After much speculation, Justin Langer has been appointed as the new coach of the Australian cricket team. The 47-year-old former opener takes over the role left vacant by his predecessor Darren Lehmann following the ball-tampering saga that rocked the Australian cricket establishment.
The former Western Australia and Perth Scorchers coach will have his task cut out in taking over a side still reeling from the effects of the ball-tampering episode which has seen Steve Smith, David Warner and Cameron Bancroft being handed suspensions from the game.
As Langer gets ready to begin his four-year stint, we take a look at five things the Aussie coach will need to sort out.
RESTORING TRUST OF THE AUSTRALIAN PUBLIC
It is safe to say that the Australian public’s trust in the men’s national team is at an all-time low. Never has the Australian team come under such severe backlash from all quarters ever since the infamous ‘underarm’ incident against New Zealand in 1981.
Australia is a country with a proud sports culture and cricket holds a special place. While it is often said jokingly that the importance of the Australian cricket captain is only secondary to the Prime Minister, the game remains ingrained in the public’s persona.
At a time when cricket is facing challenges from other sports in the country, it is even more imperative for Langer to get the house in order as soon as possible to mitigate the damage.
CHANGING THE DRESSING ROOM CULTURE
One of the biggest criticisms aimed at Lehmann and his Australian team was towards the toxic, win-at-all-cost attitude installed in the dressing room. While the Aussies have always been known to play hard, it felt like the line was being crossed on multiple occasions during Lehmann’s reign.
That approach will have to be eroded completely and a more fine line will need to be struck. Langer would do well to recreate the approach of playing hard, but fair cricket adopted by the likes of Steve Waugh during his playing days. For this, Langer will need to work closely with skipper Tim Paine as Australian cricket looks to bounce back from its nadir.
DEFENCE OF THE ICC WORLD CUP
Less than a year remains for the ICC 50-over World Cup in England in 2019 and as such, Langer will need to get the defending champions back on track in their preparation for the marquee event.
Choosing a limited-overs skipper for the side will be the first and foremost errand for the new coach. With a limited-overs tour of England coming up soon, it would represent the perfect opportunity for Langer to try out a few things.
The likes of Aaron Finch and even Mitchell Marsh have been bandied about for the Australia captaincy and it will be interesting to see whom Langer and the selectors ultimately lean on.
As Australian cricket looks to regain the trust of the public, not many things beat an Ashes victory over old foes England for the average Australian. While the Aussies might have handed a 4-0 thumping to the visiting Englishmen only last year, the wait for the next Ashes series will not be long.
With England holding the hosting rights for 2019, it will not be an easy task for the Australians, especially with Smith and Warner’s one-year bans still likely to be in effect when the series arrives.
The loss of Smith’s and Warner’s batting prowess cannot be understated and Langer will need to put together a rejigged but formidable batting unit if his side is to have any chance in the swinging conditions of England.
REINTEGRATING SMITH AND WARNER
While Langer did open the doors for Smith’s and Warner’s return to the team following their suspensions in his first press-conference as Australia coach, it will be easier said than done.
Returning to the cricketing field after such a long and drawn out public outrage will be a testing period for the two senior batsmen and how Langer handles this reintegration could very well be the defining moment of his tenure.
Langer’s coaching credentials are as high as they come and he will need to draw on all his experience in putting Australian cricket back on track.
On Thursday evening, just after 20:00, the UAE national team were celebrating another victory. But it was no ordinary win by any means. It was a historic one. They had just beaten a Test nation for the first time – in all formats – following their three-run victory over Zimbabwe in the World Cup Qualifier Super Six stage.
Prior to their final group game in Harare, the UAE had never come out on top against a full member in an ODI. Zimbabwe defeated them in their last meeting at the 2015 World Cup and since 1994, the UAE have lost all encounters to England (once), India (three times), New Zealand (once), Pakistan (three times), South Africa, (twice), Sri Lanka (twice) and West Indies (twice).
On paper, there only seemed one clear winner. The equation was simple for Zimbabwe. Beat the UAE and they would join West Indies in the 2019 World Cup. With ODI status secured until 2022 and already eliminated, the UAE had nothing but pride to play for – but obviously they never read the script.
In a televised match that was beamed to all corners of the globe, it was a chance for them to show the world what they are made of. In the last 18 months they have been showing signs of returning to the formidable Associate nation that they once were, but their rise has rarely been discussed in world cricket. When the chance came, they grabbed that opportunity with both hands.
Mohammad Naveed (3-40 and 22 off 10 runs) showed the glimpses of his potential that has seen him reach 10th in the T20I bowling rankings while skipper Rohan Mustafa proved once again how vital he is with the bat and ball.
Rameez Shahzad returned to the line-up from illness and hit 59 runs while Ghulam Shabbir and Shaiman Anwar played crucial cameo roles. You could see what it meant to the UAE when Naveed pumped his fists in the air after bowling the final ball for two when Zimbabwe needed six runs.
Zimbabwe might not be one of the strongest Test nations but try telling that to the UAE players who had to battle right to the end against an in-form side that had topped their group and defeated a much-fancied Afghanistan team on the way. It was another milestone for UAE cricket and one that has sent out a message to the rest of the world that they are certainly no pushovers.
Head coach Dougie Brown underlined the significance of the result when he tweeted: “Days like today you remember forever! You’re a special group of players @EmiratesCricket #CWCQ18”. Emirates Cricket Board (ECB) member Zayed Abbas also congratulated the national team in a special video message on social media at Sheikh Zayed Cricket Stadium.
It’s not clear when the UAE will play next but the core of this competitive side will only improve under the guidance of Brown. After ending the tournament on a high, it’s a massive disappointment that they and other nations will not have a chance to showcase their talent on the world stage in England next May.
The ICC’s decision to reduce the World Cup to 10 teams has been strongly criticised and the performances from the ‘minnows’ over the last two weeks in Zimbabwe hasn’t done them any favours.
With just two teams qualifying from the event, the likes of Scotland, Nepal and the UAE already had their work cut out before a ball was even bowled. Scotland will fly back knowing their dreams of reaching their second successive World Cup were dashed in the cruellest of fashions due to rain in their clash against the West Indies while Zimbabwe will have to reflect missing out on the World Cup for the first time since 1987. For Ireland, they were beaten to the last spot by Afghanistan in a winner-takes-all match.
The last fortnight has proved there is a strong depth of talent across all teams, who deserve to have their quality displayed on the biggest stage. It wasn’t just the likes of Mustafa, Naveed and Shahzad to impress, but Scotland’s Safyaan Sharif (15 wickets), Zimbabwe’s Sikandar Raza (196 runs and 12 wickets), and Hong Kong’s veteran spinner Ehsan Khan (11 wickets) were among those who stood up. That’s not to mention young Nepalese bowling sensation Sandeep Lamichhane, who is IPL-bound next month.
ICC chief executive David Richardson will again have to defend the idea of having a 10-team World Cup in the lead-up to the tournament. Back in 2015, he stated: “We have to make sure we don’t put Associate members into tournaments just for window dressing.” Judging by the performances we’ve seen in Zimbabwe, Associate nations could have provided a window into the future. One that sadly we will not see.
How times have changed for the UAE and Saudi Arabia.
As the Whites joyously celebrated an incredible third place at January 2015’s Asian Cup which, seemingly, verified a long-held belief World Cup 2018 qualification was pre-destined for the ‘Golden Generation’, only expert soothsayers would have predicted a fractured side already sitting at home would instead discover the path to Russia.
Yet this is the scenario which has unfolded ahead of Tuesday night’s third-and-final round clash at Hazza bin Zayed Stadium.
It is a story of how diverging fortunes speak volumes about the current administration, organisation and health of the combatants’ respective national games.
One made a full commitment to startling change. The other chose inactivity and only a belated reaction when faced with the prospect that a rapid descent was following the ascent of a notable summit.
Victory for the Saudis will put them on the cusp of a return to the globe’s greatest sporting occasion for the first time since 2006. Victory for the UAE is likely to prove inconsequential to hopes which became forlorn many months ago.
A propensity to plumb new depths continued for the once proud Saudis during their travails Down Under. A bedraggled regional behemoth limped into the tournament with criminally-low expectations, respected Al Ahli coach Cosmin Olaroiu brought in on loan at the last minute – his return of one wins and two defeats during a group-stage exit no surprise to Asian aficionados.
The contrast to the buoyant UAE was damning. Under the paternal care of boss Mahdi Ali, a tiny nation in size and history was making the most of its limited resources.
Al Ain playmaker Omar Abdulrahman became a superstar, while Al Jazira frontman Ali Mabkhout came away with the Golden Boot following an enlivening run which included defeat to Australia in the semi-finals. But a fork in the road had been reached.
The man who led the Netherlands to defeat at the 2014 World Cup final, Bert van Marwijk, was given a sweeping mandate in August 2015 to revitalise all aspects of Saudi football. Plus, an almost-full shot at qualifying for Russia.
In contrast, an understandable error not to recognise a high-water mark had been reached by Ali was compounded by him limping on under two different regimes at the UAE Football Association until terminal double defeat to Japan and Australia this March.
Further ignominy came in the sinuous pursuit of a replacement which ended with Argentina’s Edgardo Bauza being provided with limited preparation time ahead of a predictable 1-1 draw on debut this June in Thailand.
Such a startling turnaround did not happen by chance. Rather, the Saudi Arabian Football Federation recognised the value of introspection after a near decade of tumult.
Lessons difficult to comprehend throughout Middle Eastern football were heeded.
For the UAE to avoid embarrassment on home soil at the 2019 edition, their populace must hope this example will be followed.