Australia’s Test captain Tim Paine was confronted by head coach Justin Langer after the team’s shock loss in the Ashes Test at Headingley. Ben Stokes came up with a batting masterclass to stun the Aussies and helped England register a one-wicket win to draw level in the five-match series.
The win threatened Australia’s dreams of retaining the Ashes in the UK for the first time since 2001 and Justin Langer was not at all happy with how Tim Paine led his troop in the final hour of the game. The former Australia batsman went on to confront the captain in front of the rest of the team, and the footage will be aired as part of a documentary named ‘The Test’ by Amazon Prime that covers the team’s journey from the ball-tampering scandal to the Ashes glory.
Unimpressed with Tim Paine’s captaincy, Langer pointed about the singles made available to Stokes as he charged towards an extraordinary result in Leeds. Langer and team analyst Dene Hills had forced the touring squad to review footage of the dramatic defeat the morning after it.
“I’ll go and do media now boys, but I just want to say f*** that’s going to f***en hurt a lot, no doubt, the next couple of days. However, as I said to a few of you out there, we’ve still got two Test matches,” Tim Paine told his teammates. “So let this f***en sting, we had our chances to win that game and we f***ed it up. S*** happens, we can talk about that another time.
“We’ve got two Test matches, we’ve got a bit of time off, let’s take time, stick together, keep knowing that the process we’ve got in place to beat these blokes is going to work. So it’s not game over, it’s not toys out of the cot, it’s a game of cricket, s*** f***ing happens. Yep, it was f***ing important, and we wanted it, we should have f***ing won it. Let’s move on, and start getting our heads around winning the next two f***ing Tests,” he added.
The Australia wicketkeeper walked straight from that address to his post-match press conference, where he explained, in part, why he had not brought the field up to deny Stokes the opportunity to rotate the strike with Jack Leach at the other end.
In the documentary, Langer could be seen unimpressed with Tim Paine’s field placements as Stokes and Leach were taking the game away from his side. On the morning after the loss, he called the team into the boardroom of the Leeds Marriott Hotel.
“Truth is, this could easily break us,” Langer told the team. “That’s what everyone else, the whole rest of the world will be saying, but it’s our choice. So what we’re going to do is we’re going to watch what happened yesterday, and for no other reason except we’re going to learn. It’s going to give us the s***s watching it, but we’re going to learn from it, shake ourselves off, and we’re going to get up to be ready for the next Test match.”
“Hard to watch, hard to watch but it is what it is,” Langer said as he made the players watch the tape.
“The only thing I will say, there was an opportunity in my opinion with 71 to go, last ball of the over. If we’re reading the play, there is no way there can be a run there. We want six balls at Leach, right, we’ve got to squeeze in on them, we can’t give an easy run like that,” he said.
This is when Paine replied: “If he wanted to sweep from wide out of rough, we thought that it was actually a chance to get him out.”
In reply, Langer said: “Were our plans clear enough to Stokes, do you reckon?”
Paine said: “We know, we could’ve changed the fields, we could’ve bowled more bouncers. We had blokes coming on saying ‘bowl slower balls’. Hoff [Josh Hazlewood] bowled him three slower balls and he hit them for three sixes. So 100% we could do things slightly differently. We didn’t panic, we didn’t s*** ourselves, we tried our best, we had a crack, the bloke had a day out. Absolutely I’ve been awake all night, I’ve changed the field a hundred times, I think we all have, but we didn’t.”
Langer, however, wanted them to see the chance they had missed in not getting Leach on strike.
“The question is, when we’re under that pressure, we know that were we really clear on what the plan was. He (Stokes) has faced 220 balls,”Langer said. “We’ve got Leach who has come in. You want Patto (James Pattinson) to have six balls at Leach surely.
“The opportunity missed there is that we let him have the single. That’s just intent. That’s just game awareness which we all talk about,” he added.
Paine was finally ready to concede that he did make a mistake as he said: “I was sort of umming and ahhing, ‘f*** well if we get one or two at Leach, Patto can hit him on the toe … but the percentage play will now be to bring the field up. Balls five or six we should have had the field up when we had 60 or 70, played it simple, seen that. Got it wrong.”
Later in the documentary, Langer said that:
“After it, Painey says to me, ‘mate, I found that really confronting, because I had to admit that I made some mistakes’. And I said, ‘that’s not a weakness, mate, that’s a strength, because we’re all human, and it’s good to admit weakness or vulnerability in front of your mates’, because then they’ll go ‘oh yeah so we actually did make some mistakes’.”
Australia’s players did stick together and went on to win the next Test before losing the final one but retained the Ashes after the series ended 2-2.