One of the most distressing aspects of the Justin-Langer-departs-as-coach saga has been all the primal screaming by his former teammates.
Legends of the game. Well, mostly.
Adam Gilchrist. Matthew Hayden. Steve Waugh. Mitchell Johnson. Mark Taylor. Mark Waugh. Ricky Ponting. Michael Clarke. Damien Martyn. Brett Lee. Brad Hogg. John Buchanan (He’s the ‘mostly’).
All having a go at Cricket Australia… and the current players.
Some of the criticism has been measured and thoughtful-ish, such as Ponting.
Some of it has been vicious and personal. Mitchell Johnson has described Pat Cummins as “gutless”. John Buchanan dubbed the players greedy and selfish. Michael Clarke is calling on Pat Cummins to come clean.
Shane Warne accused the players of covering up items from Sandpaper-gate and said the team weren’t good enough to sack their coach.
Mark Taylor warned, mafioso-like: “The players have to be careful in that regard that they don’t isolate the rest of us from jobs like this.”
Even cuddly Adam Gilchrist and normally-silent Steve Waugh are indignant.
Most of these men played alongside Langer. Buchanan coached him.
None played under him as national coach. None seem to acknowledge that fact.
The generation gap of Australian cricket has never seemed so stark.
And for the first time that generation of Australian cricketers – one of the greatest ever in history – seem a bit, well, old.
For them this is clearly personal. It’s touched a core in their psyches the way that, say, the pay dispute never did. Or the recent charges against Michael Slater.
On one hand I can understand it. Langer’s removal is not just traumatic because of the hurt inflicted on a close friend and former colleague, but an end to a personal connection to the Australian men’s side. Which means they’ve all become a little less relevant.
I’ve no doubt their feelings are sincere.
They do seem to have forgotten their own problems with coaches over the years (such as Warne), including their roles in removing incumbent coaches (such as Johnson, Steve Waugh, Taylor and Clarke), and complete indifference when previous coaches were moved on (such as pretty much all of them in the case of Mickey Arthur).
Generation gap amnesia is not new in Australian cricket.
Don Bradman once threatened to pull out of the Test side in 1932-33 because of financial reasons – then after he retired and served on the board, he became was a big believer in paying the players SFA, leading to World Series Cricket.
Greg Chappell was among the players who led the revolt of World Series Cricket for more pay, but once he retired has come to see current players as greedy and entitled (it’s in his latest book).
Mark Taylor threatened to lead a strike action of players for more pay… then once he retired and served on the board, he was part of the pay dispute where the board tried to overturn a system Taylor was integral in setting up.
Players who stood up for players rights when they were playing were deafeningly silent during the pay dispute.
‘Young kids need a kick up the backside… they’re lazy these days… it’s all about their phones… in my day.’
These are typical things said by old men. I guess they are old now. It just comes as a shock, especially as it doesn’t have to be that way.
You can stay young (or at least, not old) by trying to understand the young. It seems the more reasoned, calmer comments from ex-players on this issue have emitted from those who are still involved in coaching and/or junior cricket: Geoff Lawson and Jason Gillespie.
Ian Chappell has been supportive of Cummins but I think that’s mostly because he hates the concept of the coach full stop.
None of the rabid ex-players – even the ones who commentate, whose current job is meant to be offering insight into how cricketers feel – seem to have any empathy for the present-day team.
How come non-former-playing journalists know about the difficulties the players had with Langer but former cricketers like Ponting and Gilchrist didn’t?
Ricky Ponting, a very good commentator (he actually prepares, unlike several of his famous colleagues), said: “Reading the tea leaves, it sounds like a few, as he [Langer] would say to me, a very small group of the playing group and a couple of other staff around the team haven’t entirely loved the way he’s gone about it.”
Why couldn’t Ponting find out what’s going on? Why are they only getting Langer’s side of things? Do none of them have any relationship with the current players to get some sort of insight? Or do they just not care?
The ex-player mafia have a powerful voice, mainly because they clog up so many positions in the commentary box and provide so much easy content for the media via their thoughts on Twitter and Instagram.
I know Cricket Australia are going to make overtures to this group, especially the commentators, but I’m telling you now, the only way to shut them up is going to be (a) for the national team to win everything, which is very hard; (b) pay them all off with some in-house job; or (c) appoint Jason Gillespie as coach.
Out of the other leading contenders for the gig, Andrew McDonald only played four Tests and Trevor Bayliss none, which isn’t going to be enough to save them from mafia scorn if Australia has a few wobbles – just ask Mickey Arthur and Tim Nielsen.
Gillespie is super experienced with a fine record… so too is Bayliss and McDonald (and Greg Shipperd, probably the best domestic coach in Australia who never seems to be in the running for the top job for whatever reason), but I think the coaching staff need the protective flank of Gillespie’s record.
In 2018 I wrote a piece for The Roar objecting to Langer’s appointment saying “I think the whole thing is going to end badly”.
Well, it has. None more so than what’s happening with the ex-player lobby.