There are few cricketers in the history of game who could genuinely boast to be on the same level of toughness and grit as Justin Langer.
The former Australia and Western Australia opener, a stocky left-hander with an insatiable appetite for carving out big scores has now been named as the replacement for Darren Lehmann as coach of the Australian cricket team.
Lehmann opted to resign from his post in the wake of the ball-tampering scandal which engulfed the team and management during Australia’s tour of South Africa. Amid tears and plenty of emotion, Lehmann confirmed he would be added to the list of casualties to come out of the mess.
The presumptive option
From the moment Lehmann confirmed he would step away, the assumption was the Justin Langer would be the man Cricket Australia turned to. Not only was Langer a tough, hard-to-crack batsman famous for his strong mental approach to the game and life itself, he had also put together an impressive resume as a coach in Western Australia with the Warriors and Perth Scorchers.
With Langer the ready-made replacement, there was a small school of thought that Cricket Australia may not cast a wide net in trying to find not only the right man to lead the team as cricketers, but to be a major part in a cultural revolution that was first mooted under the leadership of Mickey Arthur.Arthur, quick to speak up about what he perceived as serious cultural deficiencies within the Cricket Australia setup in the wake of the ball-tampering scandal, left his post with Australia suggesting the ‘boys club’ approach was starting to wear thin and that CA would need to undertake a root and branch reform in order to sustain success on the field and fit into a more modern, acceptably run model off it.
No longer, Arthur appeared to suggest, could Australia continue to stick rigidly to the ideals of a past era, where mental disintegration and an air of cocky bravado could be laid on by successful playing groups.
No, Australia needed to come to grips with a seismic shift across much of society. The game needed to conform to the new societal norms. And, honestly, in many ways, it had.
Strong cultural shift
Cricket Australia’s investment in the Women’s Big Bash League (WBBL) and the Southern Stars had been a market-leading approach. Stars of the women’s game were slowly but surely being built as marketable assets, much in the same way we’d seen Brett Lee spruiking Weet-Bix or Michael Clarke shelling whatever it was he shelled.
That said, one rather important section remained off-limits to the more PC Cricket Australia. The dressing room. The men’s first XI. The Test team.Here, the old ways still ruled, tradition remained king and the idea that Australia were better by virtue of talent and birthright. Being Australian meant the side was not only meant to be the best on the field, but were also the moral arbiters of the game, always willing to stand up for the good of the game to those spot-fixing Pakistanis or rather crude South Africans who went beyond the field of play and into marriages looking for an edge.
That feeling of moral superiority went out the window with the now infamous ball-tampering scandal and any credibility Australia could lay claim to as the moral compass of cricket is ancient history, along with, it seems a competitive Test unit on foreign soil.
Without Steve Smith, David Warner and Cameron Bancroft, even being a competitive Test unit on home soil might be a stretch.
The job ahead of Langer
What isn’t such a stretch is imagining someone like Justin Langer being at the heart of a genuine shift in culture and attitude. Langer famously played the game TOUGH BUT FAIR. In a side sometimes accused of stepping ever so slightly over the line in pursuit of success, Langer was the sort of cool head who preferred to simply play the game, win and enjoy a quiet beverage at the end of the day.That’s not to say Langer was soft or averse to conflict on the field. He was most certainly never one to back down from a challenge, but of all the characters and egos in the side over the last few decades, Langer definitely comes in as a more introspective and analytical player than a boorish, beers-willing Neanderthal interested only in bashing and beating the opposition into submission.
The rebuilding of an Australian institution both on and off the field will take plenty of time, but more importantly, it will take the sort of character tough enough to withstand the rigours and challenges and manage to instill a better approach.
Hopefully, that character is Justin Langer.
Is Justin Langer the right man to lead the Australian cricket team? Let us know in the comments and poll below.