I admit to feeling sorry for Darren Lehmann in recent months.
It can’t have been easy for him, being hounded by narrative post-sandpapergate – endless articles about how Australian cricket lost its way under his watch, how Justin Langer is here to turn things around, how the Aussie team never showed the fight they did in the UAE under Lehmann and how good it is Khawaja’s lost all this weight.
It must have been especially galling after Lehmann did the entirely decent thing by resigning, only to see Pat “accountability” Howard still in his job, washing his hands of any responsibility, and Langer, who seemed to have a lot of influence under the Lehmann regime, acting as if he had nothing to do with it.
Indeed, there must be times when Lehmann looks at former colleagues still hanging around like Howard, Greg Chappell and Trevor Hohns, and his old coaching staff, and think “maybe I should’ve gutsed it out, too. Like them, I could blame everything that goes wrong on injuries and other people, and ended my coaching career on more of a high.”
Because when it comes to remembering careers, it’s often the last chapter that counts the most. Just ask Kim Hughes.
Steve Smith, Dave Warner and Cameron Bancroft will probably all play for Australia again. Lehmann won’t coach Australia again. So he’ll be remembered for sandpapergate forever. The others will too, but they at least have a chance to write extra chapters whereas Lehmann is done.
So I felt a little bad, especially after having to listen to all those like-nails-on-a-chalkboard mantras of Langer in the press, and seeing that many of the bad habits of the Lehmann regime were still happening in the “new dawn” of Australian cricket: the public bullying of Glenn Maxwell, the obsession with the Marsh brothers and pace over wickettakers, the chopping and changing of the test side, the reluctance of the captain to use part time bowlers and the lying to the media.
Maybe Boof wasn’t so bad?
Then two things happened last week that reminded me why it’s a relief Lehmann is no longer coach.
First was the publication of Gideon Haigh’s superb long essay “Crossing the Line: How Australian Cricket Lost Its Way”, his review on the events that led to sandpapergate.
Lehmann isn’t the most criticised in this book – that honour goes to Pat Howard and Greg Chappell, especially Chappell, whose fanatical ageism has wrecked far more damage on Australian cricket than any David Warner brain implosion.
However Lehmann still gets a fair whack – his lack of vision and personal fitness, his limitations as coach, his emphasis on aggression aggression aggression, his tendency to bully, the fact he stayed too long.
Second was Lehmann’s recent pick for Australia’s test team “bolters” this summer – D’Arcy Short and Chris Lynn.
Yes, D’arcy Short, who averages 23.58 at first class level after a grand total of nine games with a top score of 66, and who is 28 years old.
Look, I really like both players – I would love to see Short get a trial down the order in Australia’s ODI team and I pushed for Lynn’s test selection before I was aware of how bad his injury problems were.
But to suggest they’re ready for test selection this summer?
Is Lehmann not aware of Lynn’s injury situation?
Does he not care about Short’s record or how Short underperformed in England?
Has he not forgotten Dave Warner had to chalk up a fair few first class runs before being selected for tests?
Is he reminiscing fondly about the opportunities given to Mitchell Marsh, who made his test debut four years ago with a first class average of only 28, who has now seen that rise to the giddy heights of 31?
Or he is just doing schtick which used to be prevalent among the old Channel Nine commentary team of not doing any research and making sweeping punts on the basis of a game they’ve just watched – in this case the JTL Cup?
I can’t see how someone like Lehmann, who was such a giant at Sheffield Shield level (and he was a great player) now has such contempt for the competition he’s making test baggy green picks on the basis of one day cricket.
Who doesn’t even know one of his suggested players has effectively retired from first class cricket.
The depressing thing is silly suggestions like these can get taken up by the selectors, who forget different formats are, well, different, and get seduced by the romance of a selection (“ooh he’s good in BBL! Imagine thwacking like that in a test!”) .
I do feel for Lehmann, seriously.
He’d be going through a lot of pain at the moment and this summer will be hard for him, especially when the culture review comes out and people have to start defending their jobs.
He deserves to get some of the blame, but he’ll get a higher proportion than he deserves because he resigned.
And every fawning profile about Langer is going to start with “when he took over the team in 2018 from Darren Lehmann it was in disarray”.
That’s going to be hard.
But if Lehmann wants redemption I suggest he stays away from the press for a bit, and goes back to coaching first class cricket. He was good at it, and he seems to need reminding how difficult that format can be.