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The Light Roller

Justin Langer has a little apocalypse now and then

But he's armed with quotes and ready to rise from the Ashes

Alan Gardner
Alan Gardner
Justin Langer keeps an eye on an Australian training session, Sydney, January 7, 2021

"I love the smell of leather and willow in the morning... it smells like victory"  •  Getty Images

Time to check in on the latest update from Australia's head coach and inspirational-quotes-googler-in-chief, Justin Langer, whose three-year voyage into the "heart of darkness" - aka the Australia men's team dressing room - seems to be heading towards its natural conclusion.
For those who haven't been following, Langer's idiosyncratic approach has been a beautiful gift to world cricket, from the moment he took charge of Australia's first post-Sandpapergate tour and proudly declared that he sledges his own daughter at UNO. Now, to add to barefoot walks on the outfield, "elite mateship" and various other eccentricities, Langer has delivered a social media post from quarantine in the UAE that includes such gems as: "A wise man once said: Don't give them a taste of your own medicine. If they lied, let their medicine be honesty… Stay true to yourself… Who you are lasts a lifetime. Who you pretend to be changes like the change of seasons… The wise man says: BE YOURSELF. YOU ARE UNIQUE and YOU ARE SPECIAL."
All good advice, for sure, but unlikely to help when it comes to STRIKE ROTATION against SPIN during the MIDDLE OVERS.
It's hard not to think that Langer is playing himself into the Colonel Kurtz role here. For a start, the intensity, the mysticism, the commitment to fully inhabiting the part - it's all very Brando. And there's no doubt that Langer has been, figuratively speaking, a long way up the Mekong river for some time. You can almost imagine the exchange with the unfortunate Cricket Australia staffer sent up to check on the coach, shrouded in the flickering half-light of his hotel room: "Did they say why they want to terminate my command? Are my methods unsound?"
Of course, the real theatre of phoney war that concerns Australia is the Ashes - and Langer's loyal lieutenant, Tim Paine, was manning the barricades back home, responding to the latest round of protracted negotiations to confirm England's touring arrangements by deploying his familiar brand of somewhat-confusing smack talk. "No one is forcing you to come. If you don't want to come, don't come. The Ashes are going ahead." As things stand, the series is on, pending the ECB being satisfied on "several critical conditions" - presumably one of which is that Paine never speaks on the subject again.
Here's hoping that Langer has emerged blinking into the light wearing a beatific smile well before then, having successfully banished some of his demons while at the T20 World Cup. Although, given Australia's T20I fortunes in Bangladesh earlier this year, the Light Roller fears "the horror… the horror" could well end up being a fairly accurate tagline.


For those worrying that the greatest finisher who ever finished might be, well, finished, it was a case of thala bing, thala boom in the IPL's first qualifier earlier this week. But that doesn't mean we aren't about to enter another MS Dhoni retirement spiral. Oh no. "You'll see me in yellow next season but whether I'll be playing for CSK you never know," Dhoni said gnomically at the toss for Chennai's final game in the group stage, before a doddery 12 off 15 suggested he really might be on his way. Maybe his mind was already turning towards the next stage of his career - be it as a lollipop man, @CricSuperFan tribute act, or a role in the next Minions movie - but whatever happens in the IPL final, remember, it's only over when Mahi says it is.


News of New Zealand pulling out of their tour of Pakistan, and then England following suit a few days later, was sadly predictable. What we didn't see coming was Ramiz Raja stepping up to lend some gravity to the whole sorry business. For those who remember Ramiz the commentator chiefly as a talking haircut that you wished would stop talking, his eloquent denunciation of the "western bloc", which had failed in its obligation to look after the rest of the "cricket fraternity", came as something of a surprise. So wrong-footed was the ECB that Ramiz's opposite number, chairman Ian Watmore, gave some widely ridiculed comments about not knowing the USA was going to pull out of Afghanistan (okay, we've all tried to forget a lot of what Donald Trump said) and then agreed to step down from the job. Cricket administrators of the world had better watch their step: Rambo means business.

Alan Gardner is a deputy editor at ESPNcricinfo. @alanroderick