MELBOURNE – Australia cricket coach Justin Langer admitted on Monday he feels like a "director of a soap opera" as speculation grew around the future of banned Steve Smith and David Warner.
Debate about the pair reared again during the third Test against India in Melbourne, after Smith and Cameron Bancroft gave television interviews about the ball-tampering scandal in South Africa in March.
Their comments were widely interpreted as deflecting all blame onto Warner, with some former players slamming them for unnecessarily dredging it back up on Boxing Day, the most revered day in the Australian cricket calendar.
Australia's woeful batting in the match, which they lost by 137 runs, also focused attention on how much Smith and Warner were missed.
Langer, who has previously described the Australia team as a "dysfunctional family", said the headlines were yet another headache.
"It's all just part of the soap opera we're in every day," he said in Melbourne before heading to Sydney for Thursday's fourth and final Test, with India leading the series 2-1.
"I feel like a director of a soap opera at the moment, I honestly do.
"Coaching is about man management and looking after people, caring for people, and that was just another distraction last week," he added.
Bancroft, who was banned for nine months, made his return on Sunday evening for the Perch Scorchers in the Big Bash League, but only lasted three balls. Smith and Warner's suspensions run out in late March.
Captain Tim Paine admitted on Sunday it was "pretty clear" they were being missed, with no batsmen other than tailender Pat Cummins scoring more than 50 in Melbourne.
Langer said cricket authorities were "in touch with the boys all the time".
"There's a really good process we're going to go through to get the boys back into the team," he added of the trio.
They could possibly return for a one-day international in late March, when Australia have pencilled in a series against Pakistan in the United Arab Emirates.
According to the Cricket Australia website, the series was tentatively set for March 15-29, but Pakistan have reportedly proposed pushing it back to March 31-April 13.
Smith and Warner's exile has left a big void in the Test team.
Aaron Finch has been unable to reproduce his limited overs form in the red ball game, Usman Khawaja has struggled and newcomer Marcus Harris at the top of the order is yet to post a big score.
"We've got a lot of guys learning on the run at the same time," said Langer, acknowledging a lack of experience. "That's not easy for them, but we'll collectively be better for it over time."
Langer, a former opener who played 105 Tests and earned a reputation as a fighter, pointed to India's Cheteshwar Pujara and Virat Kohli as the consummate Test batsmen who Australia should be looking to emulate.
"Probably at this time the difference in the series has been Pujara and Kohli. Pujara averages 53 and Kohli 45 or 46. The lesson we learn from that is keep absorbing the pressure," he said.
"We have one of the best bowling attacks in the world and they keep rocking up and absorbing the pressure. Our guys are learning that, or hopefully they are learning that."AFP