The relationship between Australian batter Usman Khawaja and former mentor Justin Langer has come under the spotlight following explosive remarks about his tenure as national coach.
In a revealing and insightful interview with the BackChat Podcast, Langer attacked anonymous “cowards” that leaked against him, taking aim at the Cricket Australia board for his unceremonious sacking.
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The 52-year-old claimed Australian captains Pat Cummins and Aaron Finch failed to provide direct feedback about the playing group’s grievances with his intense coaching style.
“I spoke to Pat Cummins. He said to me about five times, ‘This might be brutally honest.’ I said, ‘Pat, there is nothing brutal about your feedback. What is brutal is I’m hearing it behind my back through the media or through sources.’ No one’s telling me. Tell me,” Langer said.
“Everyone was being nice to my face but I was reading about this stuff and half of it, I swear to God and on my kids’ lives, I could not believe that is what was making the papers.
“A lot of journalists use the word ‘source’. I would say, change that word to ‘coward’. A coward says, not a source. Because what do you mean a source says? They’ve either got an axe to grind with someone and they won’t come and say it to your face, or they’re just leaking stuff for their own agenda. I hate that.”
Langer’s remarks were rubbished by CA chief executive Nick Hockley on Wednesday, who claimed that “regular formal and informal opportunities to provide and receive feedback took place throughout his tenure”.
According to The Age, Langer was handed extensive feedback following two separate independent reviews conducted by leadership expert Tim Ford.
And the West Australian was seen struggling to accept feedback from Khawaja during popular docuseries The Test: A New Era for Australia’s Team.
Following the 2018 Boxing Day Test against India at the MCG, a nervous Khawaja directly informed Langer that players were “intimidated” by him.
“We can’t always control the result. You get better as individuals, players, staff, everyone, be in better control of that emotion, be more level-headed, without trying to make it too complicated,” Khawaja said.
“I think that’s what the boys are trying to say. Does that makes sense?
“The boys are intimidated by you, Alf. I think there’s a bit of the walking on eggshells sort of thing. I feel like I think the boys are afraid to say it.”
Players were seemingly afraid to confront Langer — with the exception of Khawaja.
The Queenslander was dropped from the Test side in 2019 following an underwhelming Ashes campaign, but the talented left-hander threw his support behind Langer after reports of player unrest emerged two years later.
“How do you think JL feels? He probably feels like the guys in the team are stabbing him in the back, and that’s what it looks like,” Khawaja said on his YouTube channel last year.
“That’s why it’s so disappointing. It’s actually a really bad look. This is something the group needs to sort out ASAP.”
Last year, Hockley and then CA chair Earl Eddings were forced to call an emergency meeting with senior players to address issues within the changeroom, prompting Langer to take a step back and delegate more control to his support staff.
The team’s performance improved after Langer handed responsibility over to assistant coaches Andrew McDonald and Michael Di Venuto, winning a maiden T20 World Cup title in the United Arab Emirates and retaining the Ashes undefeated on home soil.
In February, Langer resigned as national coach after CA offered him a six-month contract extension.
News Corp reporter Robert Craddock suggests that Khawaja was the only player capable of short-circuiting the vicious feud between Langer and his team.
Unfortunately, he wasn’t in the changeroom when Australia needed him.
“I didn’t really know what was going on. I wasn’t part of the process. I just came back into the team a few months ago,” Khawaja said following Langer’s resignation.
“I’ve been a little bit out of it.
“I love him as a bloke, he’s a legend.
“He brought humility back to the Australian team … I know what we played like before he was coach and I know what we played like when he was coach.”
Nine months after Langer’s unceremonious resignation, tensions have reached breaking point.
A war of words has erupted between CA and Langer one week out from the first Test of the home summer, an unnecessary distraction ahead of West Indies series.
“We have not commented to date other than to correct inaccuracies, of which there are a number in Justin’s comments,” Hockley said in a statement.
“I am disappointed by Justin’s comments unfairly criticising some of our players. The playing group are aware they have my full support.
“After an excellent performance against England in the one-day international series, we are fully focused on an exciting Test series against the West Indies and South Africa.”