Cricket News By TODAYLIVESCORE.INFO - Langer evolved but the writing was on the wall. Langer had over the last few months finally evolved and transitioned into the kind of coach many of the senior members of the current team were looking for.
Langer had over the last few months finally evolved and transitioned into the kind of coach many of the senior members of the current team were looking for.
“What happens if he wins the World Cup and they win the Ashes convincingly?”
It's October 2021 and the rather pertinent-sounding question is being discussed amongst some major powerbrokers in Australian cricket at the Drummoyne Oval. We're in Sydney, where New South Wales are taking on Victoria in their first Sheffield Shield match of the season. The group involved in this conversation regarding Justin Langer's future as head coach includes a couple of board members at Cricket NSW, a prominent player agent, and a representative of the cricketers' association. The chat continues.
“That depends if your man still wants him.” the player agent is told to which he replies with something to the effect of, “It's not just about my man. It's the others as well, right?” There is consensus on the topic, however, when one of the other participants says, “Either way, that's not our problem. That's something CA will have to deal with.”
It was the kind of chat that exuded a very vivid sense even then, some three-and-a-half months ago, that Langer's fate had already been sealed. That whatever the Australian team was to achieve during the remainder of his coaching reign wasn't going to change the jury's mind. That his time would be up once the Ashes were done. This was after all well before Glenn Maxwell reverse-swept Australia to T20 WC glory for the first-ever time in Dubai and long before Pat Cummins cleaned up Ollie Robinson to seal the Ashes series 4-0 in Hobart.
How inevitably right those well-informed stakeholders had been at Drummoyne that spring evening. It did end up as Cricket Australia's problem. And they did have to deal with it. We'll never know of course if it would have been easier for Australian cricket to part ways with Langer in case Aaron Finch & Co hadn't won gold in the UAE or if Cummins & Co hadn't had it so easy against England at home. The writing was on the wall regardless.
Over the course of many meetings, and especially a lengthy one on Friday (February 4), CA does seem to have found a way. A six-month extension at the end of a four-year run that finished on a high was never going to work. Not for a man as understandably proud as Langer. Not for a head coach who'd just reached the summit of his professional career. It was simply the insult that accompanied the injury.
On Saturday (February 5), a few hours following Langer's resignation, Cricket Australia CEO Nick Hockley spoke to the media explaining the cricket board's stance. He spoke repeatedly about the “evolution” of the Australian team's “needs and requirements” and how they were ready to start a “period of transition”. There was a tinge of irony to what Hockley said, at least for some who've seen Langer's tenure from up-close within the Australian dressing-room during the four years it lasted.
For, they believe the former Test opener had over the last few months finally evolved and transitioned into exactly the kind of coach many of the senior members of the current team were looking for. That he'd found the perfect balance between being passionate and intense and having the ability to be more hands-off and a bit more relaxed, while also maintaining that balance with his players.
As we know now, it was perhaps a bit too late for both Langer and his team. In the aftermath of the many meetings held in August about the complaints over his coaching style, Langer had decided to embark on the next stage of his evolution as a coach. To try and be closer to the kind of head coach that the leadership group among the players wanted him to be.
He's learnt to have even had discussions about that transition with some of his coaching colleagues in the UAE as the team prepared for the T20 WC. To try and figure out whether it was what he was saying or whether it was the way he was doing so that had affected his relationship with the dressing-room. One of the coaches is believed to have told him that nobody had any questions about where his heart was at in terms of wanting the Australian team to be the best in the world. It was more a case of him perhaps working on how he was delivering those messages. And ensuring that every player in the group was aware that behind the in-your-face intensity lay this strong will to get every member of the team to be better players.
‘Was it so wrong to show emotions as a coach,' he's said to have wondered aloud at one point. For those who've been privy to his coaching style, it didn't come as much of a surprise. That was Langer through and through, both as player and once he took up coaching soon after he hung up his boots. He'd been venerated wherever his cricket took him once his Test career was over. Whether it was in Somerset as a senior pro or when he took charge of his home state of Western Australia and when he led Perth Scorchers to BBL titles.
So, while coaching the national team was a huge honour, it also brought with it an unprecedented level of scrutiny. And the first 12 or so months of his coaching tenure weren't the easiest for Langer. For those who'd also been part of the Darren Lehmann set-up, this was a stark change. Suddenly, you had a coach who was living and breathing every ball, like he was still out there. It meant he had to undergo a level of stress he'd never had to since his playing days. And it came through at times in his press conferences like when he said, “I kept thinking before the game, imagine if we get beaten by Sri Lanka at the Gabba. That's why I haven't slept much the past week. Hopefully sleep a bit easier now,” after Australia had just come off their first-ever series defeat at home to India in early 2019.
The drive to succeed is just a part of Langer's fabric. And even though he is learnt to have taken some sort of a back-seat during the T20 WC, he always had an eye on the Ashes. In fact, only an hour or so after the World Cup had been won, he pulled a member of the coaching staff to the balcony of the dressing-room with one question. “Who'd you play at 5 at the Gabba? Khawaja or Head?”
This is unlikely to be the end for Langer's tryst with big-ticket cricket. He loves cricket too much and he's also got a lot more to give back, as we saw on the sidelines of the Ashes.
Like at the Redlands Cricket Ground in Brisbane before the first Test, when he stopped by the nets of the local team after being impressed by a teenaged batter, to then give him a crash-course on driving the ball. Or like he stayed back at the MCG on Christmas Day to give a couple of kids a masterclass on the importance of head positions for a batter while driving. There will be teams around the world, starting with England who could do with every bit of that drive to win the 51-year-old has to offer.
Another aspect of Langer's evolution as coach that came through during the World Cup win is said to be his willingness to embrace modern-day analytics. Though he wasn't against it, he's believed to have not been as eager as some of his peers to focus a lot of the team's strategy and approach around the incessant data analysis on offer these days. And the Langer on show in the UAE was more focused on working with the analysts in getting the match-ups right while letting his assistant coaches manage a majority of the training sessions.
It's learnt to have been a lot different to even as far back as the 2019 World Cup. The one example cited is when a couple of the other coaches suggested that Jason Behrendorff should open the bowling with Mitchell Starc against England at Lord's. It was mainly to do with the English top-order's issues against the in-coming deliveries from left-arm seamers. According to those present, Langer wasn't keen on having two left-armers start with the new-ball and preferred Cummins to continue doing it. It's only when he was overruled that Behrendorff got to start proceedings, and he had Jason Roy trapped lbw off the second delivery before going on to finish with a five-wicket haul.
They wanted him to back off. They wanted him to start being less Justin Langer the old-school general with the take-no-prisoners attitude and more Justin Langer the modern-day cricket coach, who could take a step back when asked to. It perhaps was never going to work out in the long run. But it did during the 2021-22 season as Australia's report card for the summer would show. Like those folk at the Drummoyne Oval had predicted, it did make CA's job that much tougher to call it off.
“People say you're too serious, you're too intense. But that's ok, that's me. Some people will like it, some people will have opinions on it, some people won't but that's ok. If you try and please everyone, you please no one,” Langer had told Cricbuzz in an interview back in November 2019.
Maybe he always knew how it would end for him after all.