Langer?s berth safe for tour of Sth Africa



? MELBOURNE ? Australian captain Ricky Ponting yesterday strongly backed Justin Langer who is facing a new set of hurdles in his career as he battles injury, age, scheduling concerns and criticism from Dennis Lillee.

Ponting says he is "pretty sure'' Langer will slot straight into the side for the three-Test tour of South Africa in March.

NSW left-hander Phil Jaques will make his Test debut in Melbourne today as Langer nurses a hamstring strain he suffered in the first Test against South Africa in Perth last week. Langer, 35, is desperately trying to prove his fitness for the third Test in Sydney starting on January 2.

If Langer's bid to play at the SCG fails, the Western Australian will be relying on Pura Cup matches to regain form, fitness and Test selection ahead of the South Africa tour. The gutsy left-hander was due to play his 100th Test in Sydney but that dream has been shattered first by a rib injury which caused him to miss the first two Tests of last month's West Indies series, then by his current hamstring strain. "I still think he's batting as well as ever. That's the way you've got to judge it I guess, on current form,'' Ponting said.

"He's been playing beautifully. He played well in Perth in both innings (37 and 47) without getting a big score. "In the Test before that he got a 99 in Adelaide, so he's obviously in good touch.

"I've got no worries about him. I hope he's right for Sydney. If he is that's great. "If he's not, well then I'm pretty sure he'll come straight back into the side when the next lot of Test cricket is (played).



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