Brisbane: Australia coach Justin Langer gave under-fire skipper Tim Paine his “100 percent” support and blasted criticism of Steve Smith as “absolute rubbish” Wednesday after a backlash against their behaviour in the drawn third Test against India in Sydney.
Paine’s captaincy has been questioned after he launched an ugly verbal tirade at India’s Ravi Ashwin and Smith was accused of foul play after appearing to scuff up batsman Rishabh Pant’s guard at the crease during a tense final day. But an indignant Langer was having none of it.
“Do I have faith in Tim Paine? You have no idea how much faith I have in Tim Paine,” he said on a Zoom call. “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 has been outstanding as the Australian captain in everything he does. He had a frustrating day and we have got to cut him some slack, surely.”
Wicketkeeper Paine, guilty of dropping three catches on the final day, has apologised and admitted frustration got the better of him when he tried to unsettle Ashwin, who held out for more than three hours for an unbeaten 39 as the tourists salvaged a draw.
Stump microphones picked up Paine making a series of barbs, including calling Ashwin a “dickhead”. Paine had already been fined for dissent after an expletive-laden rant at umpire Paul Wilson on day two, with the incidents undermining Langer’s drive to revamp the team’s toxic culture after the “Sandpaper-gate” ball-tampering scandal in 2018.
While backing Paine to continue as captain “for some time yet”, Langer also acknowledged criticism would come if anyone deviated from the high standards the team now set themselves.
“When you set a standard as high as he does, and we do, we understand we get criticised when you fall below that. It’s not what we are about,” he said.
“But Tim is an outstanding leader and will continue to be for some time to come yet. He has my 100 percent support.”
Footage of Smith, who was Australia’s captain during the sandpaper scandal and banned for year, suggested he deliberately interfered with Pant’s batting guard — a mark made at the crease to know where your feet are in relation to the wicket behind you.
The number four is renowned for his quirks, including shadow-batting while fielding, and strongly denied doing anything wrong. “As for Steve Smith, I literally cannot believe some of the rubbish I’ve read — absolute load of rubbish,” said Langer.
He took particular aim at England greats Michael Vaughan and Darren Gough, personally phoning them after they criticised Smith. “I’ve actually spoken to Darren Gough about it and rang him last night,” he told sports radio station SEN. “I spoke to Michael Vaughan as well, I thought he was out of line actually. You get it from (some of the critics), but I don’t expect it from (someone like Vaughan).”
He added that Smith was well known for his offbeat habits. “Anyone who suggests for one millisecond he was trying to do something untoward, they’re way out of line,” he said.
“On that wicket, that was that flat, and it was like concrete, you’d need 15-inch spikes to make an indent on the crease and he went nowhere near the crease.
“So seriously, I thought that was absolutely ludicrous.”
Blames late IPL for many injuries
Langer suggested Wednesday the delayed Indian Premier League was to blame for so many injuries marring Australia’s blockbuster series’ with India. The short-form extravaganza normally begins in March, but along with other major international sporting events was postponed as countries went into coronavirus lockdowns.
It was then moved to the United Arab Emirates as cases rose in India and only got under way on September 19, culminating on November 11. Players then had to go through a 14-day quarantine in Australia with the one-day series starting almost immediately after they were allowed out.
“It’s really interesting how many injuries there have been throughout this summer,” said Langer.
“We suffered through it during the white-ball series and (India) through the Test series. We’ll review this, but I can’t help think that the IPL this year probably wasn’t ideal timing for anyone, certainly for such a big series like this.”
David Warner and Marcus Stoinis were among Australians injured during the white-ball series.
India were then depleted during the high-stakes Tests series, which culminates with the final match of four in Brisbane this week.
They have lost experienced fast bowlers Mohammed Shami and Umesh Yadav, along with batsman KL Rahul, while allrounder Ravindra Jadeja is the latest to be ruled out with a dislocated thumb.
“I love the IPL. I look at the IPL now like I used to look at (English) county cricket for young players, you go and play county cricket and it helps their development enormously,” said Langer.
“I think it’s the same with the IPL with our players, it helps their white-ball development.
“But the timing of it … probably wasn’t ideal and I wonder if that’s having an impact on the injuries we are seeing for both teams throughout this summer.”