Like many other Australians, I was bitterly disappointed after our Test team was unable to beat a depleted Indian squad this summer.
It didn’t take long for the knives to come out, with most people wanting to blame Tim Paine’s captaincy, wicketkeeping and sledging, our bowlers (for not being able to win the last two Tests), some of our batsmen and even the curators of the SCG and Gabba.
What surprised me was that more wasn’t made of Justin Langer’s performance as coach, selector or advisor to the selectors.
What role did he have to play in the team’s performance, and should his place as Australian coach be secure?
Langer was named Australian national team coach in May 2018. There seemed little doubt about his coaching pedigree, with the success he enjoyed, particularly with the Perth Scorchers.
It soon became apparent he had his own way of doing things, with yoga and meditation featuring in a lot of the early media conversations. The terms “elite honesty” and “elite mateship” were part of the Langer mantra, as were hard work and patience, especially when playing Test cricket.
If we look at raw numbers, Langer and the Australian teams he’s coached have been successful overall – or so it seems.
|Series played||Series won||Games played||Games won||Games lost|
#Does not include the ODI World Cup
It seems the Langer tenure as a coach could be best summed up by the word ‘almost’.
We’ve been almost good enough to beat England away in the Ashes. We’ve almost been good enough to beat India at home. We’ve almost been good enough to make the ODI World Cup final.
We’ve almost been good enough to win more than a few white-ball series.
We were certainly good enough to convincingly beat Pakistan and New Zealand in Tests and there was a terrific series win in India prior to the ODI World Cup, but then we’ve struggled to win series in all three formats against the best teams.
Overall though, the performances of all three teams Langer has coached could best be described as underwhelming, which is accurately shown by the current ICC rankings.
The Test team is ranked third, the ODI team fourth and the T20 team third. Again, these results are not desperately bad, but neither are they great and at least with the Test side, should have been better.
There’s no doubt excuses can be found for some of the performances; Langer taking over a Test team that had to be mentally rebuilt after the debacle in South Africa, the loss of our two best batsmen for 12 months, mass changes within the Cricket Australia administration and the impact COVID’s had on all facets of cricket.
There seem to be other ‘Langer’ factors that are hindering, not helping, the various Australian teams. The first and most obvious is selections. I’m not sure whether Langer has a direct or indirect say on selections for the various squads, but there certainly seems to be some themes.
During JL’s tenure, there have been two very good selections – Marnus Labuschagne and Cameron Green, but there have been more than a few puzzling ones.
I’m a huge Joe Burns fan but there was no way he should have been chosen on form for any of the Tests this summer. There was also a huge question mark over Matthew Wade’s selection over the past 12 months and over the axing of Travis Head this summer.
I also don’t get the bowling selections for the Sydney and Gabba Tests. For a guy who was keen on bowling rotations when Australia played in the Ashes, this approach seemed to have disappeared in favour of keeping the boys together against India, with a gassed attack leading to a series loss.
There also seems to be a Langer-type stubbornness when it comes to white-ball selections. Marcus Stoinis is clearly a favourite but his results at international level are underwhelming.
No consideration seems to have been given to moving Aaron Finch down the order, especially in T20s, where he has previously done well. And why no Dan Christian?
I also question some of the tactics Langer must have wanted to be implemented. I get that the Darren Lehmann approach to batting by attacking from ball one was not sustainable with this line-up.
It makes far more sense to bat more conservatively, wear down the bowlers, then make a huge total for the bowlers to defend.
Patience was a Langer strength when he batted himself, but has this approach stifled guys like Steve Smith and Labuschagne?
Paine runs the team on the field, but much of the bowling planning happens well before a ball is bowled. Again, the tactics used this summer simply didn’t work and for that, and Langer has to shoulder some responsibility.
It was also underwhelming to read the reason Langer gave for not making the Test World Championship final, thanks to having points deducted for a low over-rate in the Boxing Day Test.
He put it down to the team manager (who was on leave at the time) not appointing someone to count the overs in the MCG Test. I’m not clear how this tallies with his views on elite honesty or his lack of acceptance that someone who was there should have been responsible.
JL is a key player in how well the Australian men’s teams do, and to date, he scores a pass on his efforts.
There have been more than a few factors that have hindered him, not least of which is questions over the talent pool, especially with our red-ball cricket.
He now faces probably the toughest 18 months of his coaching career.
The Test side must win the Ashes in Australia later this year, but will have few – if any – Tests between now and then to prepare.
The T20 World Cup in India is a tournament Australia needs to win. At the least, the team must make the semi-finals.
The Test side has tours to the sub-continent in 2022 and most Australians would expect wins against Sri Lanka, Afghanistan, Pakistan and at least a drawn series against India.
There is also the next T20 World Cup in Australia which has to be a must-win, even more so than this year.
Is Justin Langer up to the challenge?
I certainly hope so, but I have my doubts.
As my teachers used to write: “can do better”.