With such a long standing tradition of success over endless summers around the globe, the Australian Cricket teams finds itself the talking point from critics far and wide including fans, former players and commentators. It seems even the casual sports observer has an opinion on why the team has crumbled in recent times – a sheer shadow of their former high ranking position.
Coach Darren Lehmann was an illustrious player in a knockout team. His new book, Coach, is excellent reading telling tales from his early days, through the changes of formats to current status with everything in between. With trouble in the ranks, former champion wicket-keeper turned selector Rod Marsh quit last week. Facing a third Test loss to touring team South Africa on the same day as the lolly ball tampering hearing, I spoke to a seemingly calm, happy, ambitious, good bloke down the line from Adelaide where he is preparing with a new look team.
Shane A. Bassett – Hows it all going mate under the circumstances leading into the third test?
Darren Lehmann – It’s been a bit busy as you could imagine but all good. I am going well but we need to start playing well because life is easier when you’re winning and when you’re losing you cop it. That’s fair enough – part and parcel to the job.
SAB – You’re not going to do a Rod Marsh (and quit) are you?
DL – (laughs) No Shane, I am enjoying my time here, wouldn’t want to be anywhere else. It’s a great challenge for my coaching group.
SAB. Really enjoyed the book, couldn’t put it down. Cricket is not like football codes where there is a long off-season, how did you find time to write?
DL – That’s great to hear Shane, glad you enjoyed it. There has been some excellent feedback. Obviously had a lot of help from co-author Brian Murgatroyd putting all the hard hours behind the scenes, so for me it was finding time on tour which is ten months of the year.
When you’re at home it’s harder but on tour, it is a little bit easier because you can spend hours talking / writing, that was how the nuts and bolts of the tales got noted with finer details coming together at the back end. The book took a lot of time, very rewarding to share stories that I have always liked, explaining the challenges along the way of being a coach so I really hope the basis will help anyone out there as a coach or becoming one can obtain good initiative to assist.
SAB – Was it always going to be this kind of book with selected stories or was there thought of a coach’s diary narrative?
DL – Could’ve gone either way but I think it’s best to talk through experiences, I kind of kept a diary as well to remember what I’ve been doing or how the team are and so on. In the end, that’s just a monologue or sequence of events so I thought it more interesting to flesh out solid stories.
SAB – Do you have a favourite moment or chapter in particular?
DL – All combine into one really, the journey through stories. I am extremely happy how the book has come up and it satisfying people are enjoying it.
SAB – Family is a cornerstone to your life, how do you create the same atmosphere within the team dynamic?
DL – Remembering we are away a majority of every calendar year, the families join us often. Gone are the days when partners and families don’t travel. Now the players can share the playing journey with their loved ones, especially the kids, is pretty important to me.
SAB – Your nickname Boof is interesting as it referred to your hair of which you now have none of?
DL – (laughs) That was my only nickname ever given, Johnny G from Gawler gave it to me (laughs). It stuck and stayed right through, mum wasn’t very impressed with the name to be perfectly honest in no uncertain terms though.
SAB – I assume you have celebrities enter the dressing rooms on a regular basis?
DL – Yes a heap of dignitaries or famous faces come visit all the time, varies on where we are of course. The guys love talking to the guests about their own stories while sharing cricket tales. Personally I am happy to have anyone in the dressing rooms really.
SAB – It’s fair to say the current cricket summer has been controversial, can you remember any other times that were equally tough you either played or coached through?
DL – There are times of course, ups downs or particular events, but whenever the Australian team is not winning things are labelled controversial. So right now I am going to make sure I change that now. You can look back at 2013 or go back to different times through 2005 or the late 1980s, hurdles to overcome and get people to go from bashing to loving the game.
SAB – How do you switch off when not in control of the team on downtime?
DL – (laughs) At the moment you’re not switching off too much at all because I am fiercely trying to turn things around. However when things are going well, family time is paramount, usually up in Noosa to chill out doing very little.
SAB – Down in Adelaide now, is it as close to business as usual as you can muster?
DL – Yes it is, we are welcoming the new players into the group, that’s important that distraction of things around us in media or wherever is limited. It’s important not to change too much in the young group though, just keep doing the things you’re doing in training or structure then competing much better on the ground game day.
SAB – Apologies for the obvious question but what is the key to this new group, how do you want them to perform?
DL – Have the confidence to play, the situation is tough, we know that, but the guys have to keep working hard on their individual games to become better team players and better people off the field. As a group, there has been lots of talk about our culture. Seriously they are great lads, strong young men who will be fine, I know it.
SAB – Have you got a collection of special bats, balls or uniforms from your career as mementos?
DL – Most of the time I have given that stuff away to charities, they need it more while raising money for the needy remains an important incentive to give things away, except my Baggy Green (cap) obviously, something I certainly cherish.
SAB – It seems after early barriers, the day/night pink-ball test is now embraced, what is your opinion?
DL – Last year was an exciting game, this one should be just as special for many reasons. Only time will tell how the wicket plays and the ball shine holds up, all reports I believe it will be a cracking game, our boys will be ready.
SAB – Do you think Test Match Cricket is still as popular on the schedule with the influx of 20/twenty and One Dayers still in abundance?
DL – Yes i think it is actually more popular, the passion I’ve seen of the public with Australia not playing so well proves they love the game. It is really up to us to get the match going well in the test arena so people keep flocking through the gates to watch them play.
SAB – Is there room for a stacked up schedule of all formats so close together, how do you cope?
DL – It is what it is, you deal with it chopping and changing from T20’s to One-dayers then back to Test cricket before swapping around again. You can change that so it becomes a case of adjusting players / teams to the formats better.
SAB – What are some of the funnier things you have witnessed out on the pitch?
DL – Anytime someone runs themself out is normally angry for the player but quite funny at the same time. The joke of the day can be good, a lot of them I cannot repeat to you (laughs). If the person telling it is nervous and they stuff it up, that can be funny. The worst joke tellers are physio Alex Kountouris and Shane Watson. Full on pest was Glenn McGrath, he was annoying but hilarious.
SAB – Did you always want to do coaching or was it an opportunity that came your way indirectly?
DL – More so of interest was being a mentor at the back end of the playing career. That turned into coaching after doing the coaching courses leading to the job at the prestigious I.P.L Indian Premiere League, that made it easier to fall in love with winning there. I still love it today through the great challenges and great fun.
COACH: Darren Lehmann with Brian Murgatroyd – Penguin Random House Australia – available now where books are sold ($39.99 RRP).
Shane A. Bassett