Australia’s National Trust has elected over 100 people as National Treasure and Justin Langer is not one among them. Douglas Walters, Ian Chappell, Mark Waugh and Bill Lawry are part of the prestigious list by the way, yet Langer has racked up more Test hundreds than any of them. A statement?
When Justin Langer took over the Australian coaching role in the aftermath of what was labelled as the greatest corruption in the sport, he was entrusted with the responsibility of not just making Australia the indomitable power they once were but also endearing them to the cricket public who believed their team had failed them massively. It was not a great period for anyone to take the hot seat, but if the man could nullify the England bowling attack the way he did in the Melbourne Test of 2002, he must be doing something incredibly right to wear that practise kit again. And boy, how brilliant Langer has been for the Aussies!
Of course, the sandpaper gate was Australia’s moment of truth and the way it was captured by the broadcasters, it left them with a little chance of having a feeblest of denials. That they owned up actually set them up in recovering from the pratfall and it gave them a chance to introspect and realise that the Waugh doctrine of mental disintegration which became the default culture in Australian cricket is not the only way forward. “The Test: A New Era for Australia's Team” - an eight-episode docu-series on Amazon Prime - captured the very essence of it and not only details the fire that Langer has as a coach but also took a deep dive into how he, alongside the very affable Tim Paine, rebuilt a team that was searching for an identity.
It might sound surprising in the first place because Australian cricket never needed any extra effort for the search of identity. Their team have always been enormously successful, gnarled teeth and cuss words might have also added to the aura, but those donning the Baggy Green and the canary yellow always knew their due place in the annals of cricket history. Langer knew that, Paine knew that and all they did was channelising the very aspect to get the job done. They focused on building character, which at times came as a PR overdose, but hasn’t that been successful?
It is this realisation for which Australian fans need to thank Paine and Langer for. The duo has been at the forefront, leading them with an example, to bail them out of the troubled waters before slowly working their way to retaining the urn on English soil. Even though Dr Simon Longstaff-led Ethics Centre's independent review of CA found out that in its race to corporatise, centralise and improve team performance over the past seven years, how the governing body created a culture of insecurity and arrogance, Langer ensured the true Aussie culture was never compromised, only the behaviour was.
When Australia let England go through the pump and “helped'' Ben Stokes play that outrageously effective innings in Headingley, the subsequent reaction from Langer was one of fire and fire. There was no grey area for the assessment and “the toughest pretty boy” wasn’t spared either. It was the genuine Langer reaction, something that can melt rock in no time. Australia faced it and turned the table at Old Trafford to ensure the series wouldn’t be lost, no matter the result at The Oval.
The Indian cricket board might have made efficiently enough money to keep the player rights protected, but when it comes to PR drive, very few boards have done that as successfully as Australia. The admiration that the Aussies have for Kohli often transcends the English media’s obsession with Sachin Tendulkar and that seemed really genuine. India’s last tour Down Under was a colossal one for their own good but it showed how much respect Aussies have for Kohli, who loves the bull's eye on his back. Langer capitalised on it to rile his own group, Warne gave a fantastic introduction to welcome him back to MCG, but in the heart, the admiration was fuelled by the desire to unearth their own Australianism. And think what, it worked.
The reason the entire docu-series, directed by Sydney-based reporter Adrian Brown, made sense to me was because it was not just an attempt to showcase the struggle and effort of the men involved in the resurrection, but it was a genuine reflection of the torrid time that cricket had to go through because of Australia’s underperformance. It is a series that tells us why the world needs a strong Australia all the time for cricket to remain the beautiful sport that it is. It showed why you need a strong man-manager - not a coach - for a national team who will tell you on your face when you are wrong and make up for it with a hand around the shoulder like a mate. It showed us why Paine was possibly the most "uncomplicated man in possibly the most complicated period in Australian cricket history" but so confident in his own skin that he hoped Smith returned to the captaincy in the future.
A World Cup win in England would have been too good for the team and winning back the Border-Gavaskar Trophy might complete the last wave of Paine’s summer that has been so good in the last couple of years. It will hardly matter if Smith returns to captaincy soon after but it is a team that Paine and Langer can be proud to call their own. That is their biggest legacy in Australian cricket and all Aussie fans should be indebted for that.
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