AAnd so Justin Langer’s grievance tour continues. A lengthy podcast interview turning into an online article and back pages across the News Corp stable, revisiting for the umpteenth time that the former Australian cricket manager is still not happy his tenure has ended he nine months ago. It looks like Gabba’s test in 2015, when retired bowler Ryan Harris got a victory lap on the back of a ute while half the stadium was closed. To date, Langer’s circuit has gone far too long, leaving a lone figure waving from empty seats.
In February, his resignation letter said others wanted new leadership and that “I respect that decision.” In May, it was clear that – spoiler – he didn’t respect that decision. He spoke at Western Australia’s Government House in a gruff concrete lamenting his absence, then slammed Cricket Australia in a speech to the WA Chamber of Commerce. Before and after the resignation, his former teammates were his allies, with everyone from Ricky Ponting and Shane Warne in the ranks using their media jobs in a campaign that went from reappointment to disappointment.
Now comes this episode. Langer may say he was just answering questions, but he chose to give an interview in which those questions were unavoidable. He must have known that a coach shooting his former players would make headlines. “A lot of journalists use the word source. I would say change that word to coward,” ran his most telling line, the phrasing of which suggested he had already considered it.
It perpetuates a complex relationship between Langer and the media. As a coach, he often spoke of the pressure of control, sometimes as a badge of honor, other times as a cause of conflict. Anyway, he paid close attention to what was said. At one point in India’s lost streak in 2020/21, he asked the players not to read anything written about them, then get mad at the cover and pass it on to them himself. He could contact the writers with a generous response if he enjoyed an article, and could also inform them earnestly if he was unhappy with it. Now unemployed, the media is a means of settling scores.
The lingering grudge is that the players shared their displeasure anonymously with reporters. Just at a glance – who would like that? But consider the alternative. The players had told CA there was a problem and they were being ignored. Langer was publicly popular and therefore had the full support of the board. Expecting individual players to tell the most influential coach and manager that he was too difficult to work with is not fair. Players had their own careers at stake.
And why put your head above the parapet when the media will talk about the individual rather than the problem? Watch how Langer’s interview shed light on Test and captain for a day Pat Cummins this week, even though his coaching job has come to an end under white ball captain Aaron Finch and captain of the Tim Paine test. Already a target of the whim fringe for mentioning climate change could be an issue, Cummins is now being blamed by those pundits for firing the coach after six weeks on his own job, while Langer has been embraced as a famous right-wing cause. .
Aside from the bluster of old squawks who think corporal punishment made them the men they are today, nothing that happened is surprising. Langer was employed in 2018 as a tough main contractor when the Australian men’s team were in a state of humiliation. His playing era was one where hierarchy reigned and lessons were handed out on the basis that the harder the better. Even allowing for mayonnaise, one of his after-dinner stories involves being an assistant at Rod Marsh’s academy and watching the supremo choose a young player each day to give him a one-on-one. head, before finding great amusement in their fright. A Disciplinary may have been useful internationally for a while, but soon had to move on to something else.
As early as 2019, in the Amazon documentary Langer adored, hitter Usman Khawaja told him his players find him too intimidating to disagree. Journalist Malcolm Conn worked as the team’s media manager. “I learned very quickly to stay away from Justin Langer because you didn’t know if you were going to get a response or an outburst,” he later said. “I can completely understand where the players came from.” By the India Series 18 months later, with CA fingers in CA ears, speaking to the press was the only means of traction.
Even if a player had faced Langer, he would not have been given a receptive reception. In July 2021, the players’ concerns were expressed jointly and Finch emerged from the meeting upbeat saying the coach had considered everything. At his own press conference, Langer refuted this, saying there was nothing wrong with his style and he would carry on as he always had. A lost tour in Bangladesh was followed by more reviews and highs, led by Finch and Paine. Finally acknowledging the crisis point, Langer agreed to changes that saw the team through the T20 and Ashes World Cup. But patched repairs rarely last long. CA knew there wouldn’t be a long-term offer, Langer thought there should be, and the directors let the situation drag on for weeks after the Ashes.
Langer has every right to be annoyed by this, and the six-month contract extension offered as a tactical ploy, with CA confident he would never agree to a short-term contract and that would technically prevent them from firing him. Still, he could have confused everyone by accepting it and turning it into a positive, using the finish line of a home World Cup to bring the team behind him. Even players wishing to switch scenes could have handled this.
But Langer couldn’t, and so must continue to dwell on the perceived injustice. His other grievance is that he did what he was told, changed his style, won big trophies and went unrewarded. But of course, he obviously hasn’t changed, as evidenced by his behavior since then. Cummins as the team’s spokesman just after the resignation was prescient: “The question after the success of the past two months has become ‘Do we think it’s sustainable? The way he has rattled off his complaints since then shows no deep emotional breakthrough.
There is no apparent willingness to see the other point of view, no awareness of smearing his own reputation, and no sense that he is being used as a proxy by bad faith opportunists in a culture war. For someone who is known first and foremost as a fierce patriot, smug green sidekick, flag-kicker and song-keeper, there’s seemingly no awareness that he’s punching holes in the current team every blast. In the end, the personal trumps the political. With TV commentary and speaking engagements, the upcoming summer will have plenty of room for Justin Langer. For him and for ours, let’s hope he finds something new to tell.