Justin Langer was officially announced on Thursday (May 3) as Darren Lehmann’s successor as Australia’s head coach and will take the reins of all three formats for the next four years. While speaking to the media upon appointment, the former Australia opener left the door open for the banned trio of Steven Smith, David Warner and Cameron kiBancroft to relaunch their careers. He also stated that a Test triumph in India looms as the toughest challenge of his coaching reign.
Lehmann resigned in the aftermath of the ball tampering scandal in South Africa and the 47-year-old immediately became the hot favourite given his impressive six-year stint as Western Australia/Perth Scorchers coach, which included three Big Bash League titles.
James Sutherland, the CA chief executive, said Langer was a “clear standout” to replace Lehmann and revealed CA did not look overseas in its coaching search. “Whilst Darren Lehmann was not due to complete his term until next year, we have had a succession plan in place for this role for some time,” Sutherland said. “We firmly believe Justin is the right person to lead this team and have huge confidence in what he will bring to the role.”
Langer, though, will have a tough task on his hands as Australian cricket continues to deal with the fallout of the ugly scandal, where former leaders Smith and Warner received 12-month suspensions, while the other involved – Bancroft was banned for nine months.
However, Langer offered hope for the disgraced trio. “They’ve made mistakes. We have all made mistakes and we can all get better,” he told reporters in Melbourne on Thursday. “David Warner made a mistake. I love the way he plays his cricket. I’m a cricket tragic, the way he fields and the way he bats, they are things, I guess to less trained eye, you might not respect that as much, but I love the way he plays his cricket.
“Has he got areas to get better at in? Yes. Has Steve Smith? Has Cameron Bancroft? Has every single person in Australian cricket? Yes,” he added. “They have all got areas in we keep helping and mentoring them and if they meet the standards of the Australian cricket team, of course, they will be welcomed back.”
Australia’s on-field behaviour had long been in the spotlight and is now under a cultural review, which Langer will be part of. The 105-Test legend was part of Australia’s golden era where the team played an uncompromising brand of cricket. Langer believed sledging was still a part of the game but said the players needed to tread carefully.
“I think some of the best banter is among each other to get the opposition thinking about other things,” he said. “Mental toughness is simply about being 100 per cent focused on the next ball. If you’re worrying about what you’ve just said to me, then there’s a distraction.
“But we all know what the acceptable behaviours are,” he added. “There’s a difference between competitiveness and aggression and we’ve got to be careful with that.”
After so much bloodletting, Langer said Australia had to win back the public’s trust but believed the country’s iconic cricket history should provide inspiration. “I think one of the things that’s really important is that we keep looking to earn respect,” he said. “To me respect is worth more than all the gold in the world. We must earn respect on and off the field. Another thing we did in Western Australia… was we looked to encourage great cricketers and great Australians. That’s a really important foundation for us.
“What I know is we should be very proud of our history of Australian cricketers,” he said. “We don’t like to bend the rules. That’s a huge foundation. We’ve got to be aware of that but let’s not underestimate how proud we should be of Australian cricket history.”
In the next four years, Langer will be confronted with many sizeable challenges and 2019 looms as a defining year for Australia who will be looking to defend their World Cup crown and win an Ashes in the UK for the first time since 2001.
However, Langer identified the tour of India as the biggest obstacle with Australia’s only Test series triumph there in recent decades being in 2004 – a team Langer was part of at the height of Australia’s powers.
“The Indian Test tour in about three or four years’ time, to me, that’s the ultimate because we will judge ourselves on whether or not we’re a great cricket team if we beat India in India,” he said. “I look back on my career and the Mt Everest moment was 2004 when we finally beat India in India.”
Langer’s first assignment will be next month’s ODI tour of the UK and Australia’s next Test series will be against Pakistan – most likely a three-match affair in the UAE in October.