Australian cricket needs to ease the burden on Langer

If I offered you the opportunity to coach the Australian cricket team or an AFL or NRL club, which would you prefer? Which job would be more rewarding?

Let's look at the good and the bad of being the head coach of the Australian men's cricket team. During the week I had the chance to speak to Australian coach Justin Langer. He was recharging his batteries on a beach somewhere in WA after a long and gruelling 20 months with the Australian team.

You could tell in his voice that the past year had been hard on him. The ups and downs that come from coaching can wear you out pretty quickly and he needed a well-deserved break. Langer should feel very proud of his work and achievements as I feel he has gone above and beyond the call of duty.

Justin Langer can be proud of his work with the Australian team. But his workload is enormous.Credit:Getty Images

The experience he gained as Western Australian coach before his big promotion no doubt put him in good stead to get the job done and helped him become a brilliant coach.

Langer applied for the role back in 2011 but, by his own admission, wasn't ready. Mickey Arthur got the job but high performance manager Pat Howard liked what he saw in the former Australian opener and created a program to make sure that Langer would one day become the national head coach. Good cricket coaches are hard to find.

The Australian team has made remarkable progress since he was appointed in May 2018. Before his appointment, the team was rudderless after the sandpaper scandal and there was an obvious need for change. When Darren Lehmann resigned as coach, Cricket Australia didn't have to look far for a replacement.

Langer already knew what needed to be done. After all, Langer had to create a new culture, attitudes and disciplines with WA. Langer got busy. He always maintained a great work ethic. He needed to lay down the law and be tough, fair and always honest. And applying the same strategies and processes he learnt with WA, things started to change for the better within the Australian team.

The culture has been reset and a new team spirit has developed that has created a new-found respect within the playing group and the fans.

Langer has done this all so wonderfully well. Yes, he has been hard on the team. It's never easy trying to create consistent behaviour patterns and a new playing style. This is what coaches do. They lead. Thankfully it's all worked out and all kudos must go to him and the team captains Tim Paine and Aaron Finch.

But all of this has come at a cost for Langer. To put up with this lifestyle of months on the road, many days away from your family and treading a fine line of not wearing out his players or making instructions too complicated is a bloody tough gig.

If you look at the salaries of the big three national coaches – in India, England and Australia – Ravi Shastri, Chris Silverwood and Justin Langer get paid around $1 million each year. Please, trust me when I say this, they earn it.

Unlike the AFL and NRL, cricket is a 12-month sport. Langer's workload as a head coach is a major concern for me. In 2019, Australia played 12 Tests, 23 one-day internationals and eight Twenty20s. That could have been 91 match days, although several of the Tests ended early. Throw in some practice matches, practice in general, travel, camps, dealing with the media and other duties and Langer can spend more than 300 days a year in hotel rooms.

Langer's responsibilities also include coaching 20 contracted players in conjunction with managing 10 specialist coaches and staff.

If CA maintains his workload, I feel Langer will be burnt out in two years or so and surely that's not good for Australian cricket.

The head coaching role of the Australian cricket team needs to keep evolving. I think in time it will be split into two roles. The head coach will coach the Test and ODI teams and there will be a new coach for Twenty20 cricket. With the ICC planning on having T20 World Cup events every two years, I feel it's a matter of not if, but when.

Now let's say for argument's sake that Langer could be as good a coach in cricket as Alastair Clarkson is in the AFL or Wayne Bennett in the NRL. There is no way Langer can last as long as Clarkson, the longest-serving senior coach in the AFL, or Bennett, the same in the NRL.

There is no way Justin Langer can coach as long as AFL master Alastair Clarkson.Credit:AAP

Let's look at an AFL coach. An AFL senior coach has a six-month season with, depending on progress in the finals, around 25 match days to prepare for. He mentally and physically prepares his list of 45 players for each game plan and each different opposition. He also has to contend and manage his staff of around 14 specialist coaches to make sure that game plan filters through.

On top of that, he then must deal with the other 40-plus staff who run the club on a daily basis. It is also a massive job.

AFL head coaches' wages vary depending on each individual's experience and success – from $450,000-$1.2 million. Most clubs spend around 30 days on the road. On the other hand Collingwood coach Nathan Buckley would no doubt cop more flak from fans when the Magpies lose than Langer would from Australian cricket fans.

So again, whose job would you prefer? Over time, compared to the AFL and the NRL, there has been a greater evolution in the Australian cricket role. I roll my eyes and get slightly angry when I hear past players trot out the old line that a coach's job "is to take the team from the hotel to the ground". While I admire and watch intently the AFL coaches strutting their stuff, the role of the Australian cricket coach is very much underestimated and undervalued.

After the Mickey Arthur experiment, the Australian cricketing community is not so tolerant of overseas coaches running their national team. As I said before, quality cricket coaches are hard to find and I feel the AFL does it better when it comes to recruiting and developing future coaches.

Maybe there are more opportunities in the AFL, but the BCCI, for instance, pay over a million dollars to Rahul Dravid, who is the director of the national academy and monitors the Indian A and under-19 teams. He is such a quality person and is exactly the right person when dealing with young talent.

While I am at it, CA also needs to pay more to the head coaches of each state. Surely, being the head coach of a state has more responsibility than one of the national team's specialist coaches, who also do great work, by the way, but seem to get paid more. I believe the state coaches' role is critical in shaping the techniques and mindsets of future Australian stars such as Jake Fraser-McGurk and Mackenzie Harvey.

I will leave you with just one more thought. Would you prefer to coach the Australian team to win an Ashes series or even a World Cup? Or would you prefer to coach a club like Carlton, Collingwood or Richmond to an AFL premiership? Or the Brisbane Broncos or South Sydney Rabbitohs to an NRL crown? I know which one I would prefer.

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