The last few weeks have seen Justin Langer under more pressure than ever before in his tenure as coach of the Australian men’s cricket team. The most recent controversy to surface has been his furious reaction to being paid half of the sum his players received for the Amazon documentary The Test. The degree of publicity for his behind-the-scenes meltdowns seems indicative of a dramatic loss of popularity within the dressing room.
That news came after word of Langer and team manager Gavin Dovey publicly scolding a CA digital reporter for posting a video of Bangladesh’s celebrations after winning their T20 series with Australia. Earlier this year, it was reported that senior players were finding Langer’s intensity and lack of composure overbearing. A review concluded that Langer was to change his ways or, implicitly, fail to see through his contract until 2022.
If The Test is anything to go by, Langer is a hugely intense individual. When Aaron Finch failed to review an incorrect decision and walk, he was screamed at by his coach. Asked why he didn’t review, he replied sheepishly by saying he thought he was out. It seemed a strange attitude to take towards something that needed little more discussion.
This approach was clearly an issue before COVID took hold, demonstrated chiefly by the somewhat resentful relationship between the coach and Usman Khawaja. Langer’s wild mood swings during that famous India series at the end of 2020 seemed to be the tipping point, with senior players actively complaining about his management techniques. An unhealthy environment developed in which Australia’s players felt unable to confide in Langer, instead speaking to his more approachable assistant Andrew McDonald.
After the toxicity of Australia’s disastrous tour of Bangladesh, a T20 World Cup and an Ashes involving strict quarantine regulations and the living of life within bio-secure bubbles seem distressing prospects under Langer’s watch. We have witnessed the often overwhelming nature of professional sport with COVID-enforced conditions, most recently with the withdrawal of Ben Stokes from England’s Test squad, and combining such with Langer’s ‘toughen up’ mentality and relentless scratching around for motivational quotes could be dangerous.
Australia hired Langer as an antidote to the nation’s loss of trust in their cricket team following ‘Sandpapergate’ in 2018. He did so effectively and continues to speak well in front of the press, but we have seen over this past month that efficient optics do not necessarily reflect a happy changing room. If results do not go Australia’s way over the next five months, we could see the second implosion of their cricketing institution in under four years, the fuse lit by Langer’s combustible character.