Conspiracy or cock up? It’s far from the first time that this has been pondered about Cricket Australia in the last year. And as a consequence of the way that Justin Langer answered a perfectly reasonable question about Glenn Maxwell, following on from Trevor Hohns’ far from convincing performance in the same chair the day before, it is where they are again.
Yesterday, the chief selector said he never had any idea about directions given to Maxwell not to play county cricket last year. In turn, he declined to apologise to him. It was only natural, then, that Langer was going to be asked for his take. Specifically, it was put to him whether he had any knowledge of the directive that contributed to derailing Maxwell’s 2018.
When it was, the national coach deflected to a general observation about Maxwell knowing what he needs to do to win his Test place back. Next, he reiterated what Hohns had said about the suggestions – including today from former Test batsman Rob Quiney - that Maxwell’s personality was part of his problem. “It is literally false,” Langer said. It’s not true.”
Sure enough, as is the custom, the reporter followed up to ask his question again. What about the jettisoned county stint? Did Maxwell have every right to be upset? “Are you certain that’s what happened?” barked Langer, not once but twice. “What are you asking?” he added. “Did it happen?”
The journalist politely replied that he would ask the questions, if the coach would care to answer them. Langer went at him again in response. “Well you’re telling me it did happen? I’m asking did it happen? I’m asking the question you’re asking me. I’m asking: did it happen?” After pausing, realising that the theatrical routine wasn’t doing the trick, Langer got to the important bit. “No,” he said. “I’ve got zero knowledge of that.”
And nor necessarily should he for that matter, given that he was not Australian coach at the time all this went down. But that his instinct was to try and bludgeon the questioner, however, was only ever going to pique interest further. “Careless whispers, eh?” was his final, dismissive words on the matter before the press conference got back to normal, after an apology to the reporter.
But how can it be rejected as careless whispers when it was Maxwell himself who explained this very timeline on a radio interview back in September? No, this is not a media concoction.
Maxwell elaborated in that interview on SEN, the direct catalyst to today’s exchange. “The disappointment on my side is that I didn’t get the chance to play any cricket over the last couple of months,” he said then. “I had a few offers to play county cricket in England and they were originally knocked back with a chance to play in the ‘A’ series and then to get told not to play in the ‘A’ series and have a rest; I was understanding of that and their reasoning behind that. But yeah, I was hoping that was a positive note to go to Dubai but it wasn’t the case.”
He also noted the frustration of losing his place on the basis of red-ball runs when he did not have the chance to make any last winter. To put that into perspective, he had flown to England after Australia’s tour of Zimbabwe – and they told him then that his service in India meant he wouldn’t be taken there for the ‘A’ tour - he would have been available for five rounds of the County Championship ahead of the UAE squad announcement. Considering he has only played 61 First Class games in his eight-year career, that’s a lot of batting.
“All the conjecture about it,” Langer lamented after he calmed down, “that’s all part of the noise.” Maybe so. But remember, it was only a year ago when Maxwell was dumped from the one-day side for a home series for the first time since 2012 for not training “smarter” according to Steve Smith. This upset him more than any other slight across his career. That came only a summer after he had been fined from the leadership group for answering honestly a question about batting behind the wicketkeeper of Victoria in a Sheffield Shield round that was doubling as an Australia’s Got Talent showcase after their thrashing at the hands South Africa in Hobart.
Langer did conclude by saying the “truth is a beautiful thing,” but what if Maxwell now elects to reiterate his version of events from September? Knowing what has happened in the past, he would have a fair idea of how his detractors will react if he does call it straight - surely meaning more strife.
But that really shouldn’t be up to him now. Instead, CA should do the right thing and simply explain what happened last year. If that requires a concession, or even an apology to Maxwell, then so be it. What that would do is to allow this show, not least the man in the middle of it, to move on with the task of making the runs he needs to prove them all wrong.