Greg Chappell

The ugly duckling who became a prince

Though very different in personality, coach Darren Lehmann and skiiper Michael Clarke have complemented each other well around the team.  

This fairy-tale begins at the end. The ugly duckling turned into a popular prince, inherited the kingdom and lived happily ever after.

Darren Lehmann hasn’t always been universally popular. He began his playing career for South Australia as a batting prodigy of whom much was expected, but his wilfulness soon ruffled some feathers.

By turning down a coveted invitation to attend the newly created national cricket academy, Lehmann signalled that he was going to do it his way.

As the game became more professional, Lehmann steadfastly refused to accept that he had to make any concessions as he determinedly clung to his habits of smoking and enjoying a few beers at the end of the day. The more people expected Lehmann to change, the more he revelled in his image as a throw-back to a previous era.

His dishevelled appearance, a body that always appeared to be a few hamburgers over par and his ungainly gait, did nothing to win him friends in the age of skinfolds and dieticians.

Despite all of that he kept making runs against all-comers and demanded to be recognised.

It was Ricky Ponting, as Australian captain, who became his greatest admirer.

Great strength

Lehmann’s great strengths are his indomitable spirit, his fierce competiveness and his loyalty to friends.

As a cricketer, his strengths included an innate understanding of the game, a sublime and silky talent, strong self-belief and a cheekiness that was always looking for expression.

Lehmann was nothing if not unconventional in the way he played.

He moved around the crease more than any other player I have seen as he caressed and directed balls into places where fielders weren’t.

He infuriated bowlers and opposition captains in the process and seemed to get a great thrill in doing so.

In his own words he bowled nude balls, but he bowled them cleverly. Most batsmen dreaded getting out to his scary deliveries; scary because they were scared to get out to them for fear of looking foolish.

Around 400 batsmen were fooled by the end of his first-class and international career so they had plenty of company.

There is no doubt that his attitude and his apparent lack of athleticism hurt him during his playing days.

His talent suggests that he should have played more, but I doubt that Darren will have spent a great deal of time ruing anything about his career.

He played the game the way that he wanted to play it and others could make up their own mind.

He carved out a wonderful career in all forms of the game all around the world and made many friends.

What he has brought to the role of Australian coach is an encyclopaedic knowledge of the game from a perspective of someone who had to be smarter than the rest.

Good foil and an ally

He has been a good foil and an ally for Michael Clarke. They are very different in personality and have complemented each other around the team.

Darren will always respect Michael’s position as captain, but will never be afraid to speak his mind.

Their relationship will grow into a healthy working relationship that will only strengthen Clarke as a leader and the team as a whole.

Hard task master

Lehmann is a hard task master, but his sense of fun will be appreciated by everyone and he will encourage players to be true to themselves and their personality.

Most importantly, he will care for his players and this may be his greatest asset.

The English media had a laugh at Australia’s expense when Lehmann was appointed, but many cricket people in England recognised that it had the potential to be a significant moment in the next phase of Ashes history. The mockers aren’t laughing now.

A comprehensive 5-0 victory disguises the fact that Australia still has much work to do, but the one person who won’t be fooled by the margin is Darren Scott Lehmann. He will know that his job has only just begun.

This fairy-tale isn’t finished yet.

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Printable version | Jan 24, 2021 2:21:05 AM |

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