When Darren Lehmann was appointed Australian coach for the Ashes series in England, it was met with positive expectations for a squad struggling to find its feet. The timing of the appointment was a bit surprising though. Mickey Arthur was unceremoniously sacked as the coach of the national team following repeated failures. It was considered to be a risky step considering the circumstances and the impending challenges that awaited the once-mighty Australians. Two weeks before England were to host their arch-rivals, Arthur was asked to pack his bags for good as in the eyes of the team and the management, his time was up and the squad needed a change of guard. They needed a breath of fresh air to dispel the aura of despondency that had settled inside the Aussie dressing room following humiliating losses to India, suspension of top team members for not doing their ‘homework’, and failure to defend their Champions Trophy title in England.
It is ironic that Arthur, a Brit, was appointed as the first ever non-Australian to coach the Kangaroos after defeat to none other than England, in 2011. As per statistics, Arthur`s reign didn’t give him much to write home about. Under his guidance, Australia won 10 out of 19 Tests, 18 out of 39 ODIs and 7 out of 16 T20Is. The collective failure of the team both on and off the field was traced back to the head coach. As a result, team’s CEO James Sutherland gunned for his head. Arthur, humiliated by the treatment, demanded an appropriate compensation for his removal or reinstatement. After few deliberations, a settlement was reached and both the parties happily moved on.
As Cricket Australia was dealing with this issue back home, their team was involved in a battle to regain its lost pride at the hands of an old foe under the watch of a new coach. And what a show it turned out to be!
The contest reached its crescendo with Lehmann`s outburst against Stuart Broad who has been painted as a villain by the Australian media. Broad`s refusal to walk after being caught by Michael Clarke off Ashton Agar in the first Ashes Test at Trent Bridge led to much criticism. Unable to fathom Broad`s action, Lehmann vented his anger in an interview to an Australian network, labelling the pacer to be a cheat. He didn`t stop at that and also urged the Australian public to make him cry during the return Ashes tour beginning later this year.
Lehmann, in his playing days, was once banned for racism – an outburst as a result of being run out by a Sri Lankan player in 2003. Afterwards, he apologised for the behaviour.
I read in an article that Lehmann has a cool head over his shoulders. He is a calming influence. Spend an afternoon with him and you will know that not only he has got an excellent cricketing brain, but also knows very well the skills of man management. However, his rant against an international cricketer on a public platform doesn`t do his reputation any good. Being a coach of a high-profile team demands certain etiquettes and restraints that are necessary to command respect from the team and among peers. The reaction to his gaff resulted in him meeting having to meet Broad in person to apologise. Later on, he admitted that as a coach he needs to learn more and that this has been a learning curve from him.
To be honest, the last thing that Australia needed after being subjected to repeated defeats from England in the Test series was another controversy. For Australia, the series began with a controversy– Joe Root being punched by David Warner – and ended with another – Lehmann calling Broad a cheat. In between, Australia had their moments – some ruined by inclement weather and others by their own cavalier batting. England, feeling outdone by the Australians in controversies, apparently resorted to paying tribute to their colleague — Monty Panesar — after lifting the trophy to celebrate their big win in the most bizarre manner that one can think of.
But, all said and done, they now have two months to prepare for a return series. At home, they will be eager to restore some pride. They need to ask themselves a few tough questions – are those in the team good enough to be there? While their counterparts succeeded under same conditions, what was the reason for their sorry show? They utilised all their resources in the hope of outshining England in England and nothing as planned. As experts and former players suggest, has something gone wrong with their domestic system that has in recent years churned out world class players and made them the dominant force they once historically were? With a lot of questions to answer and barely two months in hand, Clarke and Lehmann have a lot on their plates at the moment.