Justin Langer’s fierce loyalty to Western Australian players has been a strength of his tenure as coach of that state, but it will create a perception problem for him should he become the new Australian coach.
Langer looks set to take over from Darren Lehmann, who stepped down as Australia’s head coach in the wake of the ball-tampering scandal.
That news was broken this week by the West Australian’s John Townsend, one of the country’s most experienced and respected cricket journalists.
Townsend reported that Langer was “understood to be the only candidate to replace Darren Lehmann”. Langer long shaped as the front-runner to earn the role, ahead of former Australian teammates Jason Gillespie and Ricky Ponting.
All three of those men have had coaching gigs with the Australian team over the past few years. Gillespie has also had a greatly successful career coaching in both the English and Australian domestic circuits, while Ponting has focused on coaching T20s.
Gillespie has been backed for the Australian coaching job by former Test captain Ian Chappell, and Ponting has no shortage of admirers as a coach. But it seems that Langer has beaten them out.
In 2009, Langer became Australia’s national batting coach and assistant coach for three years until late 2012 when he was appointed head coach of Western Australia and the Perth Scorchers, a position he’s held ever since.
During his reign, WA have made two Sheffield Shield finals, twice won the domestic One Day Cup, and the Scorchers have been the dominant team in the BBL, winning the title three times in the past five seasons.
That is a seriously impressive resume and one which would well and truly justify his elevation to the national coaching gig. During his reign as head coach of WA and the Scorchers, Langer has become renowned for being a stern leader who demands and commands respect and is fiercely loyal to his players.
So loyal, in fact, that Langer is often derided by cricket fans for the manner in which he regularly and forcefully promotes the national prospects of his WA players.
Anyone who closely follows cricket websites and social media would be well aware Langer has become famous for ‘bigging up’ his players in the media, to the extent that it’s become a meme.
While Langer is a highly-respected figure among Australian cricket fans, there is no doubt his constant promoting of WA players is widely viewed as anything from humorous to annoying.
This perception has become so common that it will tail him during his predicted tenure as Australian coach and will be particularly relevant in the early stages of this posting.
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As Australian coach, Langer would sit on the national selection panel and the picking of any WA players, particularly those without strong domestic records behind them, would be heavily scrutinised.
Of course, selection will account for only a fraction of the scrutiny the next Australian coach will face.
The ball-tampering saga has ensured the on-field behaviour of the players will be under the microscope more than ever. If this behaviour falters, the coach will be held to account.
However, Langer has a fine record in regards to keeping his players in line.
When he took over as WA coach, the state had significant problems with discipline, something that showed in their on-field performances.
While he wasn’t able to immediately eradicate these issues, there is little doubt WA have become a far more professional outfit under his watch. They’ve also experienced greater success.
If Langer can replicate that at the national level, then he will have far greater leeway on the discipline and selection fronts.
But, without the services of Australia’s two best batsmen, whoever takes over as coach will face a monstrous task.