Justin Langer’s chances of securing a new contract as Australian coach seem to be super slim, so Cricket Australia should be throwing the bank at Ricky Ponting to take the reins.
Langer’s term is due to end after Australia’s three-Test tour of Pakistan in March. Judging by what’s being said and, perhaps more importantly, what’s not being said, the coach appears unlikely to remain at the helm.
It might get to a situation like his predecessor Darren Lehmann, where he opts out early rather than go through the motions in the final few months of his deal.
It has been well documented that Australia’s senior players were unhappy with Langer’s intense coaching style last summer; after a series of meetings – or if you want to use the modern parlance, honesty sessions – he has adopted a more mellow approach and delegated some of his responsibilities to be seen as less of a micro-manager.
This has helped Australia shock the cricketing world by winning the T20 World Cup in the UAE in November, and then obliterate England to wrap up the Ashes before the halfway mark of the middle Test in the five-match series.
CA executive general manager of national teams and high performance Ben Oliver spoke on Friday about Langer’s delicate contract situation, but did not shed much light on whether he would be retained.
In pretty much every professional sport, coaches who are this close to the end of their contract are either sacked or have no chance of being re-signed, and all parties play a polite dance around the proverbial elephant in the room.
That is what appeared to be the case when Oliver spoke on Friday, similar to captain Pat Cummins after the MCG Test: deflecting questions on the issue.
To be fair to Cummins, he was right when he said it wasn’t the time or place to be discussing Langer’s potential reappointment.
It’s easy to say he missed an opportunity to endorse his coach. But it’s true.
If Cummins and the senior players wanted Langer to stay, they would say so publicly.
Oliver said the players’ views would be heard by the CA powerbrokers when a call is made on the coaching position, as is always the case.
“Justin has done a great job. I think he’s really embraced the conversations that were had over the winter and he’s really evolved and leaned into that,” he said.
“We will work through that [contract situatuon] as we committed to prior to the start of this summer. We will work through that at the end of the Ashes.”
Oliver said CA was comfortable with the current structure, which features an array of specialist assistants supporting the head coach.
He did not close the door on the potential of splitting head coaches between the three formats and said they would ‘continue to monitor and evolve that as we need to into the future’, with the COVID-19 pandemic creating a packed schedule.
Australia is due to play an ODI series in New Zealand while the Test team is in Pakistan.
Assuming Langer is not renewed as coach, the ideal candidate to replace him is Ponting.
He’s easily the most astute cricketing mind in the country among former players, he’s had some experience coaching in the international arena, and is a relatively recent retiree, having called time on a glittering career less than a decade ago.
As he is coach of the Delhi Capitals in the IPL, it will take a hefty financial commitment from CA to get Ponting to take the role, if indeed he wants to commit to such an onerous gig.
It’s a tough issue for Ponting to expand upon too much at the moment given his loyalty to Langer during their many years together as teammates. He’s admitted recently that he was not sure whether he wanted to go back to the hectic travel schedule involved with being the Australian coach.
That should prompt CA to consider changing its coaching structure so Ponting is in charge of all three teams, but appoints someone to run at least one or two of the squads on a full-time basis so he does not have to spend pretty much every month on the calendar in a hands-on role.
Andrew McDonald and Michael Di Venuto have earned rave reviews from players for their work in the current national set-up, while the likes of Jason Gillespie, Trevor Bayliss, David Saker and Adam Voges are more than worthy candidates in and around state cricket who could step up.
Australian cricket is rarely not placed under great scrutiny; but with the stated aim of being No.1 in all three formats and a World T20 title defence on home soil in 2022, they can’t afford to settle for anything less than the best.
They must have Ponting.