As Justin Langer takes over, Robert Drane looks at how he compares to Darren Lehmann.
Highly successful out in the west, Justin Langer takes over the reins of the Australian side. How will he be different to Darren Lehmann? Robert Drane observes.
The key difference between the coaching styles of Justin Langer and Darren Lehmann is man-management. It’s not sexist to note that the Newlands affair was about men behaving badly. Abrasiveness (pun intended) led to the downfall of the three protagonists, and the team – among many other historical and cultural causes.
Just before he resigned, understanding dropped on Darren Lehmann from a great height. He admitted publicly his team’s relationships with opponents needed immediate repair. An unpleasant brand of aggression had flourished, but in the absence of defeat and that scandal, observation of it would have been confined to a whingeing fringe of journalists. Certain expectations extend into the deep past and extenuate Lehmann’s guilt.
Lehmann is a fine coach. Twice, the Aussies won home Ashes series under his tutelage. Most series these days go with serve, but they won other good victories. Importantly, the losses were hard-fought. Even in losing series, they produced redemptive moments that appeased even the severest critics.
Lehmann calmly, astutely sought answers and recruited expertise when troubling patterns emerged. It remains to be seen whether Langer’s coaching will result in better batting in foreign conditions, though we know he will create opportunities for success.
Lehmann was once the breath of fresh air Langer is now. He immediately had his team
focus on winning matches by making runs and taking wickets, playing as though they were enjoying it again. If those mumblings about on-field behaviour gained frequency, though, Boof wasn’t solely to blame. His emphasis was always on the standard of cricket. Many behavioural norms were inherited. Lehmann represented some of them which, ironically, is why he got the job. His “Aussie” approach was to leave acrimony on the field rather than remove it altogether, share a beer and a laugh with opponents; swap war stories – all that. Truth be told, it only really ever worked for Aussies.
Change was impossible if the cultural space around Lehmann discouraged it. Vital clues were being missed by Cricket Australia that team culture had been problematic, not only with opposing sides, but inside the team. The controlling body gave few signals that expectations had been altered. If we needed a good carpet to sweep it all under, the Ashes were Axminster!
Micro-management was never Boof’s forte. He was an outcomes man, much-needed at a time when outcomes were decidedly ordinary; an “old-school” trouble-shooter, generally unflustered, a good mentor with high expectations and a forgiving nature who believed in “controlling the controllables”. He fast-tracked Ryan Harris’ progress from Shield also-ran to feared match-turner. Chris Rogers, too, became crucial to Australia’s transition. Much of what happened during Boof’s tenure was gratifying.
He had a trait in common with Langer: he taught his players to love what they do. It will
LANGER BELIEVES A GOOD MAN ENDS UP PLAYING GOOD CRICKET, AS LONG AS HIS SKILL LEVEL IS ALREADY UP TO IT.
manifest differently under Langer. Lehmann, like Chappelli, was an advocate of enjoying oneself away from the game. Langer is too, but has seen, and repaired, the damage that approach can do if unrestrained. It impacts on lives, and ultimately, the cricket itself.
Langer is a process man, but not at the expense of results. Many coaches obsess about processes, and their corporate-speak is a dead giveaway. Langer uses a human language, as his recent diagnosis of the Smith-Warner-Bancroft affair demonstrates. Words he used, like “joy” and “forgiveness” seemed an ill fit, but that’s because we’ve become unused to hearing such outmoded ideas.
Culture is important to both coaches, but they see it differently. Langer believes a good man ends up playing good cricket, as long as his skill level is already up to it. To that end, he has conversations with players about agreed standards but also insists on non-negotiables. He builds a fence around his team. Within those confines, they can be free and expressive with their game. Look for lightly-regarded players to become champions under him. He’s no stiffnecked authoritarian, as some believe, but a learner.
Lacking Lehmann’s flair as a batsman, but possessing a flexible mind that carried lessons from one part of his life to another, Langer had an ability to apply those lessons. He imparts them with patience, forgiveness and judiciousness, and is preoccupied with leading people away from habits that might destroy them or their team. He believes the sum of all that good individual behaviour equals good culture. It’s as workable as anything an organisational theorist will give you. We know that because he’s applied it to real, sometimes dire, situations at the WACA.
Give Lehmann his due – he learned from the Cape Town affair. He’ll coach many more sides to become winners if he continues. Langer is still busy building fences. The hope is that his men will then be free to succeed at what they do best. It’s the method Australia currently needs – as long as they’re performing well and mostly winning. That expectation will never change.
Getting in gear: Justin Langer completes a long-awaited rise to the Aussie coaching role, and faces immediate challenges.
Boof left the job in tearful circumstances ...
... but count on JL to embrace it, as he did in WA, in the way he knows how.