While “cricket Twitter” has focused on the irreverent – the player, Marnus Labuschagne, with the toasted cheese sandwich in his pocket – the Herald and The Age’s report detailing the coach’s intense management style on the weekend has created plenty of chatter among insiders.
In the hours after the story was published, Langer sent a message to the players’ WhatsApp group expressing his disappointment dirty laundry had been aired in public, and calling for the team to unite.
Langer would not be only sports coach to be frustrated events inside the so-called “four walls” have become public. Nor is this the first time, Langer having previously questioned how selections involving a particular player continued to get out.
In the days and weeks to come, perhaps he will ponder why the environment he has fostered has not encouraged players to approach him directly about his management style.
There are varying accounts as to the degree of player consternation about the coach but Cricket Australia could not be more clear in their insistence Langer’s job is not at risk. However, it would not be wise for head office to ignore this ongoing episode.
His players do not need someone to, in Langer’s words, “tickle their stomachs” – they can readily accept criticism – but they want a leader not prone to mood swings whose intensity leaves them walking on eggshells.
Langer’s intensity, passion and discipline have been the cornerstone for his considerable success in the game but this is one of those times where his strength is also a weakness.
His style was more suited to the first 12 months of his reign, when six players were handed baggy greens. This is no longer a developing side but largely a team of seasoned internationals, several of whom are destined to finish with even more accomplished records than Langer’s.
As a player who had all but retired four years ago, captain Tim Paine is more grounded than most players and seen as someone who is better equipped to handle Langer, though he now finds himself wedged, needing to show his support of the coach while also recognising the disquiet in the dressing room.
That he and the coach share the same management company adds another layer of complexity to the issue.
As seen in the Cricket Australia-commissioned Amazon documentary The Test, Langer’s manner has been a source of unease since the early days of his tenure – particularly when the side loses, a largely foreign concept through his illustrious Test career – but he has shown he can change.
Head office has helped. By hiring Ricky Ponting and Steve Waugh to join his staff for the 2019 World Cup and Ashes, Langer could seek the counsel of two of the men he respects most in the game when the pressure rose.
Though Ponting was on hand way back at the start of the summer when he too was in quarantine, it is more difficult – and expensive – for CA to pull such a lever in the era of COVID-19 and bubbles.
It will be an awkward reunion when the Test side convenes in a few weeks to travel to South Africa – assuming the tour is approved. It will be an even tenser time away if Langer cannot be honest with the man in the mirror.
Andrew Wu writes on cricket and AFL for The Sydney Morning Herald