The Australian cricket team converged in Sydney this week to put the finishing touches on plans to defend its T20 World Cup crown.
Given the short, 11-month turnaround from when the trophy was won in Dubai, there are many familiar faces, and very few new ones.
Tim David is the only addition to the playing squad, while the coaching staff has undergone little change, too, with coach Andrew McDonald an assistant last time around.
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Being given the chance to defend the T20 World Cup on home soil, having been the first Australian men’s group to ever win it, is just reward for the tight-knit group.
Spare a thought for the odd man out, however — the one who oversaw it all but was brutally pushed aside just months later.
No, not Mitchell Swepson – the only player from Australia’s 2021 World Cup squad to miss out this time around – but Justin Langer.
He’s the only major absentee from that history-making group who were crowned champions amid that Dubai delirium.
Strange to think that it’s been less than nine months since the former Australia coach decided to walk having been offered only a six-month contract extension.
Stranger still to think that despite his big personality and major influence on Australian cricket for nearly four years, his shadow does not loom large over this playing group.
The team has seemingly moved on.
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That is partly owed to a hectic 2022 schedule in which Australia has played series in Pakistan, Sri Lanka and India, and hosted Zimbabwe, New Zealand, West Indies and England.
As such, those nine months might feel like nine years for some.
But it’s mainly due to the contentment from the players, who are chuffed with the team environment that’s been developed over the past 12 months.
The Australian cricket team has seldom been a happier place — but that is by no means a suggestion that it was Langer’s departure that created the joy.
Foxsports.com.au spoke to several senior players before the start of the summer and asked if the team was relaxed and happy now that Langer had departed.
The near-unanimous consensus among players was that they were already happy after Langer took on their feedback about his management.
It arguably makes Cricket Australia’s decision to push Langer aside seem all the more harsh.
“The team’s happy with where they’re at. I think the guys, they were happy anyway when JL was there,” Warner told foxsports.com.au.
“It was just what unfolded was way above our heads. Obviously (it was) the board and JL’s management.”
Mitchell Starc is of the same opinion, pinpointing last year’s World Cup — nearly four months and 12 matches before Langer’s departure — as the time that the Australian cricket team rediscovered the joy.
“I don’t think much in the group has changed since the (last) World Cup,” he said.
“Obviously personnel has changed but I think the feeling among the group probably started prior to the World Cup and then obviously throughout the World cup and the Ashes it just continued.
“In terms of the vibe and training, it’s been a very enjoyable place and a very close group among formats for six to nine months I guess. I don’t think too much has changed. It’s very relaxed.”
Meanwhile, Marcus Stoinis went as far to say that the group has never had as much fun playing cricket as they did under a reformed Langer in the UAE last year.
“I think to be fair to JL, even at the end of his tenure as the coach, he did implement a lot of changes and the mood in the camp did change a lot through his journey,” Stoinis said.
“We had a super successful World Cup campaign where we all had, if you speak to the boys, arguably the most fun we’ve ever had paying cricket. It was great.
“Since then it’s just sort of carried on. So there hasn’t been a massive change (since JL left), it’s more the fact that that change that probably happened about then has carried on.”
He added: “Winning a big tournament like that I think settles a lot of nerves in the whole room, whether it’s the dressing room or the coaching staff or whether it’s the CA board, I think it settles a lot of things.
“That’s been a noticeable carry-on since that World Cup and I think, probably, in the Test team as well, although I’m not around.”
‘ROBUST’ TALKS THAT ENDED LANGER’S REIGN
The turning point the players spoke of came after an awkward chapter in mid-2021, when there was an uprising against Langer, whose micromanagement and mood swings were said to have grated on the playing group.
The tension reached its peak during tours of the Caribbean and Bangladesh, with the tipping point being Langer’s reported ugly, public confrontation with a Cricket Australia digital staffer.
Some players had had enough — and Cricket Australia listened, leading to a crisis meeting between senior figures and Langer.
Captains Paine and Aaron Finch, then vice-captain Pat Cummins, Cricket Australia chief Nick Hockley and chair Earl Eddings met for the talks that Paine described as “robust”.
The outcome was that Langer maintained the full support of CA until the end of the 2021-22 Ashes, but he was to take a backwards step and delegate more readily.
Langer took the brutal feedback on the chin.
It’s widely accepted that he made the changes he was asked of, and the winning results started to flow.
The Australian great might’ve been a flawed coach in some of the modern ways, but by traditional metrics — such as winning games of cricket — he was exceptional.
In Western Australia, he won three Big Bash League titles with the Perth Scorchers and another One-Day Cup with the state side.
After being promoted to the national team in 2018, he became the first Australia coach to retain the Ashes urn in England since 2001. In his final summer, he led Australia to its first men’s T20 World Cup title, and defended the Ashes again 4-0.
Yet it still wasn’t enough.
It became clear that the end-sequence for Langer’s reign had been irreversibly triggered, and results were going to matter little as his contract winded down.
His exit in February caused a mini civil war within Australian cricket that pitted some legends, and friends of Langer, against parts of the current playing group.
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The late great Shane Warne took aim at the “NSW mafia”, claiming that the likes of Cummins and his Blues teammates wanted Langer gone.
Langer’s long-time opening partner Matthew Hayden was furious, labelling rebel players as “downright disrespectful” and “facetious”.
The narrative began to swing against some of the current playing group, who were being painted as the villains of the piece.
But Warner was eager to set the record straight, saying that Paine was a driving force for the changes that were thrust upon Langer, while current Test and ODI captain Cummins was “thrown in the deep end”.
“Obviously there was a lot of media attention around all that which was unfortunate,” Warner said. “But that all happened under Painey before Cummo.
“So Cummo sort of got thrown in the deep end because Painey was in charge of all that, of all those reviews and stuff. So it was a weird one.”
‘WE RUN OUR OWN VIBE’
Players might’ve been happy with how things shook out after Langer took a backwards step, but it’s unlikely Paine drove a one-man campaign against the coach.
It should be said that two white ball players for Australia chose not to comment when asked by foxsports.com.au about changes in the post-Langer era.
Furthermore, Paine was not in that meeting alone, but was also with Cummins and Finch, who still hold captaincy positions.
How pleased the players are about Langer’s departure may never be clear.
What is, however, is that they happy now and have a team environment they’ve always wanted.
“We kind of run our own vibe,” Adam Zampa said.
“And we’re all so experienced now that the personnel change, bringing Ronnie (McDonald) in, he’s been with the squad anyway for quite a while now. It’s not like it’s alien to us, nothing major has changed.”
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He added: “Just the players are in a good space in terms of knowing what we want out of a coach, how we want our changeroom to feel.”
Warner gave further insight into that new changeroom philosophy, revealing the great amount of freedom and trust that is now given to players.
“One of our little words that we always say is ‘you own your own space’,” Warner said. “No one questions the way that you prepare or anything like that. For us, everyone’s so aware of all that and everything’s just free flowing.
“When it comes down to playing a game, we play it to the best of our ability all the time. There’s no second-guessing our method.
“We have our method and that’s what’s going to work, and it’s what has worked for you so stick with it.”