Australia news June 24, 2013

'A communicator who brings everyone together'

The Queensland wicketkeeper Chris Hartley spoke to ESPNcricinfo to discuss Darren Lehmann's mentoring style and the successful approach he used at Queensland over the past two years

Darren is often described as an "old-school" coach. What do people mean by that?
Chris Hartley: To me it's a 'keeping it simple' philosophy that he believes in. He's very much about the idea that the game is about doing the basics very well - that's your basic batting, bowling and fielding skills. In saying that, he absolutely believes there's a role for those extra one-percenters, your homework off the field in terms of your analysis of opposition, all that preparation. He strongly believes in all of that. But at the end of the day it comes down to how you perform out on the field. I think in this generation of professional era of cricket, players are given a lot of information. Sometimes when someone comes along and gives a nice simple clear direction it makes things a lot easier.

Presumably he's the sort of coach you'd be more likely to see giving players verbal advice in the nets rather than sitting at his laptop?
He's probably more a hands-on guy who'll work with you in the nets. There's certainly a place for video analysis and that sort of stuff. Certain players respond to that very well and in that case he'd encourage them to do it. His philosophy is all about teaching the players how to play the game. The best way he believes to do that is to be out there performing the skills. The better players become in terms of understanding their own game, they don't need to be coached as much. John Buchanan used to say that his role as a coach was to become obsolete. That's something that Darren would probably agree with. If he's doing the right things, the players start to know their own game and that coaching side of things will become a lot easier.

Is his approach one that has become less common among coaches in the modern era?
I've come through in Australian cricket systems in this era when it's not just about being a cricketer, it's about fitness programmes and the mental side of things. That's very common. But as a player sometimes it's very refreshing to break it all back down into the fundamentals of what the game of cricket is all about, batting, bowling and fielding. That's something that has never changed over the years and never will. Of course you need to evolve with and use all the different resources available to you but Boof (Lehmann) very much believes it comes down to the contest between bat and ball out on the field.

How has he handled the disciplinary side of coaching?
He's very clear in his directions and very clear in what his expectations are of you as a player and a person and what your role is. When you're clear on those things, the players then make their own choices and know exactly where they stand. From a formal point of view, our side operated with team rules and team standards that both Darren and the playing group put together. If any player stepped outside that they got penalised. In the Australian side it's probably going to be a harder thing to keep within the team but if everyone is heading in the right direction you're hoping that those transgressions aren't going to be significant anyway. We found that at our level. All of a sudden the transgressions we had were few and far between and were very minor anyway.

Have there been times when he has had to pull players back into line?
Yes, there have been a number of occasions. There have been things as simple as the things that got discussed at the Australian level [in India], like wearing the right uniforms or being on time, small things like that, right down to personal issues with players in regard to attitude. But if you're clear with your players and support staff on what your expectations are and if everyone buys in to that, then all of a sudden everyone is heading in the same direction and a lot of those issues disappear.

How much of the onus did he place on the senior players to lead by example off field?
Darren spoke with senior players about their role as a senior member of the squad. Part of that was the responsibility to educate other players and direct them and show them what's an acceptable set of standards. We do have a leadership group that Boof helped to form. It was a peer-voted group, so it was something that everyone bought into straight away. That group is a voice for the players, so if they've got an issue with something and they don't go directly to the coach they can go through the leadership group. The standards that the group wanted to play and train by were very clear and simple from the start.

Is it fair to say he was also keen to instill a sense of fun in the playing group?
A big key for Boof is having fun and that's on and off the field. The players in the Queensland side were very clear on what having a good time on and off the field meant, both to them and to him. It meant that players didn't feel like they needed to do anything behind closed doors or sneak off and do anything that might go against the team. Everyone understood what was expected and that's on and off the field. In doing that, some of that intensity or pressure that comes along with playing elite cricket relaxes a little bit. It's no secret that when players are happy and relaxed they'll be playing their best cricket.

Managing egos is always part of a coach's job, but will it be tougher for him at international level than at state level?
The fundamentals of that are the same. You get competitive men playing the game who have all got their own opinions, all got their own goals and ideas on what's the best way for them to go forward. To try to bring everyone together in one direction while you've got individuals doing that is a difficult thing. But he has definitely been able to do that in the Queensland squad. He gets to know the players and what makes them tick and then manages them accordingly. One person might need more discipline than another person who manages themselves strictly anyway. That's always going to be the challenge in any team, it doesn't matter if that's at state level or international level.

He has been named national coach 16 days before the Ashes - is he the kind of person who can get to know the players well enough in that time?
Because of his position in the game as a player he's going to have enormous respect from the players immediately. That's going to help to speed up that process of bringing together a squad. I don't think he's necessarily going to be able to perform miracles over the course of one or two weeks. But if he's given the right amount of time to put in place the things he believes in, I have no doubt he'll be able to get the Australian team operating as a cohesive unit, and that seems to be something that people from the outside are commenting on, that it seems a little bit disjointed at the moment. That's one thing he does very well. He's an excellent communicator and develops the group in a way that brings everyone together. That can only be a good thing for this Australian team.

Brydon Coverdale is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. He tweets here

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