Australian Test captain Tim Paine has backed embattled Australian coach Justin Langer after "robust discussions" among senior players amid dressing-room leaks and reports of discontent over his management style.
All is not well between the Australian players and Langer. There have been reports regarding a huge rift in the dressing room between the players and Langer. The 50-year-old has come under immense scrutiny after Australia were dismantled 1-4 in the five-match T20I series against Bangladesh. They suffered the same fate when they travelled to West Indies and have not lost their last five bilateral T20I series.
Until earlier this year, clips in ‘The Test’ remained the only evidence of Langer’s somewhat strained relationship with the players. But all hell broke loose in the aftermath of the India series. Players first leaked the Sandwich-gate (involving Marnus Labuschagne) to the media and then also willingly leaked a Text message from Langer that specifically asked them to not talk to the media.
More players started talking to journalists off-record and ‘The Grade Cricketer’ podcast revealed that some players described the dressing-room atmosphere as ‘toxic’ and ‘way worse than expected’. Which is precisely why recent happenings in Bangladesh - where Australia team manager Gavin Dovey and Langer were allegedly involved in a heated altercation with Cricket Australia's digital journalist over a video - raise serious suspicions that there might be an actual dressing room unrest.
Paine told national sports radio network SEN he held an emergency meeting with Langer, vice-captain Pat Cummins, limited-overs skipper Aaron Finch, Cricket Australia chairman Earl Eddings and CEO Nick Hockley.
"There's no hiding from it, it's been a tough week, certainly for Justin Langer than it has been for anyone else. We've had some really robust conversations among our leaders in the last few days and we're really looking forward to the next six months with JL," said Paine.
"We're looking forward to the World Cup, we're looking forward to the Ashes, it's an exciting period for any cricketer. If anything, I think we're heading into that tournament and series even more galvanised and even more together.
"It was important that myself, Aaron Finch, Pat Cummins, and the leaders of Australian cricket got around him, discussed things that needed to be discussed, and then got around him and supported him and looked to move forward.
"There's no doubt the week has been difficult for him, but as I said the last few days, we've been able to galvanise around him, to have some really robust discussions on where we want to take this cricket team, what we expect of him and what he expects of us. The T20 World Cup and the Ashes are probably two of the biggest things that any Australian cricket and any Australian coach wants to be a part of and we're all on the same page and can't wait to get started on both of those huge projects for us."
Also read: The tale of Langer’s tumultuous tenure
Malcolm Conn, former media manager for the team, recently wrote a scathing article in The Sydney Morning Herald this week criticising his "erratic" behaviour. In his article, Conn said he respected Langer but quickly learned to stay out of his way, adding that he never knew whether a question would be met "with an answer or an explosion".
Australia have struggled big time in the last two years but Paine said it won't be right to put the blame entirely on the coach. "The stuff that was reported if we're totally honest wasn't anything new, this is stuff that's been dragged up from an Ashes series two or three years ago. We've had ongoing discussions with JL. JL's had ongoing discussions with me and his players about us always wanting to get better.
"It's just been a bit of shame, I think, in the last week that a lot of the failings around Australian cricket have been pinned on JL. That's certainly not the case. We haven't lived up to our own standards on the field. We haven't won enough games of cricket and that's pretty much put us all under pressure.
"But that's the world we live in. We're playing professional sport. You're judged really harshly when you don't win. We've clearly had a bit of a rough trot with white-ball cricket. The red-ball team hasn't been playing. So there's been a lot of sitting around and a lot of chatting."
Australia haven't played a Test series since their embarrassing defeat against India at home. Paine said he will speak to each player individually and in groups over the phone.
"I think in the next few days, no doubt with what has gone on, we'll be looking to get the group together, whether that's in small groups on a zoom call. t's obviously impossible to get face to face at the moment with half of our team in quarantine in Adelaide and the other half in lockdown in New South Wales.
"What we're doing this week is trying to get everyone on a number of calls. Take them along for the journey with what we have discussed and decided on over the last few days and how we want to take this team forward."
(With inputs from AFP)