Selectors dump Lehmann
Darren Lehmann's international career is almost certainly over after he was dropped for the five-match one-day series against New Zealand. While Lehmann, who missed Australia's last Test against Pakistan and struggled during the VB Series, was dumped after 117 ODIs, Matthew Hayden was retained in the 14-man squad despite being overlooked for the finals against Pakistan.
Trevor Hohns, the chairman of selectors, said Lehmann, who was 35 on Saturday, had been a fine team man in a tribute that read like a last goodbye. "Darren has been a wonderful player for Australia over a long period of time," he said. "Throughout his career, his performances have been first class, which has been a telling factor in the team's terrific run of success."
However, Lehmann was told by Hohns last night that he was still a chance of regaining a Test place. Hohns said Lehmann's recent form, including 89 runs in six VB Series innings, was a concern and it was time to start looking to the future. "Unfortunately it's one of those tough calls, but it is time for us to move forward," he said. "His unofficial role as a leader amongst the squad has been outstanding. He has been a fine team man."
Mike Hussey, the Western Australia batsman, has earned a recall after playing one match against India last summer while James Hopes, the Queensland allrounder, replaced the injured Shane Watson. Watson suffered a side strain in the second VB Series final and is also a doubtful starter for the Test squad, which will be named later this month. It is Lehmann's final hope for an international reprieve.
Lehmann said Hohns told him it was time to move on as Australia look towards the 2007 World Cup. "I really understand that," Lehmann said. "If [my international career is] over, it's over - there is nothing I can do about it."
The end for Lehmann, a dual World Cup winner, began on the tour of India last year when he offered his Test place to Michael Clarke, and continued with a hamstring injury that ruled him out of the fourth Test at Mumbai. On his return to Australia the glare intensified on and off the field as he gave evidence in the David Hookes manslaughter trial, released his biography and stuttered with the bat.
An 81 against New Zealand on his home ground at Adelaide was the brightest innings of a Test summer where he was twice shocked by Shoaib Akhtar - he was bowled behind his legs at Perth and popped a catch to short leg at the MCG - and dropped for Sydney. Teammates and supporters offered him the respect of someone who had reached 100 Tests instead of a talented batsman who had played 27 matches and only sealed a regular spot on the 2003 West Indies tour.
Desperate for a first Ashes Tour, Lehmann needed a strong VB Series to remind selectors of his stock, but he was again troubled by owning too many shots. Two fifties against New Zealand in December held up his season of struggle and his worst dismissal was to a first-ball reverse sweep in the opening final against Pakistan.
Hussey has been rewarded for seasons of consistency, although he has been at his most prolific in English county cricket, and has scored 362 runs at 40.22 in the 2004-05 ING Cup. "We feel that if given the opportunity he could do a very good job for Australia, particularly in the middle order," Hohns said. "He impressed us when making his one-day debut in Perth last summer and we said at the time that he had certainly put his case forward for future selections."
Hohns said Hopes, the 26-year-old Australia A player, was an exciting prospect who he had kept his eyes on. "Like Watson, he can perform a variety of roles for us," Hohns said. "He has put some excellent performances on the board for Queensland throughout the year and we feel that this opportunity will fast-track his development." The opening one-day match is at Wellington on February 19, but the teams will play the first international Twenty20 game at Auckland next Thursday.
Australia Ricky Ponting (capt), Adam Gilchrist (wk), Michael Clarke, Jason Gillespie, Matthew Hayden, Brad Hogg, James Hopes, Michael Hussey, Michael Kasprowicz, Simon Katich, Brett Lee, Damien Martyn, Glenn McGrath, Andrew Symonds.