Justin Langer’s WA bias perception will haunt him

Ronan O'Connell Columnist

By Ronan O'Connell, Ronan O'Connell is a Roar Expert

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    New Australian head coach Justin Langer.. (AAP Image/Lincoln Baker)

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    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.

    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.

    Ronan O
    Ronan O'Connell

    Ronan O'Connell has been a journalist for well over 13 years, including nine at daily newspapers in WA. He now traverses the world as a travel photojournalist, contributing words and photography to more than 30 magazines and newspapers including CNN, BBC, The Toronto Star, The Guardian, The South China Morning Post, The Irish Examiner and The Australian Financial Review. Check out his work and follow him on Twitter @ronanoco

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    The Crowd Says (65)

    • April 21st 2018 @ 5:23am
      Slane said | April 21st 2018 @ 5:23am | ! Report

      Oh no. The national team won’t be made up solely of New South Welshmen. Whatever will we do?!

      • April 21st 2018 @ 8:38am
        JoM said | April 21st 2018 @ 8:38am | ! Report

        Maybe you could give the names of 4 bowlers that are better than those currently there or 2 batsmen who are better than Smith and Warner. Who should take their places.

      • April 21st 2018 @ 7:26pm
        Steve said | April 21st 2018 @ 7:26pm | ! Report

        You do realise that 40% of all Australian first-class cricketers come from NSW? There are blokes running around for other States – including WA – who were plucked from Sydney grade cricket.

        • April 23rd 2018 @ 6:17am
          qwetzen said | April 23rd 2018 @ 6:17am | ! Report

          “40%” eh? What’s your source for that? Is it the Sydney Morning Herald perchance?

          And I’d strongly opine that they weren’t “plucked from Sydney grade cricket”, they actively sought to flee the dump.

          Just quickly (and roughly);

          Qld – Khawaja
          Vic – Christian, Tremain
          WA – none
          SA – Cooper, Mennie, Zampa
          TAS – Doran, Silk, Milenko, Bird

          And then there’s the usual NSW XI. Allrounder from Portugal, spinner from Malaysia, captain from Victoria.

          So given that States use about 18 players a season then that’d be about 10% of Shield players have the NSW virus.

          I hope you were wearing rubber gloves when you pulled that “40%” out.

          • April 23rd 2018 @ 12:55pm
            Ben said | April 23rd 2018 @ 12:55pm | ! Report

            Khawaja is from Sydney you dunce. A quick google search will tell you that. Mennie is from Coffs Harbour, Tremain from Dubbo. Would you like me to continue?

            • April 23rd 2018 @ 4:32pm
              Scorching said | April 23rd 2018 @ 4:32pm | ! Report

              Are you serious?
              He is listing the only examples of ex NSW players who are playing 1st class cricket elsewhere.

              You should take a second to read the comment before attacking the commenter

              You dunce.

            • April 23rd 2018 @ 5:15pm
              qwetzen said | April 23rd 2018 @ 5:15pm | ! Report

              Would I like you to continue?

              Certainly! Good comedy is hard to find these days…

      • April 21st 2018 @ 7:56pm
        damo said | April 21st 2018 @ 7:56pm | ! Report

        Lose more often than now…..

    • April 21st 2018 @ 6:41am
      Mattyb said | April 21st 2018 @ 6:41am | ! Report

      I think Langers appointment will only be an issue with people who have lost interest in cricket and now worry more about anything other than the actual cricket that takes place on the cricket field.
      While this is now unfortunately the majority,CA still have to pick the best man for the job and Langers onfield cricket results suggest he’s the best man for the job.

      • April 21st 2018 @ 10:51am
        Dexter The Hamster said | April 21st 2018 @ 10:51am | ! Report

        What part of Dizzy’s results suggest he is not the best man for the job. Pretty impressive record as well.

        • April 22nd 2018 @ 9:45am
          Bakkies said | April 22nd 2018 @ 9:45am | ! Report

          Agreed Dexter Dizzy has at least won first class Cricket competitions. The only reason why he hasn’t won a Shield is that he hasn’t been offered a role yet. He has far more knowledge of current overseas players than Langer does.

          • Roar Guru

            April 26th 2018 @ 9:04am
            Chris Kettlewell said | April 26th 2018 @ 9:04am | ! Report

            Yeah, out of Dizzy and Langer I’d suggest Dizzy seems the better coach with the better credentials. But Langer probably isn’t a bad choice either.

            I must admit that it would be a tough appointment to take for either of them. They are both settled where they are and the domestic coaching gigs mean you get to spend most of your time at home. Both have families they wouldn’t really want to be leaving for long periods of time. So it’s not just a case of the appointment being a promotion, it’s also a massive sacrifice to take that job, and the family will likely suffer for it.

            • April 26th 2018 @ 5:51pm
              Bakkies said | April 26th 2018 @ 5:51pm | ! Report

              Dizzy was interested in the English job which is going to be up again next year.

    • April 21st 2018 @ 8:20am
      Bill said | April 21st 2018 @ 8:20am | ! Report

      Agree. All I know is what I read on the roar comments and I’m in bias towards Gillespie. I’m sure langer will be an excellent coach however.

    • April 21st 2018 @ 8:31am
      Nudge said | April 21st 2018 @ 8:31am | ! Report

      I think Langer is the type of coach who is parochial to the team he coaches. If Renshaw for instance ( who scored a ton last night in county cricket when no one in all matches could buy a run) comes out and scores a ton in his first test in charge, he will say this guy is a freak and will score 10,000 test runs. What this then does is gives the player a huge amount of confidence and belief.
      I don’t think his parochialism will be just towards WA. It will be towards the players he coaches. Personally I would have preferred Ponting as he looks a gun coach in the waiting, but Langer will still do a fine job if he gets the role

      • April 21st 2018 @ 10:56am
        Dexter The Hamster said | April 21st 2018 @ 10:56am | ! Report

        I tend to agree Nudge. I don’t feel the WA-slant will be an issue. He is parochial about his team, if that team is Australia then he will do the best for them (as he did as a player), at the moment his team is WA so he does his best for them. Makes sense.

        I still like Gillespie for the role but it seems we are heading towards JL, and fair enough, his record is pretty solid.

      • Columnist

        April 21st 2018 @ 11:03am
        Ronan O'Connell said | April 21st 2018 @ 11:03am | ! Report

        I think you’re right there Nudge but nonetheless the perception that he’s biased towards WA players will stick for a good while.

        • Roar Guru

          April 26th 2018 @ 9:18am
          Chris Kettlewell said | April 26th 2018 @ 9:18am | ! Report

          Langer is fiercely loyal to where he comes from. He’s a proud Western Australian and always will be. He will always have a WA bias. But that isn’t necessarily a bad thing. As long as he’s aware of it and doesn’t let it negatively effect anything.

          We all have bias. From Don Freo, who’d love to just pick the WA team for Australia, to the people who constantly complain that their states lesser players aren’t picked over superior players from NSW, to all the NSW people who know the truth ;-).

          The important thing isn’t to be unbiased, as that’s impossible, it’s to recognise your bias and make allowances for it and make sure you have people who will keep you accountable who know your bias and can help to give you a nudge in the right direction when you need it.

          I suspect Langer, as Australian coach, would want the best players possible to be in the team. If there’s an almost line ball call between a WA player and a player from another state, he may likely push for the WA player. But that’s fine, he’s not the only selector.

    • April 21st 2018 @ 9:24am
      Paul said | April 21st 2018 @ 9:24am | ! Report

      This is an off-season non-issue. If Langer’s made coach, he and 3 other guys (or more) will decide the makeup of the Australian side, so if there are 11 WA players in there, for example, it won’t be down to Langer but the rest of the selectors agreeing they are the best option to play in the Test side. In equal measure, Langer can spruik WA players all he likes, the same selectors might chose none of them. I’m also sure other coaches are doing the same as Langer, only not so obviously.

      I still think Gillespie would be a better option but if Langer’s the only choice, he’ll do a very good job. I just don’t know if the side needs his level of intensity or would be better off with Dizzy, who’s not so wound up.

    • Roar Guru

      April 21st 2018 @ 9:53am
      Ryan H said | April 21st 2018 @ 9:53am | ! Report

      Which is why I would love to see somebody external brought in, with no prior attachment or association. Having said that, Langer is more than qualified, and would probably make an excellent coach.

      • April 22nd 2018 @ 9:57am
        Bakkies said | April 22nd 2018 @ 9:57am | ! Report

        Dizzy doesn’t have any attachment to any state players as he hasn’t coached a state team. I wouldn’t include the Strikers as SA Shield players did play for rival teams.

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