Chloe Saltau in the Sydney Morning Herald
For the 2005 Ashes tour, in the aftermath of Darren Lehmann’s retirement, Australia propped a small, rotund Shrek doll at the front of the team bus to ensure that the spirit of ‘Boof’ lived on. On Monday in Bristol, Lehmann returned as coach of Australia to declare Australia could still, despite all the on-field malfunctions and dressing room ructions of the past few months, win the Ashes. Whether or not that is possible in the current mess, it was easy to see why his refreshingly simple blueprint appeals to his players.
“Yes, definitely,” Lehmann said of the Ashes. “It’s a challenge for all the playing group and everyone involved in Cricket Australia. The team is going to play a certain way, an aggressive brand of cricket that entertains people and fans but also gets the job done.
“There won’t be any ongoing problems. We will get everything right on and off the field. It’s important to talk about the game whether it’s over a beer or a diet coke, I don’t mind being perfectly honest.
Lehmann made it clear, as Queensland coach, that he would have handled the Mohali homework fiasco differently – “What are we doing????? Adults we are, not schoolboys” – he tweeted at the time. Now it will be intriguing to discover whether he will be allowed to impose the appealing mix of toughness and love that has been a feature of his successful tenure with the Bulls, in a corporate culture of wellness surveys, benchmarks and strict player management presided over by executive general manager (team performance) Pat Howard.
As a past president of the Australian Cricketers’ Association, Lehmann is a players’ man but has his own code of discipline. “It’s tough [to strike the right balance], but it’s all about honesty, dealing with anything that comes up straight away. Leave no stone unturned, make sure you have dealt with every issue straight away,” he explained. “I will care about the players. Mickey [Arthur] cared about the players and that is the first thing as coach, make sure you look after your players as best you can, and that’s what I’m about.”
Whatever happens on the field as Australia tries to rise above its panicky recent performances, it’s unlikely Lehmann will find himself in the situation that undid Arthur. Intimations of a player mutiny are overblown, but the cultural problems culminating with the David Warner nightclub incident suggested the South African, a decent and affable man, did not have the complete trust of his players.
The links between Clarke and Lehmann stretches back to 2004, when the veteran batsman offered to give up his place in the Test team to the brilliant young batsman who had danced to a century on debut in Bangalore. That illustrated Lehmann’s passion for teaching young cricketers, who on Arthur’s watch have failed to uphold the standards of Lehmann’s generation. To that end, the new coach will open the dressing room to past players in the hope they can inspire a revival, with Shane Warne an early favourite to break from his commentary duties and help the team in England.
“The past legends, that’s what we’re about as well, having guys coming in and having some sort of input,” Lehmann said. “He is always welcome as is anyone who has represented Australia in our dressing room.”
The Shrek doll on the team bus illustrated the respect and affection Lehmann will inspire in the job. But as he prepared to bring the players together in Taunton for a fresh start, doubtless over a cold drink, he was under no illusions about the future. “At the end of the day if we don’t win I’ll go, that’s what happens.” Just ask Mickey Arthur.