Not only because the pair are such close friends, but also because of the deep empathy and understanding that Ponting holds for difficult task Langer has guiding Australian cricket through an unprecedented phase.
Ponting’s care for both his great mate and Australian cricket is a huge part of the reason he’s accepted a part-time role as Langer’s assistant for Australia’s World Cup campaign.
“I think it’s been as hard on him as it possibly could be just because of the situation Australian cricket has found itself in with some senior players being out, a lot of changes happening internally,” Ponting said.
“Knowing what Justin is like as well, I’m not . . . well I will say it, he’s a bit of a control freak. He wants to make sure that everything is exactly how he wants it to be and that’s the way it should be as the head coach of the Australian cricket team. You should have everything lined up the way you want it. He’s just come into the job at a really difficult time.
“That’s what makes it even more exciting for me to get in and get my hands dirty and help him out as much as I possibly can. We are great mates. We know each other really well. We’ll work really well together, I’m sure, if he can put up with me. But no doubt it’s been a tough, but I think I’ll be able to take a bit of that workload away from him when I get involved as well.”
The job of Australian cricket coach has escalated to a point where it is becoming almost impossible to manage for one man. Darren Lehmann, who vacated the position post the Cape Town scandal, outlined the enormity of the role while commentating on Fox Sports on Saturday night.
“The hardest thing is you’re away 300 days a year,” Lehmann said. “You don’t sleep. Three hours a day was about all you got. You’re worried about the players. You’ve got selection issues going on all the time. You’ve got media, you’ve got board meetings, you’ve got high performance meetings, all these other things going on and you’ve got to try and cater for the six state coaches, the 66 players playing around [the country], the 25 contracted players, three different formats and then you’ve got to keep your family going okay.
“Justin, I think, will be a fantastic coach for Australia. He’s got to find out what works for him. At the moment he’s probably not sleeping and not getting the results he would like but he’ll get there.”
The bans of Australia’s two best players in Steven Smith and David Warner and one of Langer’s young talents in Cameron Bancroft, the loss of public trust, and the vast fallout that followed only added to the extraordinary pressure and stress levels.
Selection during a staggeringly packed summer has also been a hot topic. Something that Lehmann identified as an enormous challenge. “I reckon I watched one Shield game a year for my five years as Australian coach,” he said. “You physically can’t because you’ve got so much going on with the Australian team.”
Nothing exemplified this challenge better than January 17 this year. Langer was at the MCG all afternoon helping prepare the ODI team for a series deciding match against India. It meant he was unable to watch newly selected Test aspirants, who were playing Sri Lanka in a tour game Hobart ahead of a Test match a week later, and possible World Cup candidates and 2020 T20 World Cup candidates who were also playing in a BBL game in Brisbane.
The addition of Ponting to Langer’s coaching team, albeit for the World Cup only, comes at a critical time. He is the godfather of Australian cricket and his presence, if only for a short time, will unburden the coach and energise the players.
It is understood Langer has already used Ponting as a sounding board over the summer but Ponting’s many commitments as a commentator with Seven and coach of the IPL franchise Delhi Capitals meant his council was not always available at short notice. Those lucrative commitments are also unable to be matched by Cricket Australia for Ponting’s services full-time.
The challenge for Cricket Australia is how to get Ponting involved more permanently. There was a possibility of the Australian coaching jobs being split towards the end of Lehmann’s tenure with Ponting rumoured to take full control of the T20I side in the lead-up to 2020 before Cape Town scuppered all best-laid plans. But for Ponting the door remains ajar.
“There’s a chance to do more, especially around white-ball cricket,” he said. “I don’t think I’d do much around Test cricket for the fact it’s through the summer and obviously my commentary commitments through the summer it makes it hard, but with the World T20 coming up as well, I think I might be able to do a bit more work around the group with that as well.”
Alex Malcolm is a freelance writer based in Melbourne
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