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Comment

Cricket Australia can't kick the Justin Langer can any further down the road

Friday seems like a decision day at a CA board meeting for Australia coach, whose current deal expires in June

Alex Malcolm
Alex Malcolm
02-Feb-2022
Under Justin Langer, Australia have retained the Ashes twice, as well as won the T20 World Cup for the first time  •  CA/Cricket Australia/Getty Images

Under Justin Langer, Australia have retained the Ashes twice, as well as won the T20 World Cup for the first time  •  CA/Cricket Australia/Getty Images

It has been 17 days since the men's Ashes finished, nearly two-and-a-half weeks since Cricket Australia (CA) arrived at the can they had kicked down the road in August last year regarding Justin Langer's contract, when a stand-off with the players almost reached the point of no return.
CA had never wavered from their statement that Langer would see out his current deal which expires in June, and discussions on what happens next would not begin until after the conclusion of the T20 World Cup and the Ashes. The time has come though, and the signs are that there will not be a simple outcome.
Since the Hobart Test, it appears that very little has been achieved in discussions between Langer, CA CEO Nick Hockley and head of national teams Ben Oliver. The fact that CA felt the need to issue a statement around a media report of a meeting between the trio last Friday did not suggest a situation entirely under control.
Now, the coming Friday is looming as decision day at a CA board meeting, which also has the agenda item of deciding on a new permanent chairman after Earl Eddings' resignation last year.
Why and how CA got here is complicated, and there are a lot of people within Australian cricket seeking clarity. It has been torturous for Langer too, who is currently away from his family due to Western Australia's hard border restrictions, and has nearly reached the end of his tether.
He loves the job, and he wants to continue for an extended period. He feels like he has earned the right. In four years, Langer has taken the Australian men's team from the nadir of the Sandpapergate scandal through a cultural rebuild to claim No. 1 status in both Test and T20I cricket at various stages. They have retained the Ashes twice - at home this season and away in 2019 - as well as won the T20 World Cup for the first time.
On that evidence, why the ink is not already dry on a fresh multi-year contract seems staggering to most looking from the outside, not least the bevy of former Australia greats who are incredulous that Langer is still fighting for his job.
But the devil is in the details. A home Test series loss to an under-strength India last summer and two disastrous T20I tours of the West Indies and Bangladesh last year were the catalyst for the current holding pattern.
The players, led by current Test captain Pat Cummins, white-ball captain Aaron Finch and former Test captain Tim Paine, with mediation from Hockley and Eddings - had reached a tipping point and asked Langer to change parts of his coaching style. Langer, while in hotel quarantine, held individual Zoom meetings with over 30 players and staff, and took the feedback on board. But it appears as if it was a sticking plaster.
Langer feels he has done everything that has been asked of him since, and the results have been evident for all to see. Again, it is laughable to the outside world and to Langer himself that his job is under pressure. But yet again, the devil is in the details.
Both Cummins and Finch have since been asked publicly if they would like the coach to continue following the success of the last four months, and both have baulked at endorsing him. Finch said the environment had been great in the World Cup and admitted he would be consulted on Langer's contract without knowing exactly what it would entail.
Meanwhile, Cummins had said the decision was above his pay grade, with the irony being that there is no one in Australian cricket above his salary at the moment.
The decision on Langer's future, it seems, is being framed as whether Oliver, Hockley and the board wish to appease an unspecified number of players or show faith in Langer. But there is a grander question that needs to be answered which seems to have been lost in personality politics: what are the best high-performance and coaching structures of the Australian men's team for the medium to long term?
It seems it is a question that has scarcely been considered by anyone on the eve of what looks like an unprecedented period of cricket for them. As it currently stands, across the next two years, Australia are set to play three Test tours in Asia and an away Ashes, home Tests against West Indies and South Africa, numerous limited-overs assignments, as well as a home T20 World Cup where they are the defending champions, a 50-over World Cup and should they qualify, a World Test Championship final before the Ashes in 2023.
Coach, player and staff burnout is a distinct possibility over that period. Langer will already be resting from the upcoming T20I series against Sri Lanka to prepare for the Pakistan tour, with senior assistant Andrew McDonald to step in, as he did for Australia's ODI tour of India in early 2020 and a T20I series in New Zealand in 2021 when two tours were set to happen simultaneously before Australia called off their series in South Africa.
Langer had himself stepped in for his predecessor Darren Lehmann for two white-ball series during the latter's tenure. Lehmann, who after the ball-tampering scandal said he stayed too long in the job, has been the one former team-mate to advise Langer that now is the time to go.
The other point that has been raised is whether the job is too big for one man to handle. Langer is adamant he can handle the load of being the head coach for all three forms, aside from being a selector. He has aired his hesitancy on splitting the coaching roles into two jobs, arguing it is logistically impractical.
Only one team, England, has formally tried it with Andy Flower and Ashley Giles, and it failed dismally. It is worth noting Giles gave Chris Silverwood the role as England's current sole coach and selector for all three forms during a similarly unprecedented period of cricket, and the results have not been good.
These scenarios require something other than a myopic view. They require vision, courage and strong leadership. CA can't kick the can any further down the road.

Alex Malcolm is an Associate Editor at ESPNcricinfo