Alex Malcolm is an Associate Editor at ESPNcricinfo
Australia limited-overs captain Aaron Finch has conceded reports of tensions coming from inside the dressing room regarding Justin Langer's coaching style are "disappointing" and "not a great look."
Langer has come under intense scrutiny in recent days following Australia's 4-1 T20I series defeat to Bangladesh which followed the same scoreline against West Indies. Finch was absent from the Bangladesh leg having flown home for knee surgery.
During the Bangladesh series, Australia team manager Gavin Dovey was involved in a heated exchange with Cricket Australia's digital journalist who was inside the Australian team's bio-bubble as part of the touring party. Langer, a close confidant of Dovey's, spoke briefly but firmly to the journalist in the immediate aftermath before the pair cleared the air the following day.
The incident, first reported in the Age, has sparked further debate about Langer's coaching style. Finch was asked about the tension around Langer's position and cited the team's recent poor form as partly to blame.
"There's always tension when results don't go your way in all sports," Finch said on SEN radio. "Wins and losses are what count. I think anytime that doesn't happen, that all gets amplified. It's just one of those things. It's disappointing that things are coming to the front the way that they are, that's never ideal. It's just one of those things that keeps popping up, which is disappointing."
Langer had led Australia to No. 1 in both the ICC Test and T20I rankings in May 2020 after just two years in the job. But since then Australia have lost five T20I series in a row, one of which was coached by senior assistant Andrew McDonald, and lost a home Test series to India to miss out on the World Test Championship final.
Reports regarding tensions between Langer and the playing group emerged following the loss to India at the Gabba. Those tensions were followed up in a wider post series review conducted by leadership consultant Tim Ford. Langer took on board the feedback and addressed the team at the pre-tour camp prior to the West Indies and Bangladesh tour.
"The camp we had on the Gold Coast, to go through our culture and values and things like that, especially from a playing group, was really important, and one that I think players got a lot out of," Finch said. "But when things are being leaked out from inside, that's not a great look."
All of this has emerged as Langer and new national selector George Bailey finalise Australia's T20 World Cup squad this week. Australia are set to welcome back David Warner, Pat Cummins, Steven Smith, and Glenn Maxwell who all missed the tours of the Caribbean and Bangladesh.
Finch believes Australia's full-strength squad can win the title despite their recent form.
"Absolutely," Finch said. "I've got no doubt that our best is as good as or better than anyone in the world. There's a lot of experience there. There's firepower, there's class. I think that our best team covers all bases. And that's what I'm really excited about."
Australia have not played a T20I with all their best available players to choose from since September 2020 against England. They may only get two practice matches ahead of the World Cup to prepare, with some players set to play in the IPL while domestic cricket in Australia remains in limbo due to heavy Covid-19 restrictions in New South Wales and Victoria, but Finch does not believe a lack of recent cricket together will affect his group.
"I think with the way the side will most likely structure up, when you bring back Warner, Maxwell, Smith, we've played together a lot over the last eight years," he said. "I'm not too bothered about that. I think guys who are going to the IPL are going to have that opportunity to prepare in Dubai and Abu Dhabi. I think the continuity of selection won't play as big a part purely because we've played a lot of cricket together."
Finch is confident he will be fit for the opening practice matches despite having knee surgery to repair cartilage damage just five days ago.
"It's looking on track," Finch said. "Obviously it's hard to know until you get deep into your rehab but at this stage it's just about trying to ice it and get as much swelling down as possible. That's coming down. I'm walking around fine. There's no pain. At this stage everything is looking really positive and having a little bit of time up my sleeve at the back end will be really important.
"The plan is to be batting in four weeks and fully running and in full training in six to seven weeks. From the day of surgery it was 10-and-a-half weeks to that first World Cup game. That's still really positive."