Langer brings grit, manners and faith to Australian cricket

Former English Test spinner Phil Tufnell tells a story about Justin Langer that gives a glimpse into the volatile and passionate character appointed to lift Australian cricket out of its ball-tampering gloom.

When he was a Middlesex player, the new Australia head coach became disgusted by what he saw as county cricket's lazy side. Tufnell recounted on his BBC Radio show how he reacted to the opposition being "about 400 for one" by storming into the Middlesex dressing room at tea.

Come together: Justin Langer is the man to lead Australia post-sandpapergate.

Come together: Justin Langer is the man to lead Australia post-sandpapergate.

"We all wanted to get to the chocolate eclairs and cream slices. We did not really care [that] the opposition were 400 for one," said Tufnell. "He came in and got the tray of chocolate eclairs and cream slices and threw it against the wall and said, 'You're never going to win anything with chocolate eclairs'."

Langer is back at Lord's today where the cream stains have been wiped off the wall. Older and wiser at 47, and a hugely respected figure, Langer will talk about how he intends to drive the Australian team forward as their new head coach, starting with the five-match one-day international series against England.

Langer was the runaway favourite to replace Darren Lehmann after building up a good reputation as the coach of Western Australia and the Perth Scorchers.

He has a strong faith, a large collection of rosary beads and constantly drives his players to better themselves. He meditates every morning, is a voracious reader, swims and runs every day, and loves martial arts. He is far removed from the old school, beer-drinking Lehmann.

Australian batsman Justin Langer waves his bat to the crowd following their 2007 win over England at the SCG in his final Test match.

Australian batsman Justin Langer waves his bat to the crowd following their 2007 win over England at the SCG in his final Test match.

"He will want people to buy into this: better people first, great cricketers second. And that is where he will start," said Cristina Matthews, the WACA chief executive.

He left his mark on county cricket, even if his time at Middlesex did not work out. Andrew Strauss later admitted that was because county cricketers "tended to shun hard work and commitment".

He had better times at Somerset, a smaller club where Langer did not meet the same ingrained attitudes. "I remember going out to bat with him and he was on 300-and-something not out and he came down the wicket and stared me down, like he was going to fight me in a nightclub, and said, 'the job is not done yet'," says Peter Trego, the Somerset all-rounder.

"I was like, 'This Test match legend is 300-odd and he is still absolutely ferociously engaged in the game'. I realised this guy was a different breed to anything I had ever experienced."

The questions today at Lord's will be dominated by how Langer will change the culture of Australian cricket while still maintaining their hard edge.

"Justin is a quality human being and he won't allow insulting behaviour. Not just rude behaviour, worse than rude behaviour. Nor will he allow cheating. Manners matter.

"You can be as hard as you like but if you don't have manners, what is it all about? That would be Justin's sort of outlook, too," says Nigel Wray, the owner of Saracens, who has known him since he was a teenager.

Despite his disdain for English laziness, Langer traces his own ambition back to a spell playing club cricket for Old Millhillians in north London when he lived with the Wray family, who sponsored a young Australian professional every year.

One day, Wray took the young Langer aside and told him that he would never make it unless he went the extra mile "to be different and better". Langer was stung and wrote in his diary: "I will show that b——".

The ball tampering scandal and the loss of leaders David Warner and Steve Smith has forced a re-think of the Australian approach to cricket.

The ball tampering scandal and the loss of leaders David Warner and Steve Smith has forced a re-think of the Australian approach to cricket.

And he did, playing 105 Tests and squeezing every ounce out of his talent to stay in the team, keeping out more talented players such as Lehmann.

Saracens now sing a club song after every victory, an influence from the Langer-Wray connection. Langer would always lead the Australian team's rendition of Under the Southern Cross I Stand after each Test win, and he had plenty of practice with 70 Test victories. He has led Perth Scorchers to three Big Bash titles.

"He is gritty, tough – you don't play a hundred times for Australia and not have a hardness about you," says Wray.

"But he is a moral man, a family man and he won't put up with stuff, and he will put a smile again on the face of Australian cricket."

Players will be booted out for not following his ways, but Langer also sums leadership up as "caring about people". Trego agrees.

"If anyone epitomises the best of man management, it is JL. He sent an email at the end of the season calling me an X-factor player.

For someone like that, a legend of the game, to send an email and pick out Pete Trego and put X-factor next to my name set me up for the rest of my career to have total belief in what I do."

Australia have a much-weakened side without the banned Smith and Warner and are a long way from working out their World Cup team. Injuries have ruled out Mitchell Starc and Pat Cummins. England are the world No.1 and a settled team.

During the ball-tampering saga, Lehmann suggested his team could change and be the nice guys of world cricket. Will that happen under Langer?

"It would be a travesty if Australia suddenly turned into a bunch of pleasant blokes on the cricket field," said Trego.

"I don't think anyone wants that, but a couple of people have carried on in a way that is not acceptable. The game will be played hard under JL but also fairly."

The Telegraph, London

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