Justin Langer takes over Australia after ball-tampering fall-out in SA
South Africans know all about Justin Langer‚ some from having had the unpleasant experience of playing against him.
Langer‚ who has replaced Darren Lehmann as Australia’s coach in the ongoing fallout from the ball-tampering debacle‚ won 11 of his 105 Test caps against the South Africans — some of whom remember him for his incessant and unimaginatively ugly sledging more than his fiercely determined batting.
But all cricketminded South Africans will remember Langer more favourably for what he didn’t do at the Wanderers in April 2006: bat.
Reports from Australia say Langer’s teammates would avoid him if they thought he was about to ask them to join him for additional training because he would keep going until they were close to exhaustion‚ but also in light of the relentless seriousness he brought to everything he did.
His obsessive approach led him to glue his gloves to his bat handle to sort out problems with his grip.
Apparently‚ Langer has calmed down since taking to heart the advice given him late in his playing career by one of the most laid back men ever to pick up a bat‚ New Zealand’s John Wright: “Young man‚ you need to chill out.”
But he has interpreted even that to within an inch of its sensibility: Langer now prefers to send one full month of every year bearded and barefoot.
Good luck getting into the insufferably conservative member’s enclosure at most of Australia’s grounds like that‚ nevermind at Lord’s.
There was no lack of seriousness at the Wanderers a dozen years ago‚ when Langer’s involvement in his 100th Test appeared over after he ducked into the first ball of the innings — a Makhaya Ntini bouncer that felled and concussed him.
Days of headaches‚ vomiting and general frailty followed‚ but against the advice of doctors who told him he could die if he was hit again in the match and unbeknown to his captain‚ Ricky Ponting‚ Langer was padded up and good to go on the fifth morning when Australia’s eighth wicket fell with 17 runs needed for victory.
Happily for all concerned Nos. 8 and 10‚ Brett Lee and Michael Kasprowicz‚ took the Aussies home and the threat to Langer’s life averted.
In less than six years as coach of Western Australia‚ where he lives by mantras like “no a**sholes” and “character over cover drives”‚ Langer has engineered five white-ball titles and trips to two Sheffield Shield finals.
There are thus reasons to applaud as well as be appalled that he is again part of international cricket.
But will Langer help the Australians learn the lesson that their compatriots‚ who have driven the backlash against ball-tamperers and conspirators Steve Smith‚ David Warner and Cameron Bancroft‚ will not put up with a team who won’t stop at destroying their integrity by trying to cheat their way to victory?
“What I know is we should be very‚ very proud of our history of Australian cricket‚” Langer told reporters at his unveiling on Thursday.
“We’ve been not only good cricketers but generally good people.
“It’s not just about how we play our cricket‚ it’s also about being good citizens and good Australians.”
So the same old misplaced nationalism‚ too easily conflated with patriotism — which has no place in sport — will continue.
“The public will be disappointed if we don’t play hard competitive cricket. That said‚ we can also modify our behaviours.
“I was lucky to play with great competitors. We talk about Allan Border‚ Shane Warne‚ Glenn McGrath‚ Adam Gilchrist and Steve Waugh. They played hard but they were also outstanding people.
"We modify our behaviours a bit so that it’s not angry or not over aggressive but we’re still aggressive in the mindset that we play with the bat and the ball.”
Change “a bit”?
Border and McGrath are “outstanding people”?
“We know all know what the acceptable behaviours are. There’s a difference between the competitiveness and aggression and we have to be careful with that.”
“Everyone knows the difference between right and wrong‚ that’s simple. We get taught that from when you’re a little kid from your parents‚ through school.
“If our players literally stick to that‚ right or wrong‚ they’ll be OK‚ I think.”
The Australians have no clue what “the acceptable behaviours” are‚ neither on their most recent tour to South Africa nor — if you ask his opponents — when Langer played.
As for “everyone” knowing what’s right and wrong‚ you might have thought that included their former captain and vice-captain.
Think again‚ Cricket Australia.