Australia coach Justin Langer believes his team has regained the respect of international cricket after the ball-tampering scandal of 2018 that shattered the country’s reputation. In one of Australian cricket’s most shameful episodes, Steve Smith, David Warner and Cameron Bancroft were suspended for lengthy periods for their parts in a plot to tamper with the ball in a test match against South Africa in Cape Town.
Langer came in as coach after that scandal — with Australia, as he put it on Wednesday, “at crisis point” — and then had to pick up his demoralized and depleted team after a 5-0 whitewash at the hands of England in an ODI series soon after.
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However, the Australians — including Smith and Warner — are back in England for a white-ball tour two years later as the No. 1-ranked team in test and Twenty20 cricket.
“The team had made a terrible judgment in South Africa and, individually and collectively, we paid the price,” Langer said in a video call from the team’s training base in Southampton. “We came here with a very young team because of the circumstances and by gosh it put hairs on their chest. Come to England, young players, lose 5-0. It was that one last punch from Mother Cricket, saying, ‘You guys made a mistake and we’ll make sure you guys remember it.’
“But I think where we have come from two years ago, we had to earn respect back internationally. We had to make Australians back home proud of us and hopefully we’ve done that, on and off the cricket field.”
Langer recalled Smith — the subject of so much verbal abuse from English cricket fans since the scandal — actually getting applauded off the field in the final Ashes test last year. The former Australia opener said he regards that as one of the “highlights of my coaching career” and a signal that the Australians were on their way to redemption.
Because of the coronavirus pandemic, there will be no spectators in the ground to welcome the likes of Smith and Warner for the upcoming three-match T20 series — starting Friday — and the three-match ODI series that follows against England.
In terms of selection and philosophy, Australia has a settled T20 setup, but Langer appears more concerned about getting his ODI team in order on this tour.
Australia exited the Cricket World Cup semifinals on English soil last year, and lost ODI series to both India and South Africa in the months before the suspension of cricket in March because of the COVID-19 outbreak.
“We have worked really hard over this COVID period on how we can improve our one-day cricket,” Langer said. “We are going to make a few little changes to how we are going to select teams and hopefully that’ll give us some good outcomes not just in the short-term but leading to the World Cup in three years’ time.
“We are really clear on how we want to pick our test team. We are really clear on our T20 makeup. But we probably haven’t been as clear for the last three or four years (on the ODI game).”
One player who is threatening to break into the established T20 lineup is Marnus Labuschagne, who has yet to play in the format at international level having broken into the test team in spectacular fashion in last year’s Ashes and then into the ODI team in January.
The batsman pushed his claims for inclusion in the T20 series against England with a 51-ball 100 in an intra-squad match at the Rose Bowl on Tuesday, an innings described by Langer as “brilliant to watch.”
“What a young player. Who could have guessed his acceleration in improvement and that’s what we love to see,” Langer said. “We have had a pretty settled T20 side in the last 12 months or so and all we can ask for is that guys bang so hard that they are putting pressure on the guys in there.
“Whether Marnus plays in this series, or the first game on Friday, time will tell. We haven’t decided. But like he has done since he came into international cricket, he’s done everything he possibly could.”