Why Cricket Australia has done Justin Langer a favour

The decision by Cricket Australia to offer former coach Justin Langer only a short-term contract extension this past week has produced an unprecedented outpouring of opinion.

Regrettably, much of the opinion from Langer’s former team mates has centred around themes of disloyalty, and how Cricket Australia could treat such a decorated former player so shabbily.

The truth is, from a career development and leadership perspective, Cricket Australia has done Langer a big favour.

While most of us in this story are mere observers and not close to the inner workings, it’s fairly clear from the senior players themselves, all was not well when the team returned to Australia in August last year. The tour of West Indies and Bangladesh had not produced good results, and the players appeared flat. Reports of player unrest date back to the Ashes tour of 2019.

Photograph provided by the author, from the World Cup match at Manchester 2019. Player unrest was already reported to be occurring only 18 months into Langer’s reign.

To their credit, the players gave Cricket Australia and Langer some unvarnished feedback six months ago, that his micromanaging style and intensity was waring thin after almost four years in the job, two of which were in COVID bubbles.

There are varying reports about how Langer received that feedback. However, it did appear evident to observers during the recent T20 World Cup in Dubai and home Ashes series that Langer was providing deputy coaches Andrew McDonald and Michael di Venuto greater autonomy. The players did appear happier, with two pieces of silverware further evidence of improvement. For that, all parties involved should be commended.

The raw ingredients for an automatic contract extension for Langer in June 2022 may have existed. That would have been a popular decision, but certainly not automatic. As an employer, Cricket Australia has to consider multiple factors before offering big-money contracts. Results are one thing, but then there are the views of players, sponsors, and broadcasters.

They must also consider the state of the team, especially after two years of bubble life, with more to come. Do the players need to hear a different message? What would benefit emerging talent like Cameron Green, Alex Carey and Josh Inglis the most? And of course, who does new captain Pat Cummins want to work with? Was Langer a man more suited to the war than the peace?

“Was Langer a man more suited to the war than the peace?”

Cricket Australia has had its detractors, and rightfully so. A revolving door of senior executives and board shuffling signals an organisation still far from governance and operational stability. However, one thing it has learned over the past few years, as in other sports like AFL – player views are critical. Failure to hear player feedback, when it is as loud as it seemed in August 2021, is pure folly.

Cricket Australia has been a whipping post in all of this, especially from Langer’s former team mates, the “dream team” from the early 2000s. But they all seem to be equating the number of runs scored and tests played by Langer as the sole test for his ongoing suitability as coach. That’s not the yardstick. It’s whether the players are responding to Langer’s messages, and whether they are sufficiently motivated by him to be better tomorrow than they are today. If Cricket Australia took all its feedback on and felt it should explore the market for new options, then it should. And it now will.

“They all seem to be equating the number of runs scored……as the sole test for his ongoing suitability as coach. That’s not the yardstick”

Sport incites passion, and with so many people invested in cricket, there is huge thirst for the details behind this decision. Cricket Australia knows those details, but have only dropped crumbs to the media, with words like “reset” and “new direction”. While frustrating to many, they have done this out of respect to Langer.

Everyone has areas for development, and Langer’s seem to be more well known to the public than most. There is nothing to be gained by Cricket Australia in going over this again in graphic detail. To do so would potentially turn future employers of Langer away – including the old enemy, England. They have kept their feedback as much “in house” as they can, and in a mark of further respect to Langer, offered him a short-term extension so he could finish on his terms after the T20 World Cup defence at home later this year.

Langer said no, and wrote an extremely graceful and dignified piece earlier this week confirming his decision. He leaves with head held high, and potentially the biggest and most lucrative challenge of his coaching career ahead of him, assuming he and the ECB want to do business together.

The on-field Mens’ team action will continue this weekend, with Langer maybe watching from a Perth hotel room as he quarantines ahead of reuniting with his family for the first time since September. As he contemplates his next steps, he may have mixed feelings about the past six months. But he is armed with intimate knowledge of his leadership style that should serve him extremely well in future interviews. His self-awareness should never be higher. For that, he has his former employer to thank. 

FOUNDER: Lewis Williams

EMAIL: lewis@cadenceleadershipadvisory.com.au

MOBILE: 61 (0) 477 371 665

LINKEDIN: https://www.linkedin.com/in/lewis-williams- cadenceleadershipadvisory/

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