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David Saker's resignation lays bare Australia's coaching tensions

David Saker speaks to the media Getty Images

Tensions within the Australian team have been laid bare by the assistant coach David Saker's decision to resign his post effective immediately, leaving the head coach Justin Langer and interim team performance chief Belinda Clark to search for a new pace-bowling coach a matter of months from the World Cup and the Ashes.

Troy Cooley, the National Cricket Centre coach and former England and Australia bowling coach, will fill the role on an interim basis for the limited overs tours of India and the UAE against Pakistan that will serve as preparation for the World Cup, leaving open the question of who will best slot into the Langer regime after a season in which the head coach has, by his own admission, learned a great deal about the pressured realities of the job

Saker, who had been part of the Australian set-up since 2016, had stayed on alongside Graeme Hick and Brad Haddin as assistant coaches in the wake of Darren Lehmann's resignation following the Newlands ball tampering scandal. After initial indications that Langer may choose his own support team the trio stayed on throughout the home summer, either side of the chief executive Kevin Roberts' decision to remove the head of team performance Pat Howard, who had hired Lehmann, Saker, Haddin, Hick and Langer in the first place.

However, it has not always been a happy marriage, in particular during the Sydney Test when Australia's pace bowlers and the captain Tim Paine had an on-field disagreement as to how to bowl to India on the first morning. Langer was unhappy with this state of affairs, leaving Saker to deliver an out-of-character spray to Mitchell Starc, Josh Hazlewood and Pat Cummins before saying publicly that he had done so.

Later, during the final Test of the summer against Sri Lanka in Canberra, Starc made it plain that he was now following the instructions of the New South Wales bowling coach Andre Adams rather than Saker, and Langer said Saker had indicated his intention to resign the day after the series ended, though he is believed to have made his unhappiness known for some months.

"[There were] numerous reasons. We shook hands and had a hug the day after the Test match and just realised," Langer said in Perth. "He's got a young family, he's been on this circuit for some time now and we just realised it was the right time for him to step away. Starting to realise it is very hectic that and just the right time with the World Cup and the Ashes you've got to have your heart 100% in it, if it's not it's too hard a business, so we shook hands, had a hug and now we'll find the next replacement for him.

"He and I have had a lot of conversations over the last six to nine months so it's not really a surprise to be honest. In a perfect world it would be cleaner, but the world's not always clean and works exactly how you want it to work. We'll look at this for the World Cup and the Ashes and then beyond. We've got to get the right person, whether a selector or coach or whoever comes into the team. It's going to be quite an exciting time."

Saker's unvarnished views about the way things had played out on the opening day in Sydney included the strong intimation that Langer had been equally unhappy with the bowlers' work. "I think the bowlers wanted one thing, Tim wanted one thing," Saker told ABC Radio on the second morning. "That's not been the case as the general rule but when you were watching from the sideline you could see there was some confusion.

"Last night we talked quite heavily about the day, more because we thought it was a really disappointing day and we just wanted to get our point across. Some of it was quite aggressive and that's not like me usually. I was quite animated, and I know I was not the only one. JL wasn't happy. The bowlers know that."

Starc, meanwhile, had gone through a season of struggle where he had worked at length with Saker on trying to get the ball swinging as consistently as possible, before breaking away from that approach to concentrate simply on bowling as fast as possible. "Before the Sri Lanka series, I had a really nice session with Andre Adams who is at New South Wales," Starc said. "And talking to a few people quite close to me who I have worked with over recent years.

"Putting the rest of the coaching and the other 450 coaches I've had over the past three weeks to the side and going back to know what I know best. I am my own best coach and I know what's best for me. I've done a bit of work throughout the year with Andre at and it was great to talk to him about getting that feeling back."

Langer said that the complexities of his job were becoming clearer to him by the day. "There's great scrutiny and after being in the business so long, if I've felt it a bit at times this summer I can only imagine what the younger players feel," he said. "It's not just teaching them about the skills of the game but also how to deal with the distractions is a really big part of it.

"They've always been there and I think that the great players and the champions of the game learn to deal with distractions but I'm getting smarter and wiser by the day I reckon. We've got to keep trusting our instincts, trusting our experience, in a lot of cases we've got a lot more experience and understanding of what's going on than I'd say 99.9% of the population.

"I've been living it for 25 years, probably longer, Greg Chappell and Trevor Hohns have been living it for a very long time and we live it every single day, so there's lots of different opinions, that's okay, but if I was swayed by all those opinions I'd probably go crazy."