After week of stress, Australia might only have papered over the cracks

Justin Langer was the right coach for Australia after the ball-tampering scandal. But is he still the right man for the job?

Andrew McGlashan
Andrew McGlashan
If the walls of the Adelaide hotel where the Australians are currently in quarantine could talk, they would have some stories to tell about the last week.
Things have been tense in the men's team for some time (remember Marnus Labuschagne's toasted sandwich?) largely because they haven't been winning, and it has been heightened by the bio-bubble and quarantine life that is currently part of international cricket.
Having returned home from a tour that finished with them bowled out for 62, an argument with an in-house journalist, which did not initially stem from Justin Langer, became public and things took off from there. Details from the inner circle (Langer didn't want players on the microphone in a T20I) were used to emphasise the coach's intense character. The CEO intervened with a statement of support (good job this isn't football). Emergency phone calls and Zoom meetings took place between the top executives and the captains. Former team-mates of Langer came out in his support; Matthew Hayden went at it with the same force with which he used to take down opening bowlers. Aaron Finch stopped short of a full endorsement, but Tim Paine spoke in a way that suggested some heads had been banged together. It was exhausting.
For a moment in midweek, there was a feeling it may have reached the point of no return, but by Friday, things had stepped back from the brink. The quarantine period of those in Adelaide ends on Tuesday and people can return home and take a deep breath - although for some it will be straight back into lockdowns.
None of the comments in recent days attempting to dampen tensions have talked about Langer's contract beyond its expiry next May. It could have got to the situation where success complicates the matter unless relationships really can be repaired.
Amid all this, Australia's T20 World Cup squad was named. The same issues remain, but it's as strong as it could be with an infusion of excitement around Josh Inglis' call-up. Whether team spirit can be repaired in time remains to be seen but having the best players available again is at least a start.
The crux of the argument is around whether Langer's strengths have also become his weakness (a bit like a batter who has a great cover drive but keeps nicking behind). He cares deeply. Almost every piece has referenced the respect he is held in for what he achieved as a player. He was the type of coach Australia needed in 2018 after the ball-tampering scandal, but is he the right coach now?
Writing in The Times, Mike Atherton gave one of the more balanced assessments and drew comparisons with the end of the Andy Flower era for England. "It may be that these types of coaches - Eddie Jones in rugby would be similar - have a certain shelf life, because of the intensity of the atmosphere they generate and the high standards they demand," he wrote. "The opposite would be a coach who tries to create a clubbable environment by doing very little, in which players are happy and feel free to express themselves. It may be that a certain type of coach fits a team at a certain stage of their development, or that the best coaches are able to wax and wane according to their team's needs."
He also cautioned that Australia "should be careful what they wish for" when it comes to change.
It may be over-simplifying things, but if Paine had held his catches on the final day at the SCG or Australia had bowled India out at the Gabba, it's unlikely this situation would have taken place. Or even just bowling the overs quicker in Melbourne. They would not have lost the series, would probably have won and have reached the World Test Championship final. It's a philosophical debate - one of cricket's chicken or egg moments - whether winning breeds a happy dressing room or vice versa, but if this is being forced by player power, they aren't exactly coming at it with a handful of aces.
These sorts of issues in a team never happen at a good time, but this is really the last thing Cricket Australia needs to be dealing with right now. They are facing significant challenges to get the season played as scheduled because of Covid-19, certainly this side of Christmas, beginning next month with the visit of the India women's side. Tensions have grown over how the men's Ashes series will work. You can imagine what Nick Hockley's inbox looks like right now.
The concern will be whether the last 48 hours have just been an effort in papering over cracks to avoid massive upheaval on the eve of a new season. There is a lot of high-pressure cricket in the coming months, although on England's current form they may not provide much of a challenge in the Ashes. However, even that may not be a good thing. None of the comments in recent days attempting to dampen tensions have talked about Langer's contract beyond its expiry next May. It could have got to the situation where success complicates the matter unless relationships really can be repaired.

Andrew McGlashan is a deputy editor at ESPNcricinfo