MELBOURNE (Reuters) - For much of a glittering playing career, Justin Langer was the foundation rock upon which Australia erected towering piles of runs during a golden era of success.
Eleven years on from the last of his 105 tests, Langer returns to the national fold at one of its lowest ebbs in history, tasked with rebuilding a team from the ruins of disgrace.
On Thursday he was named head coach, filling a void after Darren Lehmann’s resignation in the wake of the ball-tampering scandal at Cape Town that stunned the cricket world and trashed the team’s reputation.
Both Langer and Lehmann shared dressing rooms in Steve Waugh’s Australia, a feared and brilliant team that made no apologies for crushing opponents with aggression and intimidation.
Much about their appointments share similar circumstances.
Lehmann was recruited amid another crisis of culture five years ago, and weeks after David Warner punched England’s Joe Root during a boozy night out in Birmingham.
He was unable to select Warner for the first two tests of the 2013 Ashes as the opener served a ban for the incident.
Langer will be without Warner for a year, the disgraced opener suspended along with former captain Steve Smith and batsman Cameron Bancroft for their part in the tampering.
Coincidences aside, Langer offers a different proposition to the larrikin figure of ‘Boof’, a beer-drinker and a smoker who helped repair the dressing room disharmony that festered under predecessor Mickey Arthur.
Australia’s players might expect more physical demands when training under the intense Western Australian, who stepped in for Lehmann during two limited overs series in the past two years.
“JL’s a bit of a fitness freak and very intense with that, whereas Boof’s probably the opposite,” Smith remarked in 2016.
“(Boof) would probably prefer to be out drinking a beer somewhere.”
While cleared of wrongdoing in the Cape Town scandal, Lehmann’s departure was greeted more with applause than mourning.
His staunch refusal to criticise his players publicly, much less sanction them for on-field misconduct, won their loyalty but grew stale for an Australian public increasingly uncomfortable with the team’s image.
Langer, a gritty campaigner who retired as one of Australia’s greatest opening batsmen in 2007, will have little trouble commanding the respect of the dressing room.
He also has a track record of fixing rotten cultures, having taken over a scandal-plagued Western Australia in 2012 and helped transform them into one of the country’s most successful states.
“Character over cover drives” has been the mantra of the 47-year-old Catholic and father of four, who would mark a cross at the crease when he went out to bat.
Redemption will also be offered for the fallen, and he was unequivocal about Smith, Warner and Bancroft’s right to regain their places in the side once they served their penance.
Fans hoping for a gentler Australia, in manner if not sport, are likely to be disappointed, however.
Langer said he was no Adam Gilchrist, Australia’s revered wicketkeeper batsman who would walk even if not given out by the umpire.
His team would still play aggressive cricket and sledging will still have its place.
“We’ve always played hard, some of the best banter is amongst each other to try to get the opposition thinking of other things,” he said.
“I think we modify our behaviours a bit so it’s not angry, or over-aggressive, but it’s aggressive in the mindset we play with the bat and ball.”
Editing by Amlan Chakraborty