Justin Langer, the Australian head coach, has backed the captain Tim Paine following the incidents at SCG Test, which ended in a thrilling draw. Through the course of the third match of the ongoing Border-Gavaskar Trophy, the Australian captain made some unsavoury comments directed at R Ashwin and even the umpires, for which he later apologised. It was far removed from the conduct Australia had been attempting in their bid for a changed image of their cricket team following the Sandpapergate.
“You have no idea how much faith I’ve got in Tim Paine,” Langer said in a press conference, on Wednesday (January 13). “He didn’t have his best day, no doubt about that, but after three years he has hardly put a hair out of place, he’s been outstanding as the Australian captain in everything he does, and he had a frustrating day. We’ve got to cut him some slack surely. But having said that when you set a standard as high as he does and as we do, we understand we’re going to get criticised when we fall below that. It’s not what we’re about, but Tim Paine, outstanding leader and will continue to be for some time to come yet. He has my 100% support.”
Langer admitted that Australia’s conduct on the field on the final day was a slip from what they have been trying to remodel themselves into over the last couple of years and can potentially undo a lot of good that they have done in creating a new “culture” for Australian men’s cricket.
“I remember a great mate of mine told me a few years ago if you’re going to build a house or a hotel, it takes years to do it, but it takes a couple of hours to rip it all down with a bulldozer,” he said. “So we’ve got to be on top of our game all the time, but also our players are human. In a lot of senses they’re in very different circumstances how they’re living, have been through England, they’ve been through IPL, they’ve been in hubs, all that sort of stuff. But that’s ok, we’ve just got to make sure we’re on top of our game all the time.
“That’s one of the challenges of leadership, that’s one of the challenges of putting yourself out there and talking about culture and how important culture is. You can’t slip, and if you do slip, you get criticised for it, and that’s all ok. But we’ve hopefully had the courage to say ‘no, no, this is what we expect, this is how we’re going to behave’, so when we don’t do it to the standard we expect, we expect to get criticised for it.”
Apart from just the verbal exchanges that he was a part of, Paine also had a forgettable day behind the stumps, dropping three catches on the final day to let India off the hook. The Australian skipper had said that it was a disappointing day for him and he “prided” himself on his wicketkeepeing. Langer admitted that Paine dropping catches was an indication that the ‘keeper was distracted through the course of the final day of the Test.
“I think he’s been brilliant, the very fact that he missed some catches probably said he was a bit distracted for this Test match and he talked about that yesterday. I thought he batted really well in the second innings, but his keeping’s outstanding, he’s one of the great wicketkeepers we’ve ever had in Australia, he works very hard on it, he prides himself on it. I think he’s wicketkeeper really well throughout this summer.
It wasn’t just Paine’s conduct that caused the furore. Even Steve Smith was caught on camera shadow batting at the crease while fielding, and erasing the batsman’s guard while doing so. Langer also jumped in Smith’s defense and said that it was just one of Smith’s quirks and there wasn’t any ill intention behind his act.
“I literally cannot believe some of the rubbish I read about Steve Smith,” he said. “Absolutely load of rubbish. If anyone knows Steve Smith, he’s a bit quirky and he does some weird thing and we’ve all laughed about it for the last couple of years and I’ve spoken about it publicly and privately. What Steve Smith does at the crease, probably most games, he’s thinking about the game. Anyone who suggests for one millisecond he was trying to do something untoward, they’re way out of line, absolutely out of line. That wicket was that flat and it was like concrete.
“You need 15-inch spikes to make an indent on the crease and he went nowhere near the crease. So seriously, seriously, I thought that was absolutely ludicrous, and in the last couple of years since he’s been back, he’s been exemplary on and off the field. He’s let his bat do the talking, he was abused like I’ve never seen anything through England and he just kept smiling and letting his bat do the talking. Give me a break, give me a break.
Langer was reminded of his own incident from his playing days, when he flicked the bails while crossing sides in the field, during a Test match against Sri Lanka, and the entire Australian team went up in appeal against the Sri Lankan batsman for a hit wicket. Langer brushed aside the incident as a joke and likened it to Smith’s act.
“I actually spoke to Steve about it the other day. I reckon I tapped the bail every single time since I was 10 years old, I ran across, tapped the top of the bails, almost like a habit or a routine, so it did. I remember being interviewed a couple of years ago and someone brought it up then about whether I was the right person to lead Australia because of what I did in Sri Lanka ll those years ago. I nearly fell off my seat. It was the most innocent thing, and I think it does.
“With Stevey he probably does it every single game or he does it regularly, and someone I guess that’s the joy of social media I suppose and people out there making a living from having to make comments as commentators. But I am absolutely 100% that there was zero in [what Smith did], but it did remind me a bit of that.”
“I’m sure Smithy will be very conscious of it now. Something that’s been absolutely just a routine and him just being in his own little daydreaming world about batting, he’ll be more aware of it as I was after that. I probably never touched the top of the bail again, it jumped out of my routine. So I guess that will be a little reminder, Stevey will probably be a bit more conscious of it next time.
Australia have reached Brisbane for the final match of the series, which is levelled at 1-1. Smith, however, says, the focus will remain of maintaining good behaviour on the field as well as off it.
“My role if behind closed doors our guys are stepping out of line we talk about it, we’ve talked a lot about what happened on that last day and we’ll continue to do that. I hope over the last three years we’ve shown ourselves to be really good people and sportspeople on and off the cricket field. We don’t shy away – the captain got up publicly and put his leadership on the line yesterday and said ‘that’s not how we do it’ and that takes great courage to do that.”