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Ashes: Australia’s turnaround, and the influence of Lehmann

Geoff Lemon Columnist

By Geoff Lemon, Geoff Lemon is a Roar Expert

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    Australia must look to the past in order to salvage the 2015 Ashes. (AP Photo/Rob Griffith)

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    It has always seemed coaching is at least partly a superstition. Australia’s Ashes whitewash will have people praising Darren Lehmann based solely on an observed correlation.

    The team was losing, then Lehmann arrived, and they got better. It must be the coach, right? So says the mentality that sees football managers shuffled at whim like rosaries slung round the mirror of an Ecuadorian mountain bus.

    If you don’t like your results, make like Roman Abramovich and keep sacking coaches until you end up back where you started.

    In the face of repeated questions about both his position as England captain and Andy Flower’s as coach, Alastair Cook has repeatedly observed that when teams are going well, the captain and coach are hailed as great leaders and geniuses. When results change, they becomes incapable and incompetent.

    Of course leadership affects a team, but there are many other factors swirling around.

    A coach may be as assiduous as any in history with tactics and planning, but if his players can’t deliver on the field he will lose nonetheless.

    On the other hand, poorly led sides can record great triumphs if one exceptional player produces sufficient brilliance.

    It is reasonable to say this Australian side is united and happy under Lehmann’s stewardship.

    This is also a slightly dim observation: of course they look united and happy when they’ve just won 5-0. But rather than that happiness being down to the result, one feels the result must be in part down to that happiness.

    Australian players have consistently spoken about how good the team environment has been since Lehmann took over.

    Even through a difficult tour in England, there was a sense of resilience and even enjoyment about the Australians. Various trials were made regarding players and batting positions, with a view to the home summer.

    “I still say that’s one of the best tours I’ve ever been on,” said Lehmann after the fifth Test win in Sydney, “so from our point of view it was a learning tour if you like.

    “You don’t want to lose 3-0, every game we play we’re trying to win, but in essence, in where we wanted to get to as a playing group on and off the ground, it was an exceptional tour for us.”

    Once the summer arrived, you felt every Australian player knew exactly what his place was in the team and what was expected of him for the series ahead.

    You also felt they were secure in having been given the series at that position, rather than playing Test by Test and fearing each might be their last.

    With that kind of security in themselves, formerly unproven players were able to stamp some authority on the game.

    Chris Rogers recovered from four low scores in his first five, going on to post 54, 61, 116, 11 and 119 from his next. Steve Smith came through two lean matches to score two crucial hundreds from the final three. David Warner shrugged off the accusation of inconsistency on a three-Test run of 49, 124, 29, 83*, 60 and 112. Shane Watson was Australia’s second-highest scorer behind Rogers across all ten Ashes Tests.

    Mitchell Johnson was given free rein to attack as fast as he could in short spells, while pace colleagues Peter Siddle and Ryan Harris hunted around him, and spinner Nathan Lyon supported the three with admirable control.

    The four only grew in confidence as a unit, and spoke constantly of their satisfaction at working together so well.

    After claiming the world record for wicketkeeping dismissals during the Ashes in England, Brad Haddin notched another record for the most runs in a series by any batsman outside the top six.

    He saved Australia time and again, and was as important as Johnson in regaining the Ashes. All this, after time out of the team that had many of us predicting he would never play for Australia again.

    Whether it’s coincidence or not, all of these players have flourished during Lehmann’s tenure. If Lehmann has made them feel secure in their places and at home in the team environment, then much of the credit must be his.

    Captain Michael Clarke ascribes to the theory. “I think Boof played a big part in allowing us to play with freedom, and a big part of that is the environment that’s created before you even walk out onto the field…

    “Just his personality, the person he is, he creates a comfortable environment.”

    Not that it’s not just about having a friendly presence in charge. “There’s a side to Boof that is as well prepared as any coach that I’ve ever played under. He’s very prepared in regard to the opposition we’re playing against and he and I did a lot of work even in England in preparation for the Australian summer.”

    Of course Lehmann has planned assiduously – as much has been clear from Australia’s bowling and fielding plans against that choked the touring side. But with players of this skill, the psychology of managing them must be just as important.

    From this perspective, it’s only right that Lehmann is given his due.

    Geoff Lemon is a writer and radio broadcaster. He joined The Roar as an expert columnist in 2010, writes the satirical blog Heathen Scripture, and tweets from @GeoffLemonSport. This article was first published by Wisden India, in a new-founded Ashes partnership.

    Geoff Lemon
    Geoff Lemon

    Geoff Lemon is a writer, editor and broadcaster covering sport for The Roar, The Guardian and ABC, as well as writing on politics, literature and history for a range of outlets.

    He tweets from @GeoffLemonSport.

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    The Crowd Says (53)

    • January 6th 2014 @ 8:41am
      Praveen said | January 6th 2014 @ 8:41am | ! Report

      What boof has achieved is nothing short of a miracle, he is the best coach going around as he has allowed the players to enjoy their cricket, shown faith in them and fixed the issues between Watson and clarke, in short boof is a legend

    • January 6th 2014 @ 9:07am
      Christo the Daddyo said | January 6th 2014 @ 9:07am | ! Report

      I wonder whether a fair part of the building and preparation work done under Arthur has allowed Lehmann to come in and take all the glory?

      • January 6th 2014 @ 10:00am
        jameswm said | January 6th 2014 @ 10:00am | ! Report

        You think? All that homeworkgate and team disruption, with selections of Maxwell, Henriques etc, made Lehman’s job easier? Lehman comes into a team a shambolic couple of weeks before the last Ashes series and should THANK Arthur for this?

        Exactly what hard work did Arthur do? He worked hard to tear them apart? I’m sure his intentions were good, but he took them backwards.

        • January 6th 2014 @ 1:23pm
          Christo the Daddyo said | January 6th 2014 @ 1:23pm | ! Report

          It’s been mentioned that the homework episode was a turning point in the team culture. I think even Johnson has admitted that. Like so often happens, it takes a while for this to play out fully, but that was the specific time where things started to change.

          Your objections to particular selections can be directed to the NSP, not the coach specifically. Lehmann was able to come into the team and point to actual evidence of the rotation policy not working.

          But I’m sure it’s very fashionable to kick Arthur now. Feel free to join in.

          • January 6th 2014 @ 3:56pm
            jameswm said | January 6th 2014 @ 3:56pm | ! Report

            Sorry – I should be supporting Arthur for overseeing so many losses. And criticising Lehamnn because the team is winning under him and enjoying their cricket.

            The proof is in the pudding.

            • January 6th 2014 @ 4:01pm
              Christo the Daddyo said | January 6th 2014 @ 4:01pm | ! Report

              I see you’ve gone the simplistic route. Predictable.

              Just remember that if it wasn’t for rain and some dodgy decisions Australia could easily have drawn (or possibly won) the Ashes in England. And nobody in their right mind would have been able to credit Lehmann with much – he’d only just arrived. As many people have said (including the captain), Australia wasn’t far off in England. And you have to acknowledge that Arthur had worked with the team right up until that tour started. It’s just using logic that part of the credit for the current success has to go to Arthur.

              • January 6th 2014 @ 7:51pm
                Squirrel said | January 6th 2014 @ 7:51pm | ! Report

                Christo your not Kerry O’keefe pulling our leg. That was hilarious. Thanks Arthur for sweet fa.

              • January 7th 2014 @ 1:31am
                IndianCricketFan said | January 7th 2014 @ 1:31am | ! Report

                Amongst all the national celebrations in Australia,i have to ask one question? I hope i won’t be shut down by “call-center employee” and other stuff buti have to ask this…Are Australian sports fans bandwagoners?I mean the people who only support their team when they are winning! I read so many articles that Cricket was losing to football codes not only in popularity but now soccer was beating it in the summer as well.

                But now i come on this site and read only cricket articles…good for me though but it seems even the Big Bash broke TV ratings and crossed the million mark(which apparently is a big thing in Australia).

                This is not a derogatory question and it’s just a simple question to see how Australian sporting crowd thinks. In India , there was a lot of fascination with Cricket with neutral cricket matches happening across the world but all that’s gone now. People do follow Cricket but they would just catch it on Tv in the evening and not discuss it like the way it’s done in Australia.The Sachin debate was an exception and the IPL has made cricket franchise-friendly like the EPL…not sure if that’s positive or negative for the game of Cricket. But i have a bad feeling Test Cricket in India is going to suffer from this football(soccer) club mentality.

      • January 6th 2014 @ 10:43am
        Praveen said | January 6th 2014 @ 10:43am | ! Report

        No Arthur just Made it worse, under him there were serious disunity among players, hats off to CA for changing coaches

        • Roar Guru

          January 6th 2014 @ 10:49am
          Chris Kettlewell said | January 6th 2014 @ 10:49am | ! Report


        • Columnist

          January 6th 2014 @ 12:28pm
          Geoff Lemon said | January 6th 2014 @ 12:28pm | ! Report

          The mail I’ve been getting from press types is that Arthur had a lot of influence in Johnson’s recovery and technical adjustments, working closely with Mitch even while he was away from the national side. He missed the northern Ashes because he wasn’t yet ready, but he was on the upswing. I can’t verify how accurate that is, but it has been mentioned.

    • Roar Guru

      January 6th 2014 @ 9:08am
      langou said | January 6th 2014 @ 9:08am | ! Report

      Lets also give praise to the Australian selectors.

      Picking Johnson and Smith… not many fans would have agreed with those decisions. Ignoring Khawaja and Hughes and going with a 37 year old debutant as opening bat. Reinstating Haddin in place of Wade! Even those calling for Wades head where advocating for a younger keeper to be picked.

      If we are going to blame them for every loss, it is only right to say that they got it right this time. In a big way.

      • January 6th 2014 @ 9:30am
        Pope Paul VII said | January 6th 2014 @ 9:30am | ! Report

        What about Bailey Langers? Best Team Man?

        • January 6th 2014 @ 9:55am
          Christo the Daddyo said | January 6th 2014 @ 9:55am | ! Report

          Good close-in catcher…

        • Roar Guru

          January 6th 2014 @ 10:03am
          langou said | January 6th 2014 @ 10:03am | ! Report

          As Meat Loaf never said 10 out of 11 ain’t bad

          • January 6th 2014 @ 10:57am
            Pope Paul VII said | January 6th 2014 @ 10:57am | ! Report

            ha… I’ll pay that

            • Columnist

              January 6th 2014 @ 12:29pm
              Geoff Lemon said | January 6th 2014 @ 12:29pm | ! Report

              Ten catches in five Tests. He’s almost a ‘keeper (even if he’s not a keeper).

              • January 6th 2014 @ 12:54pm
                abigail said | January 6th 2014 @ 12:54pm | ! Report

                He has donned the gloves for Tassie on a couple of occasions when the keeper was injured during a match. He can field pretty well anywhere.

      • January 6th 2014 @ 7:58pm
        Jake said | January 6th 2014 @ 7:58pm | ! Report

        Rogers wasn’t a debutant.

    • January 6th 2014 @ 9:46am
      Bearfax said | January 6th 2014 @ 9:46am | ! Report

      I remember about 18 months ago arguing that Micky should be dropped and Lehmann made Australian coach. Was plainly obvious that with a bunch of young no names he was winning cricket comps for QLD. So glad that finally CA recognised Lehmann’s value and took the punt. An excellent choice for coach.

      • January 6th 2014 @ 10:44am
        Praveen said | January 6th 2014 @ 10:44am | ! Report

        Well said bearfax

    • January 6th 2014 @ 9:55am
      Arthur fonzarelli said | January 6th 2014 @ 9:55am | ! Report

      The insanity of rotation finally being terminated was a big plus .

      Harris getting MoM on a game he was in doubt for and previously would have surely been “rested” was icing on the cake .

      The bowlers won the series – maybe McDermott should be taking the accolades more than Lehman ??

      • Roar Guru

        January 6th 2014 @ 10:54am
        Chris Kettlewell said | January 6th 2014 @ 10:54am | ! Report

        Arthur was the problem. His methods just seemed to have everyone looking over their shoulders, playing them off against each other, causing fractures in team unity and everything else. I doubt McDermott could have worked much in that environment. And I believe he’s commented himself how well Johnson and others have done themselves and how he hasn’t had to do a lot.

        • January 6th 2014 @ 12:59pm
          abigail said | January 6th 2014 @ 12:59pm | ! Report

          One moment that I noticed at the end of the fifth test. The four bowlers hugged, then walked arms linked together over to the group hug and celebrations. To me this seemed indicative of how they had operated as a pack all summer and how they had supported each other.

          • January 6th 2014 @ 6:19pm
            jameswm said | January 6th 2014 @ 6:19pm | ! Report

            Yeah I noticed that too. The 4 of them embraced as a unit, a team within a team.

            It was touching!

      • January 6th 2014 @ 5:44pm
        Steele said | January 6th 2014 @ 5:44pm | ! Report

        Great point Fonz, proof enough Arthur was a dud for me!

    • January 6th 2014 @ 10:02am
      jameswm said | January 6th 2014 @ 10:02am | ! Report

      I remember a recent story.

      Lehman had control of the A team in South Africa. Many of them were doing well and the morale and spirit were great.

      Then Arthur and Inverarity turned up and it was apparently like a wet blanket had been thrown over them. Everyone started looking over their shoulders and became on edge.

      Think back to that. Arthur was ust a poor fit.

      • January 6th 2014 @ 10:15am
        Franko said | January 6th 2014 @ 10:15am | ! Report

        Boof may only be rivaled by Bob Simpson in terms of coaching in this country. Time will tell to see if he is better than Simmo.

      • January 6th 2014 @ 11:08am
        Matt F said | January 6th 2014 @ 11:08am | ! Report

        I think you mean the A tour to England. Lehmann was already made head coach before the South Africa tour. Regardless it’s hard to argue. He ‘s obviously excellent at building team spirit.

        • January 6th 2014 @ 11:26am
          jameswm said | January 6th 2014 @ 11:26am | ! Report

          You could be right there Matt.

          As you said though, the point is the same.

      • January 6th 2014 @ 2:58pm
        Bearfax said | January 6th 2014 @ 2:58pm | ! Report

        Should also be noted in Africa, the star after Warner left wasnt Doolan. It was Maddinson. I wonder if Boof took special note.

        • January 6th 2014 @ 3:58pm
          jameswm said | January 6th 2014 @ 3:58pm | ! Report

          If Maddinson had then kicked on in the first half of the Shield season, he might have been near the front of the queue. But he hasn’t.

          There’s luck in being picked – being at the front of the queue when a spot becomes open.

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