Justin Langer finished his time as Australian cricket coach winning the T20 World Cup 2021 and the Ashes 2021-22.
Some stories need a pick-up point to touch the most fabulous fairytale but the beauty of those incidents is that they end before one could realize it. From Cape Town to Hobart, the distance is around 6,222 miles but for Australian cricket, it was billion miles of hard work of getting back lost pride and self-belief after the dreadful Sandpaper Gate saga that rocked them in the first half of 2018.
Still, when the news of resignation of Australia’s head coach, Justin Langer, came out on Saturday, February 5, it showed that some loans can’t be repaid. In a media release, the board had confirmed the news. “Justin has been an outstanding coach of the Australian men’s team over the past two years,” Board CEO Nick Hockley said. “He has restored the trust in the team and his legacy is assured.”
Similar Test and Coaching debut for Langer
What happened in Cape Town in 2018 wasn’t only damage to the ball but near-destruction of a huge brand in the form of “tough but fair Australian cricket”. Two openers, Cameron Bancroft and David Warner along with captain Steve Smith, who was frog-marched off South Africa, got suspended for many months. The then Australia head coach, Darren Lehmann too stepped down immediately to get replaced by a gritty man from Western Australia.
“Life is about projects,” Langer promised in his first presser as Head Coach. “It’s really important that we keep looking to earn respect.” But the dice didn’t roll in his favour in the first attempt to be fair.
Just like on his debut when Australia had been smacked all around the park in 1993, the current regrouped bunch too had been teared away by a top English side in an ODI series by a margin of 0-5 in England. To add to their agony, Australia were also beaten in the Only T20I they played against England. The clock had come full circle and there was only one way that the Kangaroos could have moved from thereon and that is up.
Langer, subsequently, changed his nature from being calm and composed to his usual passionate self which opposition bowlers had seen over the years the left-hander opened for Australia during his playing days. “When we saw that sort of display, it showed the other side that he is really a passionate sort of coach,” newly-appointed captain Tim Paine figured out.
Like his first Test century, maiden win as Coach too took time
Five years after making his Test debut against West Indies in 1998, the left-hander smashed his debut Test century against Pakistan in Peshawar. It’s quite interesting how his coaching life seemed to act in accordance with the same path.
Even though Australia drew the first Test against Pakistan in famous fashion in Dubai in 2018, they went on to lose the series in Abu Dhabi. But they left the desert country with a new message to stick with, “We make Australians proud.” Even though their future wasn’t going to be easy.
India toured Australia in 2018-19 and the challenge for Team India wasn’t only to compete with the hosts but to snatch their maiden Test series victory down under. The tourists launched themselves winning in Adelaide but the way the Australian players came back to win the next Test in Perth spoke highly about how they trusted their new coach and his future vision.
Well, eventually they lost the series and one can sense the smell of scrutiny behind the Australian coach. “I kept thinking before the game, imagine if we get beaten by Sri Lanka at the Gabba.!!” Langer expressed in a media interaction after the India series. Well, the demolition didn’t occur and Australia gifted their coach his first series win as an administrator against the island side.
“It’s WE, not ME,” they won another lesson to take them forward.
So close still so far: Touching the 2019 World Cup and Retaining an Away Ashes
After losing an ODI series at home against India, Australia achieved what not many expected of them: beating India as visitors in a One-Day series just before World Cup 2019. It somehow was an indication of how well-prepared they were before the mega event.
With huge cheer and enthusiasm, the side welcomed David Warner and Steve Smith who had served their bans by then.
Australia kicked off their World Cup in fine fashion with few slips in the middle but their slide against South Africa with injury blows to Shaun Marsh and Usman Khawaja forced them to lock horns with England in the semis. The hosts of the tournament had an easy run to knock down their arch-rivals off the competition.
The away Ashes played after the Word Cup was probably at the top of the list of challenges for Langer, thanks to the physical challenge and mental provocation coupled with glory and pride. Fairly, the story was about Steve Smith but the courage that Langer harnessed in the players between the series and especially after the Headingley Test where they were down after watching Ben Stokes lone show epitomised his greatness.
And that was the point when the Australian public and their former players with the board bestowed lost faith in their team.
Second Consecutive Series loss to India solidified some questions
With Smith and Warner, Australia were super confident in Border-Gavaskar Trophy 2020-21 to take revenge and their victory in Adelaide remained a horror story for India. But again, they tumbled at the Melbourne Cricket Ground (MCG) and to be fair, even though they did provide everything from their tank in Sydney, the visitors avoided the heavy rock.
If at that point, anyone asked the home side to choose the venue of the decider, they would hardly take a second in selecting Gabba. With that long list of injuries for the India, the way India fought till the end is still a story for the ages. The fortress had been broken and as were the hearts of Australians.
T20 World Cup 2021 Turnaround coupled with Ashes Dominance in 2021-22
There were chats whether the Australian Cricket Board (ACB) would want to continue with Langer which meant whatever Australia was going to fulfil wasn’t going to change the jury’s mind on the fate of the head coach. This was all before the famous Glenn Maxwell reverse sweep that advanced Australia to their maiden T20 tittle in Dubai.
Whether the resignation issue had seemed to settle down was an open question but newly appointed Australia Test captain, Pat Cummins cleaned up Ollie Robinson to seal the Ashes 4-0 in Hobart.
For most of the spectators, the good days were only shouldered on the player’s performance; the decision of going with Mitchell Marsh at number three during the T20 WC or sending Travis Head at 5 at the Gabba or using Usman Khawaja as opener in Sydney, everything got neglected. After all, the pressure on the coach is for only worst results when the team loses and not when they win.
Langer received former players’ backing
“As a player, Justin retired on top after a 5-0 Ashes whitewash,” Langer’s manager James Henderson wrote in his statement. “Today, despite the views of a faceless few, he finishes his time as Australian cricket coach winning the T20 World Cup and the Ashes.”
“It was absolutely clear that no one baked him,” Langer’s long-time Test opening partner, Mathew Hayden had shown his disappointment. Ricky Ponting, who was appointed as assistant coach for World Cup 2019 under head coach Justin Langer didn’t go on the backfoot in showing his frustration. “I am very close to Justin, we’re like brothers…what’s happened today, I’ve sort of felt that has been heading that way for quite a while.” He also added how strange a time it was for a coach to depart.
Mitchell Johnson, who too was a part of Western Australia unit, speaking on Summer Grandstand, gave his thoughts on players deactivating the head coach of the Australian side. “Each time a player doesn’t like a coach, will we be back to square one again?”
Andrew McDonald to be interim head coach
Nonetheless, the Australian board has announced that Andrew McDonald will step up into the role of interim head coach with his first mission officially to be a T20I home series against Sri Lanka. With a historic Pakistan tour that is scheduled for the next month, it will be interesting to see whom they designate for the job in full-time capacity.
Although, for Justin Langer, he finished on a high and just like he remained not out in his last Test in Sydney, he leaves the coaching job with several successes and moments to be proud of.
So long, Justin!
Here are some of the top Twitter reactions as Justin Langer resigns as Australia Coach: