Australia’s Test coach Justin Langer has faced the media for the first time since the Tim Paine scandal sent his Ashes plans into disarray and promised his team was focussed ahead of Wednesday’s day one at the Gabba.
Langer flew to see Paine this week after clearing quarantine following his successful foray to the T20 World Cup.
Paine’s state of mind and potential future were among the topics as Langer fronted the media in Brisbane.
He also talked about the pressure he was under, how Pat Cummins would handle the captaincy with helpf from Steve Smith and David Warner – and the impact he expects from Ben Stokes.
Here’s what he had to say
On if he had the 11 ready for the first Test
Langer was asked if Usman Khawaja would play on Wednesday and he responded “he’s in the 13.”
Asked how tough it was to choose Alex Carey over Josh Inglis as wicketkeeper, he replied: “The reality is that the hardest part of the job is selecting an Australian Test XI.
“What I’ve learned is for the first two years I took quite personally because you can’t win. Because if I had have picked you I should have picked you.
“There’s 20 million Australians who have an opinion on the Test team. There’s a lot data now. There’s a lot of discussion, there’s a lot of really great cricket wisdom around and they’re always tough decisions.
“But we do our due diligence. We don’t always get it right. And we might get it wrong every time but we pick what we think’s best. When it comes to the 11, I’m not being a smart alec, it’s just that I don’t want to give away all of our secrets.
“We’ve been so organised and have had our squad available for a long time. We’ll leave a few secrets for England, but we’re pretty settled in who the 11 will be.
“That’s all part of the theatre and drama of leading up to the first Test. You guys can keep guessing, the people in the pubs can keep guessing. That’s a nice part of being in the Australian cricket team.”
Langer added he was excited to have Alex Carey come in as wicketkeeper.
“He’s a fantastic young bloke, done a great apprenticeship,” said Langer. “I thought his press conference, the words he spoke the other day, were just exemplary and a great example of what he’s like as a person. So I’m really looking to having him in the Test team.”
On Tim Paine’s condition after the sexting scandal and why he visited him.
“I’m very sad for what’s happened,” Langer said. “He’s one of my really close friends and someone who I admire enormously.
“In this generation of players that I didn’t play with he’s one of the best people I’ve met in the game of cricket.
“He’s been our captain for a long time and he and I have been through a journey like we have with all this group.
“You’d have to ask him how he’s going. I think when I saw him, he’s obviously shattered with what’s happened, because he’s been such an exemplary figure in Australian cricket for the last four years, particularly.
“His life’s changed, obviously. All I know is it was important to go see him. We talk about looking after our boys and having each other’s backs. And it was a no brainer for me to go see him.”
Langer was asked if he expected Paine, who has taken an indefinite break from the game to deal with his mental stress in the aftermath of public revelations of his lewd texts to a former Cricket Tasmania staffer, would return to playing.
“He absolutely loves cricket,” said Langer. “While he’s 37 [on December 8] he is as fit as any athlete, certainly in our squad and we’ve got some fit athletes here. He looks after himself so well.
“He’s very focused. So who knows – his number one priority at the moment is his family as you can imagine, and that’s how it should be. I’m not sure we’ve seen the end of him. But we’ll wait and see – that will be his decision.”
There have been suggestions that Paine’s predicament, and the change of captaincy, would distract Langer’s team.
“Not in this Test match or this series,” he said. “We made a commitment six months ago to be very mission focused and to have real clarity with everyone’s roles in the team, whether it’s the players and the staff we were mission focused on the World Cup and then the Ashes.
“The World Cup has been accomplished and there were distractions then but if you stay mission focused, then you haven’t got time to be focused on anything else other than winning.
“When we get a chance everyone will catch up with Painey and keep paying him the respect he deserves.”
On Pat Cummins’ captaincy and the role of other leaders
“I think the role of Steve Smith will become very important on the field,” Langer said, while also talking up the importance of David Warner, who is unable to hold an official leadership role.
“In this day and age there’s so much data, you’re so well prepared. England will be incredibly well prepared for us and we’ll be incredibly well prepared for England.
“Pat will get all the gold nuggets and he’s got lots of support around him. Steve Smith is his vice-captain, Dave Warner’s got as good a cricket brain in the game, Alex Carey has been a captain before now he’s behind the stumps.
“He’s got his three best mates there, the bowlers and they’ll have a view on it. He’ll be fine strategically I think.
“It will just be maintaining the balance of everything else that goes with his bowling load, captaining and the other commitments that come with it. We’ll keep an eye on that. He’s got massive upside, Pat Cummins – there’s your headline.
“He’s got massive upside as a leader and a captain of Australian cricket. He’s a outstanding person, as we know is an elite player, a world class player.”
On the pressure Langer was under after reports of disharmony before the World Cup
“In this business you learn to grow and evolve,” Langer said. “It’s a tough busioness and I’ve been in it for 30 years.
“You’re always under the spotlight. We live in a world of perfectionsim. We’re a very judgmental society. As I said, when I had my very first press conference – I was asked about Steve Smith and David Warner and Cameron Bancroft – ‘there’s not one person asking questions or watching this who hasn’t made a mistake in their life’. Not a single person.
“Our captain, one of the best, made a mistake and he’s paying a heavy price for it. And what I continually see in this job and I see in this society we live in is it can be brutal and you learn your lessons but we live in an unforgiving society and that’s a real shame.”
On Ben Stokes’ call up
“He’s a great cricketer. No doubt about that,” said Langer.
“We still have nightmares about his innings in the third Test [last time out in England]. I probably have more nightmares about his his spells on day three of that game. He’s an unbelievable athlete. He’s a great competitor.
“And it’s great for the game of cricket that Ben Stokes is playing Ashes cricket. It’s an Australian summer and it probably wouldn’t be the same without the best players playing. So it’s really nice to see. Hopefully his health is good. And we welcome him out here. Because he’s one of the superstars of the game.”