Cricket Justin Langer’s future as Australian cricket coach remains as complicated as his reign

Cricket Justin Langer’s future as Australian cricket coach remains as complicated as his reign

Cricket

Justin Langer beamed as he strolled across Bellerive Oval, floodlights illuminating another stunning Ashes triumph for his Australia Test team.

He embraced each and every one of his players, from Pat Cummins and David Warner to Scott Boland and Alex Carey, and was received just as warmly by them all.

Together, they had systematically dismantled England to complete a 4-0 series win, with two of those wins coming within three days’ play.

Weeks earlier, Langer had led the T20 team to their maiden World Cup victory. Weeks later, he would be inducted into the Australian Cricket Hall of Fame.

To someone whose interest in cricket is purely seasonal, Australia’s men’s coach appears on top of the world and on top of his game.

In truth, he’s fighting for his job.

cricket Justin Langer smiles and gives the peace sign to the camera

Justin Langer took a step back in responsibilities after a meeting with players last year.(Getty Images: David Pockett)

Langer’s contract is up in June and his future in the role remains uncertain, muddied even further by reporting this week.

From Fox Sports and the Sydney Morning Herald emerged details of a “fiery” meeting between Langer, Cricket Australia chief Nick Hockley and high performance manager Ben Oliver, in which Langer had a “meltdown” over suggestions he would effectively have to reapply for his own job at contract’s end.

Cricket Australia swiftly moved to dismiss those reports on Tuesday, saying “we reject outright the assertion that the meeting was fiery or heated and that Justin was asked to reapply for his job”.

Other, more-cautious reporting has suggested Langer has baulked at the offer of a shorter contract.

Whatever the truth of situation — the ABC understands Cricket Australia will hold another board meeting on Friday, but are in no rush to make a decision on the coaching position — this latest drama serves only as the latest chapter in Langer’s increasingly turbulent reign.

Rewind to last August, and there were significant doubts he would be in charge for the home summer after a quasi-intervention was staged by key Australian players, including then-captain Tim Paine and future-captain Cummins.

cricket Australia men's cricket coach Justin Langer and player Usman Khawaja walk around Manuka Oval in their warm-up gear.

Justin Langer and Usman Khawaja’s relationship is said to have been fraught.(Getty Images: Ryan Pierse)

Langer, it was said, had grown increasingly grizzly in the team environment with his infamous intensity occasionally spilling over into aggressive outbursts.

The atmosphere in camp was frosty enough to force players to intervene and, as a result, Langer changed his approach and took a step back.

Langer’s backers will say his altered outlook was the catalyst for the team’s incredible success since, just as his many doubters will point to his faded influence as proof he was the problem all along.

The current clarity vacuum has left us hanging on the every word of players, past and present, waiting to see if they will nail their colours to Langer’s mast like endorsements in a presidential race.

In Langer’s corner is the core of the Australian team from the 90’s and 00’s that he helped make great — Steve Waugh, Adam Gilchrist, Shane Warne and Ricky Ponting — all of whom have backed him for another term.

cricket Ricky Ponting and Justin Langer, wearing casual clothes, smile and chat in the middle of the field

Ricky Ponting is one of many ex-players to come out in support of Justin Langer.(Getty Images: Mark Owen)

But support from within the current playing squad has been conspicuously thin.

Cummins elevated his public stance from complete ambivalence to the situation to “he’s been fantastic for us and the boys love having him around” after the Ashes had been run and won.

Acknowledgement of the job he has done and the man he is, perhaps, but well short of unmitigated support for the future.

Langer took over as coach of Australia after Darren Lehmann fell on his sword after the Cape Town ball-tampering saga, tasked with rebuilding the team’s public image and improving its standards on the field.

He has succeeded at both of those tasks. The Australian team that just retained the Ashes did so with cricket both tough and fair, in a series noteworthy for the good spirit in which it was played.

Langer was the ideal man to remind this squad when it was at its lowest ebb what playing Test cricket for Australia means — few have ever bought in more passionately to the symbolic power of the Baggy Green — and then teach it how to forge the harder edge required for victory.

The question now facing Cricket Australia is whether Langer is the ideal man for what comes next.

The post-Cape Town era is behind us, and Australia’s future lies in the likes of Captain Cummins, Marnus Labuschagne and Cameron Green.

cricket Justin Langer, with cap on backwards, sits on the grass and chats with Cameron Green

Justin Langer will need to adapt to a fresh and younger group if he is to stay on.(Getty Images: Robert Cianflone)

That team will need to forge its own identity, and begin to experience the hardships of international tours after two years largely hidden at home.

This, then, feels like the start of a new journey, regardless of who is charge.

Every team in any sport needs frequent regeneration to remain successful at an elite level, but there are many ways to achieve that.

Cricket Australia is now tasked with determining whether Langer is capable of that renewal within himself, or if now is the time to hand over to someone like Andrew McDonald, a popular member of Langer’s current coaching set up.

As ever with Justin Langer, it’s complicated.

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