Justin Langer has the backing of the Cricket Australia board.
At least for now.
In publicly backing Langer, Cricket Australia (CA) moved to quell discussion around his position and bought itself time to at least assess the landscape and identify who might replace him at the helm, if or when it deems a change is needed.
- Langer took over as Australia coach in 2018, following a ball tampering scandal
- Cricket Australia has publicly backed Langer to remain in the role, despite reports of discontent within the team
- Andrew McDonald shapes as Langer’s replacement, if he leaves the role
As things stand, Langer will lead the Australians to the T20 World Cup in the United Arab Emirates, and through the summer’s home Ashes series.
The rumblings of discontent from within the Australian camp have grown louder in recent weeks, prompting former CA communications manager Malcolm Conn to write in the Sydney Morning Herald that Langer’s volatile approach was wearing the team down.
“Some players didn’t like walking past Langer’s seat on the team bus lest they prompted a negative response,” he wrote.
“If things weren’t going well, the odd player would ask, ‘How’s the grumpy coach?’.”
He went on to explain that it wasn’t just the players who were on eggshells around the coach.
“[With Langer, you] were never certain whether your question was going to be met with an answer or an explosion.”
The fractures within the Australian set-up have been brought into stark relief in recent weeks, with a review by leadership consultant Tim Ford, and media reports of a heated confrontation between Langer and a Cricket Australia staffer over the publication of a video on CA’s website of the victorious Bangladesh squad singing their team song, after they clinched a T20 series win.
“This has been going on for a while, and I think it’s probably surfaced one too many times for it to be quelled as easily as it has in the past,” former Australian cricketer and ABC Sport expert Dirk Nannes said.
“I think the players are slowly getting their thoughts heard and they’re becoming a little bit louder.
“I don’t feel that it’s been a particularly happy dressing room for a while.
“It’s probably 12 months ago you were already hearing word leaking out about the way he’s up and down.”
Nannes said the players were at a point where they think speaking to the media was the only way they could bring about change.
“These guys have got professional careers that are only short-term, and they don’t want to have to go through that career with someone that is detrimental to their performance in any way,” he said.
“If they think that they can put better performances on the board from a team and from a personal perspective by having the changing of the guard, and that’s the best way that they see fit to go about it, bringing about change, then that’s their call to make.”
Who replaces Langer if his time is up?
According to Nannes, there is only one candidate for the top job if Langer is replaced and that is Andrew McDonald.
McDonald is probably not the most widely known figure in Australian cricket, but has been second in charge of the men’s side for nearly two years, after three years as coach of the Melbourne Renegades.
He’s widely liked by the players, and his ability to create a productive environment was noted when he took the job in October 2019.
“Ronnie knows how to create a great environment for players to perform at their best,” Australia’s one-day and T20 international captain, and Renegades player, Aaron Finch said.
Nannes spent time alongside McDonald at the Sydney Thunder, and says he was left heavily impressed.
“He was already taking notebooks out, even when he was sitting on the bench learning the art of coaching from all those who are around him,” Nannes said.
“He’s somebody who’s incredibly measured. He’s a terrific communicator, well prepared. And really someone who’s perfect for that role.
“I think that he’s done enough work now, both within Australia and overseas to have the experience to do it.
“The players love him, they loved playing against him, they love having him as coach now.
“I think Australian cricket would be the poorer for not elevating him if the case comes about that the national coaching position becomes available.”
McDonald has coached internationally, at Leicestershire in England, and was head coach of the Rajasthan Royals in the Indian Premier League.
He also won the Sheffield Shield in his first season in charge of Victoria.
McDonald isn’t the only option for the role, with South Australia’s Jason Gillespie a strong candidate.
Gillespie’s coaching journey started in Zimbabwe, before he moved to Yorkshire in 2011, where he oversaw the county’s promotion to the first division in his first season in charge.
He followed that up with title wins in 2014 and 2015, and was considered a candidate to take over as England coach.
“[Gillespie] probably needs to be interviewed, and I think he has done enough coaching now, but is he the right man?” Nannes said.
“I think if you were starting from scratch, and didn’t have Andrew McDonald, then sure he would be one of the front runners.
“I just think that you’ve got a candidate so strong for the position that I don’t think he can go past someone who’s already in the team and will cause minimal disruption.”
If McDonald or Gillespie — or one of several other candidate such as Trevor Bayliss or Greg Shipperd — is given the opportunity, it will mark a definitive shift in the way Australia is coached.