Justin Langer
Justin Langer

How Langer still talks to the ghost of Phil Hughes

Justin Langer has revealed he still chats to Phillip Hughes, in an emotional and frank tribute to his late protege.

The Australian cricket coach also addressed Sandpapergate during an exclusive interview with GQ Australia, saying the ball-tampering players were clearly "desperate".

The 49-year-old family man compared his relationship with Hughes, who died in 2014 after being struck by a bouncer in the neck, to that of Rocky Balboa and mentor Apollo Creed in the epic Sylvester Stallone boxing movies.

 

Master and apprentice, Justin Langer and the late Phil Hughes. Picture: News Corp Australia
Master and apprentice, Justin Langer and the late Phil Hughes. Picture: News Corp Australia

"I was thinking of setting up a training academy, so he became my guinea pig," Langer said. "Mate, I threw everything at him. It was 'Eye of the Tiger' stuff. I was Apollo and he was Rocky. We were running on the sand, sparring in the boxing ring, running a hundred singles on hot Perth days.

"But I couldn't break him. He just kept on smiling. And he made me smile. Hughesy stayed in our home, Sue (Langer's wife) and the girls adored him."

Revealing that regularly thinking about Hughes helps him find perspective, Langer added: "He won my heart, just like he won everyone's. Hughesy was the country kid who loved cows and smacked a cricket ball like he was chopping down a hand of bananas.

"I loved his freedom, his smile, his attitude. I planted a magnificent native rose for him in my backyard with a Buddha statue underneath. I talk to Hughesy a lot out there."

 

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Phillip Hughes celebrates a century in the third and final Test between Australia and Sri Lanka at The Sinhalese Sports Club Ground in Colombo in September 2011. Picture: AFP
Phillip Hughes celebrates a century in the third and final Test between Australia and Sri Lanka at The Sinhalese Sports Club Ground in Colombo in September 2011. Picture: AFP

 

SANDPAPERGATE 'MADE ME SICK'

Four years after Hughes' death, Australian players were plunged into the Sandpapergate cheating scandal, during the third Test against South Africa.

Langer, who took the reins afterwards to rebuild the squad's shattered morale, told GQ the episode "made me sick" but after "honest conversations" with Dave Warner, Steve Smith and Cameron Bancroft, "I believe I have a very good handle on what happened and why".

Hughes stayed with the Langer family in Perth. Picture: Richard Hatherly
Hughes stayed with the Langer family in Perth. Picture: Richard Hatherly

"I don't condone their actions," he said. "But I understand that as captain and vice-captain the scrutiny is relentless and they got tired, desperate. They were knackered, under pressure and trying to find an edge to get a quick result.

The Justin Langer interview features in the next edition of GQ. Picture: Supplied
The Justin Langer interview features in the next edition of GQ. Picture: Supplied

"They messed with the ball. It was a dumb mistake and I don't understand the decision. I hate it. But I understand that when you're tired - whether you're a cricketer, a teacher, a dad, a business leader - you make dumb mistakes and bad judgments.

 

"You lose sight of what's most important. Those boys lost sight of their responsibilities to the fans and public. They lost sight of their mum and dad, brothers and sisters, and mates."

Langer, who has experienced the pressure of the game only too well - and who away from the field has written books, explored Christianity and Buddhism and raised four daughters with childhood sweetheart Sue - defined his head coach job as: "Father. Uncle. Brother. Headmaster. Policeman. Therapist. Soap opera director," adding "my job is looking after people. If my guys are happy off the field they'll be happy on it."

Langer’s advice to any sportsperson: stay of social media. Picture: Brett Costello
Langer’s advice to any sportsperson: stay of social media. Picture: Brett Costello

Asked about the greatest dangers to modern players, he said: "If I could give any sportsperson advice I wouldn't say, 'Watch the ball,' I'd say, 'Don't do social media'."

Read Justin Langer's full interview in GQ Australia's January/February edition, out on Monday.

Watch every game of cricket this summer on Foxtel or Kayo.



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