Aussie IPL stars could be first to get COVID vaccine
The vaccine didn't arrive soon enough to save the doomed Test tour of South Africa, but Australia's biggest cricketing stars look set to get the jab offshore in India.
Cricket Australia is expected to grant permission for players to fly to the Indian Premier League in April, where they could be among the first Australian athletes to be vaccinated … albeit in a foreign land.
There are 42 Australian stars who have signed up for the IPL auction on February 18, plus multiple franchise players such as Pat Cummins and David Warner, who have already been retained by their IPL teams.
It's understood the entire tournament will be staged in Mumbai and there are strong indications the Indian cricket board are pushing hard to get access to a COVID-19 vaccine for players and officials involved in the multibillion-dollar tournament.
The cancelled three-Test tour of South Africa, which has all but destroyed Australia's hopes of making the inaugural World Test Championship Final in June, could well have got the green light had the vaccine been available.
South Africa also rejected two offers to play the series in Perth, and now there are calls for Cricket Australia to hastily organise a replacement Test series this year.
But sources say that's an impossibility, meaning the Australian Test side will go a second-straight year without an overseas Test tour.
Tim Paine's team won't take the field again before next summer's Ashes, which is an absolute must-win series that could be make-or-break the futures of many in the set-up.
In comparison, England will be well oiled with 11 Tests under their belts this year.
The void of matches removes any immediate debate over the Australian captaincy - Paine will be the Ashes skipper - but it does nothing to address the holes in the batting order exposed by India's B-team.
Canning the South African tour has also robbed coach Justin Langer of the chance to immediately get in front of his players and lance the boil amid rising discontent about his coaching methods.
Some forced time apart after an entire summer in a bubble might not be a bad thing for all involved, but by missing out on a chance to get back in the winner's circle in South Africa, Langer's relationship with the dressing room will now be a lingering focus leading into the Ashes.
It's understood the crux of what players want to change is a desire that Langer adjust his coaching style to better suit the age and stage of the team.
When Langer started in 2018 he needed to be the hard-nosed disciplinarian when the team was a shambles in the wake of the ball-tampering scandal, and in the three years since he has instilled strong behavioural standards in the dressing room.
But now those standards are in place, players want him to relax his intensity, particularly at match-time, get closer to them and take their input on board more often.
Sources say that Langer has been holding one-on-one meetings with players over the past fortnight since the Indian series finished - unrelated to the reports that have emerged - and honest feedback has been given both ways about how the coach and players can improve.
Langer has already admitted that the airing of discontent from the dressing room has served as a "wake-up call" but said if players have issues "I would rather they came straight to me".
As players look to prick the tension bubble they feel has engulfed them, it's interesting timing that former NRL boss Todd Greenberg starts his posting in charge of cricket's players' association.
One of the issues that has been expressed by players privately is the close relationship Langer shares with head of team performance Ben Oliver from their days in Western Australia, combined with the fact CA doesn't yet have a full-time CEO.
It's left some apprehensive about whether their grievances will be heard, leading to talk about whether Greenberg could be an appropriate intermediary.
However, the Australian Cricketers' Association - of which Langer is also a member as a former player - made it clear it has not been approached by any Australian players and has no intention of intervening in the drama.
Senior sources close to the team also hope the issues can be worked through man-to-man between players and coach.
Marnus Labuschagne joined captain Paine as the second player to publicly voice his support of Langer, with the batting star calling on teammates to unite.
"I love JL. I love what he brings to the team," Labuschagne said.
"(We have to make sure) that we keep supporting each other … that will help unite us and front up as the best possible Test team."
Former fast bowling great Mitchell Johnson, who has been coached by Langer at state level, said it was a "cop out" from players, while captaincy great Allan Border said it was "weak" to go behind Langer's back and air dressing room laundry.
"I think they don't seem to like tough love, that's my understanding. Justin is a no nonsense sort of character, he doesn't like people who take shortcuts. He wants 100 per cent effort given," Border told Fox Sports News.
"I think it' pretty weak of guys to hide behind, 'I'm not getting on well with the coach', and, 'he's hard to talk to'.
"You could talk to Justin Langer very easily, as long as you're prepared to cop a bit of a swisho if you're not doing the right thing.
"I think man up a bit, guys, and just cop it. Because he's a good operator, Justin, and he's just the sort of guy we need.
"A tough no-nonsense character to keep the guys driving."
Originally published as Aussie IPL stars could be first to get COVID vaccine