Australia’s scheduled series against Zimbabwe in the top end in August looks certain to be cancelled after the head coach Justin Langer indicated he was planning to have the team ready to play by September in anticipation of a possible white-ball tour of England.
On the day after Cricket Australia announced redundancies for 40 staff – far less than originally intended – as part of a reshaping of the governing body to reduce its cost base in a post-Covid-19 world, Langer spoke about undergoing the difficult task of telling the batting coach Graeme Hick he was no longer required as part of a reduced support staff.
He also expressed hope that cricket could strike a balance between the relatively cash poor game in which he had first emerged and the all-expenses paid extremes of recent campaigns including the 2019 World Cup and Ashes, in which Ricky Ponting and Steve Waugh were taken on as highly paid “guest” coaches to aid Langer and the captains Tim Paine and Aaron Finch.
“It’s been a tough few days actually, that’s the truth of it. Having to tell Hicky yesterday morning was like facing Curtly Ambrose and Courtney Walsh without a helmet and a box on. I was that nervous because you become good friends with them,” Langer said. “They’re ripping human beings. There’s no doubt about that. You couldn’t meet a person with greater integrity than Graeme Hick and his work ethic is unbelievable.
“It’s nothing he’s done it’s more the impact of the cost cutting that we’re doing, it was really hard as it was seeing Kevin Roberts go the other day. You build relationships with these guys and the human side of it kicked in yesterday, not just with Hickey and Kev, but some of the other cuts that happened.”
Looking at the return to play, Langer said much remained to be assessed, but it was clear from his timelines that a mooted August series against Zimbabwe would likely disappear, without much complaint from the broadcaster Fox Sports.
“I’m not sure when the soonest is. There’s obviously complexities to all these things,” he said. “Same with England. I’d imagine it’s really important for English cricket that the Australian cricket team goes there if we can. But it’s not as simple as that. With isolation periods and preparation then when we come back [and] when the ICC make the decision in July about the World Cup. Then if the IPL is going on, there’s so many moving parts at the moment. What I know is we’ll focus on being ready for early September.”
In terms of resources, Langer reflected on the fact that while things would need to be pared down somewhat, they were not going to have to go down to the extent he saw in his early years, when some state teams travelled with just their coach and the national side overseas had just the coach Bob Simpson, physio Errol Alcott, scorer Mike Walsh and a revolving door of board directors as tour managers.
“Won’t be to that degree that’s for sure, but we had a pretty good team even when it was like that didn’t we? Now we’ve got to a point where we will certainly have less staff on the road with us but the guys will still get great support, whether it’s remotely as we’ve seen over this Covid period, there’s a lot of support that can be given and serviced remotely.
“We’ll all need to adapt to that. We’ll be a bit leaner and sharper that’s for sure, but we’ll survive. The players will still get the service required to put a great product on the team collectively and individually. And let’s face it – we had 14 or 15 people on the road with us a few months ago. That will change a little bit but it certainly won’t be as dramatic as it was back when I was a 19-year-old kid.”
Langer was hopeful that the likes of Ponting and Waugh could be coaxed back to assist the team at times, but he admitted that a period of doing so much by remote video conferencing had opened his eyes to what would be possible in terms of selection meetings, among other things.
“If you’d have asked me 10 or 12 weeks ago, I’d have thought it’s nice to have a selector around or other people,” Langer said. “But I’m sure there’s going to be scope for using a lot more of this technology to make these decisions, to talk to the captain, to talk to the senior players and that’ll be a part of it.”
As for cuts to the National Cricket Centre in Brisbane, Langer said times had changed from his scholarship at the former ACB cricket academy in Adelaide, noting that the former “boot camp” style training for attendees was now replicated in each of the six states.
“When I went to the cricket academy…it was just an amazing opportunity, to see what it was like to be a professional cricketer that trained every single day,” he said. “So back then, it was an incredible experience, but what I observe now is that the young players have that in their states now.
“But the NCC, it’s an incredible facility. I’m sure there will be opportunities for our best young players to still do some overseas tours and get some exposure in India, Sri Lanka or areas that we don’t get to experience back here.”