Lehmann locked in until 2017
Darren Lehmann has been rewarded for his positive impact on Australia's performance with a one-year extension to his contract as head coach. Lehmann was installed on the eve of last year's Ashes series in England when Cricket Australia made the dramatic last-minute decision to sack Mickey Arthur, and while an Ashes defeat was the immediate outcome, Australia have been on the rise since then.
A 5-0 clean-sweep at home returned the urn in the Australian summer, before Michael Clarke's men travelled to South Africa and won 2-1 earlier this year, putting them temporarily back on top of the ICC Test rankings. It has been a remarkable turnaround from early 2013, when Australia virtually imploded both off the field and on it in India, where they were crushed 4-0 and four players suffered the ignominy of being suspended during the homework saga.
Lehmann was originally contracted until June 2016 but Cricket Australia's confidence in him has now encouraged them to lock him in for another year, until the end of June 2017. The move came during a rare off season spent largely at home, during which Lehmann and Cricket Australia had the chance to look back on a largely successful period since the Ashes in England.
"After the [World] T20 in Bangladesh we had some time off, reflection time to see where we needed to improve more so than anything else," Lehmann said. "It was an up-and-down 12 months. It was a great back end obviously but we certainly changed the way we went about things on and off the ground. From our point of view we've made strides but we're also looking to improve."
So far, they have done that. The home Ashes triumph would alone have been enough to make Cricket Australia's CEO James Sutherland and team performance manager Pat Howard pleased with their decision, but the added bonus of victory in South Africa topped it off nicely. Howard said Lehmann's success as coach had stemmed in part from his off-field approach.
"We have been extremely pleased with the results Darren has achieved with the team since he came on board," Howard said. "He has helped create an excellent team environment that has seen players thrive.
"We want that to continue so we used the winter period to work through an extension to his current contract. Importantly it provides continuity for the team and certainty for Darren heading into a critical period for Australian cricket."
Lehmann's relaxed, inclusive style has been apparent from the outset. While preparing for a warm-up game against Somerset last year, shortly after being handed the job, he called the team together, asked for the stop-watch to be started, and declared that no team meeting during his tenure would ever go longer than 30 minutes. After that, it was off to the pub.
In the words of opener Chris Rogers, it was a moment in which the players realised that they could enjoy their cricket again, and that the weight was off their shoulders. Lehmann has also been known to deliver a serve for a loose shot or silly decision, but he himself said the major change he had noted in the Australian setup since he came on board was in the atmosphere of the squad.
"I think the togetherness of the group as a whole, support staff and players, the way we all get on so well with the families and look after each other outside the game," Lehmann said. "They're all really talented cricketers and we've got some great people involved in the game. That's been the biggest stride."
On the field, he has engendered an attacking approach which comes naturally to many of the Australians, but might have been forgotten at times in the pre-Lehmann era. Not that his captains across all three formats need much encouraging.
"I was quite an aggressive player myself and I've got a captain [Michael Clarke] who is quite aggressive. George [Bailey] is aggressive, Finchy is aggressive, so with Clarke it makes it quite a bit easier to implement an aggressive plan. That's the pleasing thing is the captains have been on board and that's what you need."
The immediate goal for Lehmann and Clarke is to continue their improvement away from home, after winning in South Africa. The first Test in Dubai begins on Wednesday and Australia can return to the No.1 ranking if they win 2-0.
"We've certainly got to improve our skill level away from home," Lehmann said. "We did that well in South Africa. But it's only the start of the tour here away and we didn't have the result in Zimbabwe we would have liked. So we've got to keep improving away from home, first and foremost."
Brydon Coverdale is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. @brydoncoverdale