Learning to love the brown-nose gnome
You don't get to be the guy who jumps up on the table and starts the Southern Cross song just by being a short-arse...or do you?
Confession time: I've never been much of a Justin Langer fan.
Actually, given the onus Langer placed on honesty in his debut press conference as WA coach yesterday, I may as well tell the whole truth - I could never really cop him at all.
I cringed when Langer rounded on English fans who dared to taunt Brett Lee, laughed loudly when a ball-by-ball blogger on the Cricket Australia website described him as a "brown-nose gnome"***, scoffed when he got off a bizarre bail-tampering misconduct charge in Sri Lanka and leapt from my lounge with a resounding fist pump when he was out for 99 against the West Indies in the summer of 2005-2006.
For the record, I'm pretty embarrassed about the last of those reactions and mostly comfortable with the rest.
Still, given the amount of fresh slates Langer is likely to have to hand out at the WACA, now hardly seems the time to dwell on past trangressions.
Fact is, the more I think about it, the more I reckon Langer is the perfect man to take over the reins at WA:
- He's a Sandgroper: and a direct link to the days when this state used to win the Sheffield Shield. Admittedly this was round about the time Moses was supposed to have been floating along the Nile on some bullrushes but, hey, don't knock it.
- He knows about winning: From his final return to the Australian team at the Oval in August 2001, to his last Test in January 2007, he played in 47 wins in 64 matches. Australia only lost six times. Sure, it's a team sport but try doing that at home.
- He's tough: Copped a Shoaib Akhtar beamer on the hand? No worries, just put on some magic spray and stay at the crease. Knocked out by a Makhaya Ntini bouncer? Why not volunteer to risk death by asking if you can go back out to bat?
- He's popular: Well, Matthew Hayden sure seemed to love him! And you don't get to be the bloke who hops up on the dressing room table and starts the Southern Cross song after each Test win simply by being a short-arse...or do you?
In any case, compare that random selection of Langer snippets to the WA team's resume from recent times:
- Not-so-good at winning: In the past 13 years, WA has finished third in the Sheffield Shield on four occasions, fourth four times and fifth five times. In the 13 years before that, WA won the Shield six times, twice finished second, third or fourth and only once finished fifth. Enough said.
- Overtaken by Tasmania: At last count WA's population was a little less than 2.5 million, Tasmania's a touch more than 500,000. In the past six years, the Tasmanians have won the Shield and one-day competitions twice apiece. WA? Well, um yeah...
- A dry production well: Since Mike Hussey became Australia's 393rd Test cricketer in 2005, 36 players have been handed fresh baggy green caps. Only four of them have been playing for WA at the time and, of the 31 Tests played by that group, 21 belong to Marcus North. The most recent of the debutants played Perth grade cricket a couple of weeks back, while his Shield colleagues lost their third straight match to start the season. And that's not even mentioning the fact there hasn't been a homebred WA fast bowler in the Test side since Brendon Julian and Jo Angel in 1993.
- A coaching merry-go-round: During this century, WA cricket has already had the Mike Veletta era, the second coming of the Wayne Clarke era, the Tom Moody era, the Mickey Arthur era and the Lachlan Stevens era. As a point of reference, this is only one coach fewer than the combined total of permanent appointments at Richmond and Melbourne in the same timeframe.
Of course, it's way too early yet to speculate on whether the Langer era is going to deliver anything different.
Maybe it's just another false dawn - like earlier this year, when the Warriors looked set for a home Shield final then lost their last two games to finish fourth.
But I liked the way Langer started out yesterday: freely acknowledging WA cricket's problems (even the rumoured ones), promising to celebrate success (and aim for it - something Stevens seemed reticent about doing in public), recognising that the state's cricket fans were "bleeding" and borrowing a line from the Ross Lyon playbook by saying that the Marsh brothers had to "buy in" to what he'd be preaching.
If Langer can replicate anything like the success Lyon had at Fremantle this year, long-suffering WA cricket supporters will be rapt.
And I might even stop laughing at that old gnome joke.
Ok, so maybe that last bit's a stretch, but strange things can happen in cricket. After all, in my first 13 years on this planet, WA won the Shield seven times.
*** Anyone else out there ever wonder what happened to the bloke who made the initial gnome reference? I'm afraid Australian sportswriting might have lost a once-a-generation talent right there.