An inevitable outcome, but Justin Langer was let down by Cricket Australia

News Analysis

It was always going to be difficult for a long-term solution after the August meltdown yet there are also wider issues

It is hard to make sense of what has just happened in Australian cricket. The coach of a team that has recently won the T20 World Cup, the Ashes, and had ascended to No. 1 in the Test rankings resigned after a token six-month contract extension offer amongst a whole heap of angst, whispers, and unanswered questions.

Justin Langer has started yet another 14 days of home isolation due to Western Australia’s Covid-19 border rules, having arrived home for the first time in six months, and he may have a sense of déjà vu.

He may well feel the same sense of anger and betrayal at what has unfolded as he did when he was locked up in an Adelaide hotel room in August last year.

This moment was always coming after what took place during those two weeks. A bizarre incident on the August T20I tour of Bangladesh, in which Langer was a minor player, led to reports that sparked a public referendum on his ability to coach the Australian men’s team. It led to private crisis talks with Australia’s three playing leaders, Tim Paine, Pat Cummins and Aaron Finch, and CA chief executive Nick Hockley and then chairman Earl Eddings.
The depth of concern among the playing group for parts of Langer’s coaching style ran deep. Deeper than the “faceless few” that Langer’s manager James Henderson referred to on Saturday. Deeper than just a New South Wales clique that many have accused of knifing him. Langer felt surprised and shocked by the feedback having thought he had worked through the previous issues that had been raised with him after the Test series loss to India.

The moment CA made the decision to back Langer in to see out his contract was the moment they were headed towards this conclusion. The sticking plaster got them through the summer but it was not a long-term solution.

That Australia won the T20 World Cup and the Ashes was a spanner in the works. If they had been bounced out of the World Cup in the group stage, having slumped to seventh in the T20I rankings in the lead-in, then Langer may not have been coach for the summer, and the decision could have been more easily justified on results.

But Langer did what Langer does when his back is against the wall. He confronted the issues head-on holding 30 individual zoom meetings with players and staff and allowed them to air their grievances. He took the feedback on board and relinquished the tight control he had on the team, allowing a more collaborative approach in preparation and planning.

The result is CA has burnt a legend of Australian cricket badly. CA will argue the price Langer has paid is the best thing for the men’s high-performance model moving forward. On Saturday, Hockley spoke of a transition in how the team is coached. It will be of little solace to Langer

Some of the team would argue that the results that followed were because Langer moved to the periphery. He would argue his change in approach and evolution as a coach on the back of their feedback was more than enough to justify a long-term extension given the results. The CA board sided with the former but it seems were not willing to tell Langer directly he was surplus to requirements and the measly six-month offer forced his hand.

Of CA’s many failings in this saga, questions need to be asked about the high-performance structure above Langer – currently led by head of national teams Ben Oliver who was appointed in 2019 – that appears not to have been sufficient to monitor the team’s evolution. Oliver, who has a long-standing relationship with Langer from days at WA, holds a wide remit which grew larger when high performance boss Drew Ginn left last year. CA does not have a senior director of coaching which a lot of sporting clubs in Australia and globally have. The fact the chief executive and chairman had to get involved during the August stand-off highlighted the void.

Great organisations are built on strong and sound leadership. Langer is a strong leader but he will feel like he has been let down after all that he has done for CA.

What he has built cannot be undersold. Sandpapergate was the team’s nadir, and he was given a license by CA in 2018, two chief executives and two chairmans ago, to rebuild the team as he had done with Western Australia and Perth Scorchers back in 2012.

He did that. He managed Steven Smith and David Warner back into the fold through strong, consistent but caring communication. He made players accountable for their practice habits and behaviours, and the standards within the team have rarely been higher. The selection communication became infinitely better. George Bailey’s appointment has been a huge part of that but Langer has never shirked a phone call with a player, and his constant communication with state coaches has been a hallmark of his tenure. Any notion that he is not a good coach ignores all that work behind the scenes.

But the toll of that task and the workload as a pseudo-one-man band in the first two years of his tenure was stress on both sides. The symptom of stress was a disconnect between some players, staff and the coach on the back of some emotional moments and a fracture in those relationships has caused this outcome. Those that have whispered privately for Langer’s removal will argue he did not utilise the resources around him. Langer will argue he did not have the right resources around him that he could trust in the early part of his tenure. No one within CA was able to manage the push and pull of those views and bring the whole group closer together.

The result is CA has burnt a legend of Australian cricket badly. CA will argue the price Langer has paid is the best thing for the men’s high-performance model moving forward. On Saturday, Hockley spoke of a transition in how the team is coached. It will be of little solace to Langer.

What is clear is this group of Australian players wants a collaborative group of coaches that complement one another. Langer and former players are arguing that one strong voice is needed to control the message. The era of franchise cricket has changed that notion. The workload of an international player and head coach means that one voice can wear thin across 10 months a year, particularly in bubbles. Players source technical, mental and physical advice and mentoring from a multitude of places year-round. The modern Australian players also prefer a becalmed environment to one that is hyperfocussed at all times and at all costs.

The team can operate with a model where there is a group of specialist coaches and consultants that can be utilised where needed and rested when needed. One voice will need to sit above it all in a management capacity but they may not be expected to be ever-present given the unprecedented schedule that the Australia men’s team is about to embark on over the next two years. It will require flexibility and teamwork to make it work and innovation and proper resourcing from CA to carry it out.

The players will be given what they want, but they and CA now must deliver on it. They have bet the farm on themselves after burning the man who helped save them from themselves four years ago.

Results did not matter for Langer in the end, but they will for CA after what has just happened.

Alex Malcolm is an Associate Editor at ESPNcricinfo

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