After the Test series loss against India, Justin Langer’s coaching style has come under scrutiny. Sources close to the team told The Sydney Morning Herald that the Australia head coach’s “headmaster-like” style of management “wore thin” with players. According to the report, Langer’s intensity and mood swings have drained experienced players, who have spent months on end in either quarantine or bio-bubbles.
The reality sandwich
According to the report, during the final Test in Brisbane, Langer ordered a player to stop habitually stuffing a toasted sandwich in his pocket before walking onto the field.
“You’re walking on against India, we’re trying to win a Test match and one of our players walks on with a toasted sandwich in his hand,” Langer — whose contract as a three-format coach and selector lasts another 18 months — was quoted as saying. “I spoke to (the player) about it at length yesterday. I said, ‘How do you reckon it looks, mate?’ Is that not something I should say?”
SMH also reports that some senior players are frustrated by the micro-management, with Langer bombarding bowlers with statistics and instructions during lunch breaks.
Langer denied the accusation: “It’s actually the opposite of what happens. I never talk about statistics to the bowlers, ever. I don’t go to any of the bowlers’ meetings. That’s what the bowlers’ coach is meant to be doing. And the learnings of the last few months are I should start looking at that more.”
On Friday, Langer said any suggestion of deteriorating relationships with players “couldn’t be further from the truth” but added, “leadership isn’t a popularity contest”.
“If players just want someone to tickle their stomachs all the time then I’m not doing my job.”
Not the first time
A previous confrontation between Langer and his players over his coaching style — after Australia failed to regain the Border-Gavaskar trophy two years ago — was a prominent theme of the Amazon-produced documentary The Test: A New Era for Australia’s Team’.
The coach was given a stern message during a team meeting after the 2018 Boxing Day Test drubbing. Captain Tim Paine wanted Langer to be more positive and batsman Usman Khawaja asked him to not make things “too complicated”.
“We can’t always control the result. You get better as individuals, players, staff, everyone, be in better control of that emotion, be more level-headed, without trying to make it too complicated,” Khawaja was seen saying. “I think that’s what the boys are trying to say. Does that make sense? If it doesn’t then…”
When asked where the message was coming from by Langer, Khawaja replied: “Um, I think the boys are intimidated by you, Alf. I think there’s a bit of the walking-on-eggshells sort of thing. I feel like I think the boys are afraid to say it.”
An old New Year’s Resolution
After the 2-1 defeat in 2018-19, Langer resolved to be more mellow for the ODI series in India. Changing his approach, he allowed players to take more control over the training. The team came back from a 0-2 deficit to win a five-match series.
“(The Test series loss to India) was a massive wake-up call and a really tough time in my life,” Langer said on a podcast. “I’ve got no doubt in 10 years’ time, I will look back on that period and it will be the making of my coaching career.”
After the 1-wicket defeat in Leeds during the Ashes, Langer waited a day before conducting a post-mortem to avoid an emotionally-charged feedback session. Australia struck back to win at Old Trafford and, while they lost at The Oval, managed to retain the Ashes.
All seemed well last year. In October, after the opening round of Sheffield Shield matches was dominated by fringe players, Langer called it a tell-tale sign of a glorious era when “it’s harder to get into the Test side than out”.
Then India came visiting again…