The Australian cricket team has shed more light on what led to Justin Langer’s departure as coach, revealing players were “walking on eggshells” around him.
Cricket Australia and Langer mutually agreed to part ways last February after players expressed concerns over his coaching style and Langer rejected a reduced contract extension.
It came as a surprise, given Australia had won the T20 World Cup for the first time and retained the Ashes with a dominant 4-0 series win over England at home.
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Both of those triumphs occurred under Langer’s watch, although many believe his successor Andrew McDonald was effectively in charge of the team after Langer was told to cool his intense coaching style.
Now the full extent of Langer’s passionate ways have been detailed in the second season of the documentary series The Test, which premieres on Amazon Prime on Friday.
“There was plenty of guys who don’t speak up, who don’t talk, and were afraid of JL,” Usman Khawaja says in the documentary.
“That’s the truth.”
Nathan Lyon described Langer’s coaching style as an emotional rollercoaster.
“I’ve always said you can never criticise someone who is extremely passionate in what they do, and that’s exactly what JL is,” Lyon said.
“Did I struggle with some of the ups and downs? Yeah. Probably the biggest feedback from myself was just emotional levels (from) JL.”
Warner said: “People express passion in different ways and his was riding every ball.”
Ashton Agar added: “It was sort of at the point where JL realised he had to pull back massively and he did that.”
“Players and staff really crave consistency,” Australian captain Pat Cummins said in The Test.
“Over the last couple of years, there were times when the environment just wasn’t that.
“Some people felt like they were walking on eggshells.
“The players wanted to create their own environment and it’s us taking responsibility for the team.”
The players said Langer took a back seat and did everything asked of him, but they were clearly eager for a change.
“JL was given feedback from the senior players in our group around certain things they wanted him to improve on I guess as a coach,” Mitch Marsh said.
“He listened and he did everything that was asked of him as the playing group.”
Khawaja added: “I genuinely believe that JL brought humility back into the Australian cricket team.”
Speaking to news.com.au ahead of the documentary’s premiere, players were reluctant to criticise Langer by name, instead emphasising Andrew McDonald is the right coach for now and praising the culture of the current Australian team.
The team raved about their mantra of “own your space”, which refers to allowing every player to be themselves and train and prepare how they want to, even if that means not warming up.
“I felt like certainly since Andrew McDonald came in it’s been probably a little bit more like that compared to prior,” Marnus Labuschagne told news.com.au.
“It’s been a great environment for a long time now over the last couple of years and I think that’s continued now with Andrew and Pat in charge,” Mitchell Starc said.
“Just the freedom to express yourselves as players and people off the field. It’s shown on the field as a group. To see the smiles on faces and the enjoyment of the group and each other’s success.
“The performance we’ve put on over a number of series now speaks to that.”
Cummins said: “If you’re in the Australian cricket team, you know your game pretty well.
“You know what makes yourself tick. You’re not dealing with kids.”
Langer featured heavily in the first season of The Test, coming across as a demanding coach in the mould of a stern English football manager.
But he isn’t interviewed in the second instalment — the players are front and centre, which is perhaps a reflection of them taking “ownership” and “responsibility” for the team.
Labuschagne insisted neither Langer or McDonald’s coaching styles are “wrong or right”, but simply suit different teams at different stages.
“It’s just different,” the Australian No. 3 batter said.
“Two different paths. Two different people going about coaching in a different way. There’s never a wrong or right.
“I think for this team and right now, Andrew McDonald’s done a great job in creating a comfortable space for everyone to go about their business.
“But this is a much different to the team that first played in 2019. So it’s hard to go, ‘would this approach have worked back then?’ Maybe, maybe not.
“But right now for this team, the approach we have now is really balancing well.”
Australia wrapped up an unbeaten summer at home, sealing 2-0 series victories over the West Indies and South Africa.
The next task is a daunting tour of India next month before an away Ashes series in the UK.
Australia hasn’t won a series in India or England in 20 years.