three players the coach identifies as standouts this season), via Langer, the paterfamilias running things from his meditation mat, shows that is exactly what Perth Scorchers have.
Klinger agreed. "I don't see why not. Wait till next season, we'll have four titles by then." Do not bet against it.
Will Macpherson writes on cricket for the Guardian, ESPNcricinfo and All Out Cricket. @willis_macp