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Lehmann reflects on racial outburst

Daniel Brettig

April 29, 2014

Comments: 30 | Text size: A | A
Boof has brought the enjoyment back - Rogers

Australia's coach Darren Lehmann has called his racial outburst against Sri Lanka in 2003 "the biggest mistake" of his life, and also offered an insight into how he manages the diverse personalities and egos present within the national team, from Mitchell Johnson to David Warner.

Lehmann has returned to work at the National Cricket Centre in Brisbane following a long and wildly successful summer with the Test team, and is currently planning for the challenges ahead over the next two years, including the 2015 World Cup in Australia and the defence of the Ashes in England a few months later.

In an interview with the ABC's 7.30 on Tuesday, Lehmann reflected on the storm created by his bellowed rebuke of "black c****" in the dressing room after he was run-out in a Brisbane ODI against Sri Lanka 11 years ago, and what he said had become a cautionary tale he has shared with numerous players.


Darren Lehmann directs his troops during training, Mirpur, March 22, 2014
Darren Lehmann- "It was the biggest mistake of my life. I apologised for it on the night, to the captain Kumar Sangakkara and the Sri Lankan team" © Getty Images
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"It was the biggest mistake of my life. I apologised for it on the night, to the captain Kumar Sangakkara [Sanath Jayasuriya was captain] and the Sri Lankan team, and hopefully they've forgiven me and we can move on," Lehmann said of an offence that had him banned for five ODIs. "I speak about it honestly, it was a big mistake, and it was a big learning curve in my career and if I can impart anything on other players along the way, then so be it."

A decade later, Lehmann took on the job as Australia's coach on the eve of the 2013 Ashes tour of England, following the sacking of Mickey Arthur. Among Lehmann's most vital tasks was to regain a sense of unity and fun among the players, who had splintered into cliques during Arthur's time as coach amid a general atmosphere of fear and mistrust.

The suspension of four players - Johnson, James Pattinson, Usman Khawaja and Shane Watson - in India for failing to follow team instructions was a fiasco for the team in the midst of a 4-0 hiding, and Lehmann said the matter should not have been allowed to reach the public eye. "From my point of view it was a case of it should have been dealt in house, and shouldn't have gotten out to be perfectly honest," he said. "But that's been dealt with and done, so we move on."

In repairing the damage caused by that episode among others, Lehmann showed an ability to relate to the various personality types within the team, as defeat in England was used as the platform for a rousing Ashes sweep at home and then another triumph in South Africa. He highlighted Johnson and Warner as examples of how to handle players differently.

"Mitchell is a beautiful quiet guy who just goes about his business, so for me it's just about keeping him up. He'll have times when he's down, but not to let him get too down on himself," he said. "Players are their own harshest critic, as you would imagine, there are times when they're going to get a rocket from me. But I'm making sure they're in a really good place to play the best cricket they can. And knowing each player, they're all different.

"I wouldn't talk to David Warner too long, because he wouldn't understand, he'd lose it. So I keep it really short for guys like that, Glenn Maxwell, and that's fine, that's when they play their best cricket. But if I have to talk to Shane Watson or Mitchell Johnson or Michael Clarke, I might take it more in depth because they'll get it easier."

Australia's most recent assignment was far from successful, as they failed to make the semi-finals of the World T20 in Bangladesh. Lehmann said he was prepared to wear that result, so long as it was learned from.

"We were riding high on the back of beating England and South Africa, and then we struggled in Bangladesh. Albeit it all of those games were winnable and we were in winning positions when we let ourselves down," he said. "That's a good learning curve for us.

"I know it's not great when you're out of the World Cup, but as long as the players learn from that, and then don't make the same mistake - I'm okay with players making mistakes, don't make it twice."

Daniel Brettig is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. @danbrettig

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© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.

Posted by dunger.bob on (April 30, 2014, 23:22 GMT)

@ A.S.K.: Well, I heard it, loud and clear on my TV. I think they were experimenting with cameras in the dressing room at the time. .. What can I say mate, I heard it.

Posted by BigINDFan on (April 30, 2014, 16:49 GMT)

@OttawaRocks - Agreed. NBA is way ahead on this. However since cricket is a multi-national sport with ICC having minimal to zero control on running the show. However cricket has progressed quite a bit in enforcing penalties for misconduct over the past few years.

Aussies need to understand the difference between playing aggressively cricket vs plain rude. The unfortunate thing is other teams are also picking up on this under the guise of playing aggressive cricket.

Posted by OttawaRocks on (April 30, 2014, 9:39 GMT)

Its interesting that Sterling makes comments and loses his NBA team while Lehmann gets a slap on the wrist - a wide gulf in the standards between the 2 sports, reflecting just how far behind cricket lags.

Posted by   on (April 30, 2014, 9:19 GMT)

darren is great he apologized . he was a young man at that time. he is a coach now a successful coach

Posted by Sal76 on (April 30, 2014, 8:51 GMT)

@Jagger - Not sure I agree with you mate. This isn't about thin skin and freedom of speech. This is about upholding the spirit of the sport. When something is heard over the stump mic, it is an issue and the CA made a huge deal about why it was broadcast. In other words, had it not been broadcast, CA would not have made a big deal about Clarke threatening Anderson with a broken finger. I'm sure Anderson's feelings didn't give two hoots about Clarke. It was more about conduct, conduct that is contrary to the captain of a National side. Conduct that is contrary to ICC laws and conduct that is contrary to that expected of a professional. If an average office going individual was to conduct himself/herself in this manner at work, would that be acceptable? This is not about thin skin. This is about what professionals are made of, which the current Aussies aren't.

Posted by A.S.K. on (April 30, 2014, 8:35 GMT)

@dunger bob, that is a load of absolute garbage. The comments did not "come over loud and clear on TV". Boof did it loudly in the dressing room, and several SL players (not participating in the match) and the SL team officials all heard it from their dressing room. Australian team management alerted Boof to the presence of the SL team players and officials, and Boof apologised..

Posted by Jagger on (April 30, 2014, 7:28 GMT)

Alan ­Borovoy, the founder of the Canadian Civil Liberties Association says, when hurt feelings became the meas­urement of laws, it turned into a "very risky ball game. You are running a terrible risk that someone's thin skin could be the limit of someone else's free speech."

Posted by cricket_ahan on (April 30, 2014, 6:42 GMT)

@ Edward_de_Coonghe: I tend to disagree. While dozens of individuals ARE responsible for total development, I feel today's cricketers are pulled in too many directions, and this has made it more difficult for them to focus - 3 different formats, multiple local T20 tournaments, more playing teams (largely due to T20), and a myriad of fitness, mental and god-knows-what-else coaches. Things need to be simplified, and the best teams in the world today are earmarked by stand-out leaders that maintain control over the gamut of these things - MS Dhoni for India, Michael Clarke for Aus and (until recently) Graeme Smith for South Africa. The senior coach needs to maintain the same stature, and Lehmann is looking to be fitting this role at the moment.

Posted by MSDR on (April 30, 2014, 4:46 GMT)

He says he apologized and considers it the biggest mistake of his life but does not remember who the captain was!!! strange!!!

Posted by Udendra on (April 30, 2014, 4:01 GMT)

yeah, Aussies have a great history of making mistakes and "learning" :D

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Daniel Brettig Assistant editor Daniel Brettig had been a journalist for eight years when he joined ESPNcricinfo, but his fascination with cricket dates back to the early 1990s, when his dad helped him sneak into the family lounge room to watch the end of day-night World Series matches well past bedtime. Unapologetically passionate about indie music and the South Australian Redbacks, Daniel's chief cricketing achievement was to dismiss Wisden Almanack editor Lawrence Booth in the 2010 Ashes press match in Perth - a rare Australian victory that summer.
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