Justin Langer timeline: rebuilding Australia, Ashes glory and a World Cup
The men’s team need a new head coach after Langer stepped down despite considerable success
Amid the fallout to the Newlands ball-tampering scandal, Justin Langer is appointed as head coach. ”We look to encourage great cricketers but also great Australians and great citizens,” he says. “I think one of the things that’s really important is that we keep looking to earn respect.”
The first tour of the Langer era is a limited-overs trip to England where Australia are thrashed 5-0 in the ODIs and also beaten in the one-off T20I. “I knew it was going to be a big job, knowing where we came from in South Africa,” Langer says at the end of the tour. “On the surface it looks like a complete disaster but we have talked about building a team that’s going to be ready for the World Cup and the Ashes and I think we have unlocked a few answers. But it hurts when you get beaten, particularly in England.”
The Test team comes back together and the opening match against Pakistan provides an early high-point as Usman Khawaja and new captain Tim Paine fashion a superb draw in Dubai. However, things are brought back down to earth with a bump in the second Test which Pakistan win by 373 runs.
The series against India stands at 1-1 after Australia respond to a narrow defeat in Adelaide with a resurgent victory in Perth. But that’s as good as it gets for the home side as they collapse against Jasprit Bumrah at the MCG, and at the SCG they are forced to follow on before the rain arrives. Marnus Labuschagne is recalled and bats at No. 3
Australia revive their flagging one-day form with a stunning come-from-behind series win in India followed by a 5-0 victory over Pakistan in the UAE as, at the last moment, their World Cup plans take shape.
David Warner and Steven Smith return to international cricket with the former playing a key role as Australia look one of the strongest sides in the tournament. Aside from an early defeat against India, they canter to the semi-finals with Mitchell Starc in stunning form before a rampaging England exact revenge for a league-stage defeat.
Edgbaston is conquered thanks to the remarkable Test return of Smith, then after Ben Stokes pulls off the Miracle of Headingley (Langer kicking a dustbin later becomes a viral clip from The Test documentary) Australia regroup to retain the Ashes with victory at Old Trafford. It is set up by a double-century from Smith who had missed the Leeds defeat due to concussion while Pat Cummins’ second-innings dismissal of Joe Root is a social-media regular. However, Australia can’t ice the cake as they lose at The Oval. “We are a good team, we are a maturing team and we’ve got some great players in it, but we’re aspiring to be a great cricket team,” Langer says.
Warner and Labuschagne feast on Pakistan and the latter continues to do the same against New Zealand as Australia reassert home dominance against two visiting sides who significantly underwhelm.
Australia’s pandemic-life cricket starts with a return to England, which finishes in spectacular style as centuries from Glenn Maxwell and Alex Carey secure a remarkable victory in the decider.
India are bowled out for 36 in Adelaide. Rebound with victory in Melbourne. A fraught draw in Sydney. It’s all square going to the Gabba where Australia haven’t lost since 1988. And they lose. India pull off one of their greatest victories with a side badly hit by injury and also missing Virat Kohli. Shortly after, reports begin to come out of discontent in the Australia dressing room – it involves a toasted sandwich – and the cracks start to emerge.
With a tour to South Africa postponed due to Covid, Australia do not play again for months and the team they take to West Indies and Bangladesh is missing a host of key names. They are heavily beaten in both T20I series but take the ODI series against West Indies. When the squad returns and is in quarantine in Adelaide there are more reports of a major rift in the camp and this time it nearly claims the coach before high-level emergency talks rescue the situation. “We all got a lot off our chests,” Langer tells the West Australian. “I think we are all in a better place now.”
Would you believe it? Among the least-fancied teams, Australia recover from a crushing defeat against England to secure a semi-final berth. There they overcome Pakistan with Matthew Wade playing the innings of the life. In the final against local rivals New Zealand it’s Warner and Mitchell Marsh who lead them to the title.
It is never a contest. Literally from the first ball, when Starc removes Rory Burns’ leg stump, Australia are never threatened in retaining the Ashes. It takes just 12 days as Scott Boland’s scarcely-believable 6 for 7 grabs the headlines at the MCG. It’s not quite 5-0 as England cling on in Sydney, but despite a suggestion the final game could be a contest it’s another emphatic win in three days. Justin Langer sits among his players on the stage during the presentations. It proves his final match.
Andrew McGlashan is a deputy editor at ESPNcricinfo
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