Looking to move on from one of the darkest periods in its 140-year history, Cricket Australia has chosen Justin Langer as its new head coach, hoping the 105-test veteran will lead the national team out of the fallout from the ball-tampering scandal in South Africa.
Langer takes over for Darren Lehmann, who resigned after the embarrassing ball-tampering episode in March that saw Australia’s two leading players — captain Steve Smith and vice-captain David Warner — banned by Cricket Australia for 12 months.
The new coach inherits a team that sits third on the International Cricket Council test rankings, fifth in one-day internationals, but one that has lost much of the support it had from the Australian public.
The 47-year-old Langer played for Australia for nearly 20 years, scoring 7,500 runs, including 23 centuries. Langer had been head coach of Western Australia state and the Perth Scorchers Twenty20 team since November 2012, during which time he was lauded for his player development skills.
Lehmann quit as coach in the days after the March 24 ball-tampering incident during the third test in Cape Town, which resulted in Smith and Warner handed the year-long bans and being sent home from the tour.
Cameron Bancroft, a player who tried to use sandpaper to alter the surface of the ball, was given a nine-month ban.
Langer will coach Australia in all three formats of the game and will start on May 22 for a four-year term that includes two Ashes series, a World Cup and World T20 tournament.
Langer was endorsed as Lehmann’s replacement by the Cricket Australia board of directors on Wednesday night.
“Justin was the clear standout, particularly based on his recent coaching and player development achievements,” Cricket Australia chief executive James Sutherland said Thursday.
Langer referred indirectly to the ball-tampering episode.
“There will be some significant challenges ahead for our group, but there is a wealth of talent in Australian cricket,” Langer said in a statement. “I’m thoroughly looking forward to working with all players … with the support and respect of the Australian public.”
At a later media conference with Sutherland, Langer left the door open for the return of Smith, Warner and Bancroft when their bans end.
“They’ve made mistakes. We have all made mistakes and we can all get better,” Langer said. “If they meet the standards of the Australian cricket team, of course, they will be welcomed back.”
Following the ball-tampering incident, former England captain Michael Vaughan said Australia’s cricketers had been “abusive” and “self-righteous.” Vaughan was in a more complimentary mood after the Langer announcement.
“Justin Langer is the new Aussie cricket coach … no question he will have a positive impact … Concerns me already about next Yrs Ashes !!” Vaughan wrote on Twitter.
Langer had previously been linked to the vacant England coaching position before another Australian, Trevor Bayliss, was appointed in 2015.
Langer was always considered the most likely replacement after Lehmann announced at an emotional media conference in Johannesburg that he would resign as a result of the Cape Town incident.
TV cameras detected Bancroft’s clumsy attempt at scratching the surface of the ball with a small piece of sandpaper with the aim of giving his bowlers an advantage over the batters. A CA investigation found that Warner was the instigator of the plot, and Smith said he didn’t do enough to prevent the cheating attempt.
It’s been a busy week for Cricket Australia as it attempts to move on from the ball-tampering blight.
On Tuesday, it said The Ethics Centre, an independent company which conducts reviews for major organizations, would investigate cultural, organizational and governance issues within Cricket Australia to see if they are linked to player behavior.
Langer will also be part of a player review panel announced by CA at the same time as The Ethics Centre probe.
On Monday, Cricket Australia announced its home summer schedule for 2018-19, including a four-test series against India and a two-test series against Sri Lanka.
They are two series which Australia will play with a new coach, but without two backbones of its team, Smith and Warner.