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Langer the real sports star of the year: Townsend

Record-breaking tennis star Dylan Alcott was Australian of the year, revitalised Mitch Starc the Allan Border medallist and graceful Ash Barty the darling of a nation after her historic Australian Open win.

Yet the person who has done as much, if not more, for his sport than that trio over the past year, is still up in the air about his future in the game.

Justin Langer’s fate as Australian cricket coach could and should be decided this week when the Cricket Australia board has its monthly meeting.

CA’s decision should be straightforward – reappoint Langer immediately.

If they are not prepared to give him a new four-year deal, which Langer would gladly accept, the bare minimum should be an extension for at least the next 18 months.

That would enable Langer to oversee the defences of the T20 World Cup and Ashes which remain the biggest items on the national schedule in the next two years.

And it would allow CA to reinforce to the players and other elements eager to get rid of the coach that the national game is actually run by the governing body and not a noisy clique pursuing their own interests.

The problem is that that CA, with a board format that has never been more removed from the game itself, may not have the vision or capacity to do that.

CA’s lack of support for Langer over the past year has shone a damning light on the organisation’s lack of leadership.

In one of the more astonishing conversations in my long career as a sports writer, I asked then CA chairman Earl Eddings last August if he would publicly support Langer at a time the coach was being besieged by internal leaks and external criticism.

Yet Eddings made it clear that CA’s extraordinary silence during this period would not be broken, arguing that official support for the besieged coach would in fact work to his detriment because cricket fans would compare it to a football coach receiving the backing of the board.

“You know what it means when a footy club offers its support to a coach,” Eddings said. “It means he is about to be sacked.”

Yet six months after that remarkable conversation, Langer’s tenure should get a distinction if it is assessed by any reasonable measure. He was appointed in 2018 in the wake of the Cape Town cheating scandal with a simple brief – to get the team back on track and win back Australia’s respect.

He has achieved that in overwhelming fashion, as well as helping individuals thrive within a remade team atmosphere.

It is surely no coincidence that Pat Cummins, Marnus Labuschagne, Travis Head and Cam Green have played the best Test cricket of their careers under Langer while Mitch Marsh, Adam Zampa and Ashton Agar are starring in white-ball ranks.

Former Test captain Steve Waugh summarised Langer’s standing recently in a typically blunt assessment. “Position in doubt? Influenced the culture and character of the team after the Cape Town debacle.

“Coached the team to a winning World Cup 20/20 and now to a commanding Ashes victory.”

Waugh finished by saying it was time to put the Langer rumours and innuendo to rest.

CA has the chance to do that this week.


John Townsend has been an award-winning sports writer for more than 30 years. He was chief cricket writer at The West Australian for 23 of them, covering a record 122 Tests including four Ashes tours, and four World Cup campaigns. He has also covered more than 500 WAFL and AFL matches. He will write a weekly column for SportFM this year.


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