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Under fire in the media and unbacked by players: Justin Langer’s job is in danger

Ben Gardner by Ben Gardner
@Ben_Wisden 4 minute read

It started, as all the great sagas do, with a toastie.

In the aftermath of Australia’s 2-1 Test series defeat to India — their second in two tours and three winters, and this coming with a full-strength side against a weakened one — came the first of what is now numerous stories from inside the Aussie camp, indicating dissatisfaction with Justin Langer’s management style.

The piece in the Sydney Morning Herald, headlined ‘Langer’s intense coaching style in the spotlight after testing summer’, sparked mirth for the humorous nature of some of the complaints, most notably that “during the Brisbane Test Langer ordered a player not to persist with a habit of jamming a toasted sandwich in his pocket to eat on the field”, but the memes and jokes masked the seriousness of the situation. It wasn’t so much that Langer was guilty of something grievously wrong, or anything at all than being a unique character with a unique way of working. What was notable was where the stories had come from, and that the frustration had become so great that some from inside the dressing room felt compelled to speak to the media in secret.

Since then, Australia’s results have continued to plateau, with T20I series defeats to West Indies and Bangladesh, the latter the first ever to the Tigers in a bilateral contest, dampening their T20 World Cup hopes. And the unflattering stories have continued to proliferate. Langer took his anger out on a journalist for posting a Bangladesh celebration video on the cricket.com.au site — affiliated to Cricket Australia but nominally an independent news outlet — before Malcolm Conn, formerly part of the CA media team, penned a vicious account of what working with Langer was really like, with players, according to Conn, referring to Langer as “the grumpy coach”, and fearing walking past his seat on the team bus, lest he blow up at a minor indiscretion.

The Australian written press has begun to round on the coach. Sam Perry, who will be better known to listeners of the Grade Cricketer podcast as ‘Pezzy lad’, has spoken at length about Langer on his show, and has since written for the Guardian that “Justin Langer’s relationship with Australian cricketers is cooked”. “An outstanding player does not necessarily make an outstanding coach,” Perry explained. “While many of Langer’s supporters demand deference because of his playing exploits two decades ago, there is yet to be a compelling coaching case for him.”

However, Langer isn’t alone in his corner. He has several ex-teammates-turned-pundits behind him, notably his former opening partner Matthew Hayden, who lambasted Australia’s players for the leaks that had started to trickle from within. “A lot of the content coming out about this is downright disrespectful to a bloke that’s played over 100 Test matches,” he told SEN’s The Sporting Capital.

“Even this facetious discussion amongst senior players last night that obviously [The Australian’s cricket writer] Pete Lalor was onto about deciding Justin Langer’s future. Umm, hello! What about meeting about the fact you’re No. 3 in Test cricket and No. 3 in ODI rankings, and No. 6 in T20 rankings?

“Waste more energy and time thinking about that than discussing a bloke who’s a legend of the game and so passionate about Australian cricket and culture. It reeks of the lyric, ‘sixth months in a leaky boat’. So many holes are now coming out.”

Mark Waugh is another ex-pro who has offered his aid. Langer also has support, for now, from CA, though the vote of confidence can be a dreaded sign that the end is near. “Justin (Langer) has done an incredible job in raising the culture, values and behaviour of the Australian men’s team since he took on the role in 2018,” said CA CEO Nick Hockley. “His efforts have restored public faith in the national team which is a side all Australian’s [sic] can be incredibly proud of.”

“He is contracted as head coach through to the middle of next year with the focus now on a successful T20 World Cup campaign followed by the home Ashes defence in what is one of the most anticipated Series and summers of cricket in Australia for many years.

“Like many in the community and around the world the team has had an extremely disruptive and challenging 18 months during the pandemic. Despite those challenges the side has had great success in one-day, Test and T20 cricket, when all players were available.

“Justin, his coaching staff and the leaders within the team have an equally important part to play in ensuring a successful summer ahead for the Australian cricket team.”

Many pointed out the relapse into talk of “culture” and “values”, the caveated sub-clause “when all players were available” when discussing Langer’s success, while also noting that Langer actually lost his only Test series in that 18-month period, with a full-strength side against an India team hit by injuries and absences.

Still, not long after backing came from Test skipper Tim Paine too. “We’re really looking forward to the next six months with JL,” he told SEN. “No doubt the week has been difficult for him.” The Ashes, in the next six months, presents a sticking point, with CA understandably reluctant to make a change before such a vital series, and also knowing that victory over England, still likely despite the upheaval, can mask any number of ills, and also offer the opportunity for a satisfactory bookend to the Langer era.

But there is a wrinkle here too. It’s reported that a meeting between a leadership group containing Paine, Pat Cummins, and white-ball captain Aaron Finch and some of the management at CA was preceded by Hockley’s statement above, to the displeasure of the players who felt any meaningful discussions had been rendered impossible.

And what’s perhaps more important is the lack of public support from elsewhere. Usman Khawaja stands as almost the only current player to have come out against the leaks from within the Aussie camp to put his weight behind Langer. As others have said, it would not be a difficult thing to put out a statement on social media supporting the coach, and the absence of any suggests more than anything else that Langer might have lost the dressing room. Usually, the loss of a job comes not long after.

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