BRISBANE, Australia (AP) — Players, selectors and cricket administrators all agree there’s one way to take pressure off Justin Langer’s increasingly uncertain tenure as Australia’s head coach.
Cricket Australia’s chief selector George Bailey had that in mind Thursday when he announced a full-strength squad for the Twenty20 World Cup, highlighted by the return of seven front-line players including Steve Smith, David Warner and Pat Cummins.
Also back are experienced allrounders Glenn Maxwell and Marcus Stoinis, pace bowler Kane Richardson and, provided he recovers from knee surgery, T20 skipper Aaron Finch.
The influx should provide some extra firepower for Australia, which has lost five consecutive T20 series, at the Oct. 17 to Nov. 14 championship being staged in Oman and the United Arab Emirates.
Australia has dominated the World Cup in the 50-over format, winning five titles and finishing runner-up twice across 12 editions, but has never won the World T20 title.
Langer’s position has come under increasing scrutiny in recent weeks, with players and staff leaking details to the media of his short-tempered outbursts and management style.
So much so, there was more speculation about Langer’s future than any of the players in the selection mix on the eve of the World Cup squad announcement.
It prompted Cricket Australia chief executive Nick Hockley to issue a statement saying Langer “has done an incredible job in raising the culture, values and behaviors of the Australian men’s team since he took on the role in 2018.”
Langer took over a national team in disgrace after the infamous Sandpapergate, when Smith, Warner and opening bat Cameron Bancroft received lengthy bans for their roles in a ball-tampering scandal during a test series in South Africa.
“His efforts have restored public faith in the national team,” Hockley said.
Langer, who formed a successful test opening partnership with Matt Hayden during the height of Australia’s dominance in the early 2000s, was highly regarded as a player and had success in first-class cricket as a coach.
He immediately added stability, including at the 2019 Cricket World Cup in England, but a test series loss to India at home this year exposed some tactical issues. The lack of success in the white-ball formats has compounded concern.
“Let’s not put this all on Justin,” Bailey said in a telephone conference. “As a group, if you look over the last 12 months, the Australian cricket team . . . I don’t think we’ve quite played the best cricket,” Bailey said. “JL took over at a pretty challenging period of time. There’s been a lot of change happen in the group.
“The focus for us (now) is on the World Cup and the Ashes: If we perform well in those tournaments, these things tend to die away a little bit.”
Any of the Australians with IPL contracts will be permitted to play in the second stage of the Indian Premier League, which precedes the T20 World Cup. After the world tournament, Australia is scheduled to host one-off test against Afghanistan and a five-test Ashes series against England. Dates and venues are far from certain but, according to Hockley, there’s no doubts over Langer getting through a contract that runs to mid-2022.
Right now, they’re all concentrating more closely on the end of 2021.
“We have some of the best players in the world in their respective roles, combined with the collective experience to succeed against the very best T20 sides in the world,” Bailey said.
The only uncapped player in Australia’s 15-man squad is Josh Inglis, who will be backup to veteran wicketkeeper Matthew Wade.
“He offers the squad flexibility in the batting order with his adaptability, counterattacking ability and power striking,” Bailey said. “He is a player we are excited about for the future.”
The T20 World Cup will feature 16 teams. The eight lower-ranked teams will playoff for four places in the Super 12 round. Australia’s first match is on Oct. 23 against South Africa in the Super 12s. Australia and South Africa are in the same group as England and two-time T20 world champion West Indies.