Read through comments from Michael Clarke, or tune into an interview with Shane Watson, and they all want to know the same thing.
Where was the spark? Where was the intensity?
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You’ll read plenty of reasons for Australia looking like a team that ran out of puff, chiefly because of the gruelling lead-up to the tournament.
But as the dust settles, it feels worth noting that this side lacked intensity months after it pushed aside a coach for being too intense.
Oh how Justin Langer would have loathed many aspects of this Australian performance.
Australia let its standards drop in all three areas. It was uncharacteristically sluggish in the field, dropping six catches. According to The Telegraph, only one nation had a worse success rate than Australia’s 68 per cent.
With the bat, Australia was rolled for 111 by New Zealand, stumbled in a small chase against Sri Lanka, and only took 25 runs off the final four overs against Afghanistan.
With the ball, New Zealand put up 3-200 while Ireland was allowed to go from teetering at 5-25 to 137.
The T20 World Cup might be one of the most cutthroat tournaments in all team sport, while it should be said Australia wasn’t poor, having won three of its four completed matches.
Nonetheless, these were all avoidable lapses that shaped the course of Australia’s title defence.
Clarke said the lack of edge on display was “very un-Australian” compared to what was seen at last year’s World Cup, which was won under Langer.
“I think Australians in general, on the biggest stage under the most amount of pressure, always put it in on the line and have a crack,” he said on Sky SportsRadio. “We’re not scared to lose.
“Yet we picked an aggressive 11 in this World Cup squad yet played so defensively. Very un-Australian.”
Watson said Australia “lacked intensity”, adding: “It was very, very disappointing to watch the brand of cricket that the Aussies played during this tournament.”
Nonetheless, in arguably the biggest example of how Australia has moved on from Langer, Glenn Maxwell felt relaxed enough in defeat to admit that he’s already gotten over it.
“Cricket never stops so you don’t get time to dwell. Maybe when you retire you think back to ‘it would have been nice to win that’ but it doesn’t mean anything,” Maxwell said. “I wish we had of won but we didn‘t.”
The drop in playing standards would have angered Langer, but his blood would’ve been boiling after Maxwell’s comments.
Imagine a key player being so outwardly nonchalant about the underperformance of the national cricket team in any other era, let alone Langer’s.
Go back to before the tournament started, and even captain Aaron Finch was raising eyebrows by saying that Australia was already “tired”.
Former Australia all-rounder Simon O’Donnell said it was akin to “waving the white flag” before the tournament even started.
“I couldn’t understand how emotionless we were, particularly in that format,” he said on SEN.
“You’re playing for your country. Before you play a tournament for your country, you’re saying ‘we’re very tired’. It’s just not right.”
Australia had already lost its bark since Sandpapergate, but at the World Cup, it had lost its bite, too.
Other nations rejoiced. Former England captain Michael Vaughan said on Cricbuzz live that Australia was no longer “ruthless” and was “a nice team to play against”.
Indian sports producer and former Kolkata Knight Riders team director Joy Bhattacharjya pointed to the cultural change, led by McDonald, as a potential reason.
“I think somewhere there’s a little bit of steel they need. Things have changed,” he said on the program.
“Justin Langer was a very different type of coach and I think you have a different kind of culture now with Andrew McDonald.”
‘WOULD HAVE GOT A MASSIVE BOOT UP THE BACKSIDE’
Times change and players are happy with the new culture they’ve helped create under coach Andrew McDonald, who collaborates with players rather than dictates to them.
It’s a relaxed environment the players want but, in flopping at the T20 World Cup, they’ve left themselves open to the big question: Is it the environment they need?
Rewind to March this year and the Australian cricket team couldn’t have looked like a happier place.
McDonald was in charge, Langer the hard taskmaster had departed, and Australia was claiming a 1-0 Test series win in Pakistan to kick off the new reign.
The external anger over how Langer — who had just won the T20 World Cup and Ashes 4-0 — was pushed aside immediately quietened.
No harm was done to McDonald’s reputation in a 1-1 draw in Sri Lanka in the middle of the year, while August and September’s white ball games were treated as mere warm-ups for the World Cup.
The T20 World Cup was therefore the first time McDonald experienced a high-pressure environment on home soil — and it proved to be a failure.
Watson said that up until that point, both McDonald and head selector George Bailey had enjoyed a “pretty cruisy ride”.
Now McDonald has been opened up to a level of criticism he was yet to face.
“A T20 World Cup at home where the team didn’t perform as the group certainly can, the microscope will be on them, as it should be,” Watson said.
“There are a lot of questions that need to be answered by the coaches and the selection staff to be able to right the wrongs. It seems to be the same patterns that we’re not learning lessons from.”
Criticism of McDonald will inevitably tie in with Langer, and how this Australian side might’ve fared if he was still involved.
Would have Australia surrendered so limply against New Zealand? Would have it taken the foot off the gas when opportunities for big wins arose?
We can’t know the answer to these questions, but with Australia clearly lacking intensity, you can’t help but wonder if it lost more than it bargained for when Langer walked out the door.
Clarke said that if Langer was still in charge, Australia would have had a completely different attitude heading in.
“I feel for Andrew McDonald because he’s a great bloke but I guarantee to you, if JL was coach of this team, this team would have got a massive boot up the backside well before the tournament started,” he said.
Now old wounds are being reopened with Langer enjoying another round of public support, several months after he left.
At the front of the charge is O’Donnell. He has renewed the debate around Langer’s exit, which was put in motion last year when Tim Paine, Aaron Finch and Pat Cummins led a player revolt of sorts.
With the players worn down by his intensity and micromanagement, Langer agreed to take a step back — and strong results followed.
Even so, he was only offered a six-month renewal after the Ashes with McDonald a clear favourite to lead among players and Cricket Australia.
O’Donnell said he now “only sees trouble” for McDonald’s future.
“When the player opinion started coming in is when this got murky,” he said.
“I’m a great believer that you can’t lead by negotiation. You cannot lead by saying ‘I’ll do it this way as long as you guys are happy’. Andrew McDonald must put his stamp on this and say, ‘this is me as a coach’.
“He’s part player-appointed, so how does he do it? How is he their mate and their boss as well? When you muddy that line, I only see trouble.”
‘A SOUR TASTE’
What we’re also starting to learn is that Langer’s departure might’ve had more of a long-lasting impact than first realised.
Clarke calls it a “real dislike”. O’Donnell says it’s a “sour taste”. Whatever it is, there’s a general feeling that the Australian cricket team might be on the nose with the public once more.
The way in which Langer was pushed into the background by players in 2021, and then effectively altogether by CA, was a controversial incident.
It was easy to quantify the outrage of Australian cricket legends and Langer’s former teammates through their strong public reactions.
Harder to quantify, however, was how the decision went down with fans — although that might be becoming clearer.
Australia’s World Cup matches were poorly attended, from nearly 35,000 in the opener at the SCG, down to about 18,000 in the final match at Adelaide Oval.
Many fans aren’t interested until the first ball of the Test summer, but Adam Gilchrist warned that the attendances might speak to more than just the nation’s part-time relationship with cricket.
“Whether those crowds being down and the appetite and enthusiasm for World Cup is reflective of the current team, I’ve got no idea,” he said on SEN.
“People vote with their feet, but I don’t know if it was too early in the summer … we’ll see how it plays out over the summer.”
O’Donnell believes that the lukewarm reception for the Australian cricket team can be traced back to Langer’s departure.
“The Langer thing is big in this,” O’Donnell said. “People didn’t like how that happened.
“Justin Langer was much loved. And that unceremonious dumping of the coach and the players’ activity behind the scenes, that has left a sour taste in a lot of people’s mouth.”
News Corp senior cricket writer Robert Craddock said O’Donnell “was right”, adding: “There is a disconnect and a slight hangover from the Justin Langer era.
“Justin may not have been the players’ favourite, but there was a lot of residual affection for that guy out in the public.
“I hear it, I see it in comments at the bottom of my stories. I get the players’ argument about why Langer had to go and I get that, but given his record, there was a lot of public affection for him.”
It’s something that Clarke has noted as well.
In his role as a radio presenter and broadcaster, the former Australia captain said he’s noted growing schadenfreude within the public as a result of the unrest around Langer’s exit.
“I said it on here a few weeks back — at the moment it feels like there is a real dislike for the Aussie team,” he said. “I want to see that change. We’ve already got messages this morning. So many people are happy that Australia lost.
“There’s still angst around Justin Langer being sacked, or resigning, whatever happened there. There’s still angst around our style of play and how we’re playing.”
With Austraia back in action next week for an ODI series against England, and the Test summer just around the corner, the team’s relationship with the public will be put to the test.
And if the results don’t start to go Australia’s way again soon, Langer’s reputation will only grow further and undermine that of McDonald.
Originally published as How T20 World Cup disaster proved Aussies were missing the very thing they got rid of