July 6, 2013

What Lehmann brings to the table

He has a relaxed and old-fashioned approach, but don't be fooled into thinking he won't hold players accountable for their performances

It's amazing the difference a little momentum can make. Two weeks ago, it didn't look like this Ashes tour was going to be a positive experience for Australia. But after strong performances with bat and ball against Somerset and Worcestershire, there is a much more buoyant feeling about their chances in the Ashes series. There's always a honeymoon period when a new coach comes in, but I think Darren Lehmann has the ability to extend that period to become the norm.

As an outside observer it seems there were a lot of contributing factors that led to the Australian team not functioning as well as it should have, and not for a moment would I say Mickey Arthur was solely to blame for that. But something wasn't working and Cricket Australia deserves credit for addressing that before the series rather than during or after it. Darren's appointment is timely. It looks like a perfect scenario for someone of his character to come in and bring that team together.

I have had the good fortune of working closely with Darren and seeing him in his coaching capacity. His first official coaching appointment was at Deccan Chargers in the IPL when I was captain, and we worked closely for a few years, and most recently this year with Kings XI Punjab.

Darren creates a relaxed environment and de-stresses the players. He leads players back to the pure reasons why they play the game: enjoyment, camaraderie and enjoying each other's success.

It seems as though there are a huge amount of requests put on players outside of just playing cricket these days, especially around sports science and the way their health is monitored. Darren has the image of being the old-fashioned, beer-drinking type, but he is a smart enough guy with a wonderful cricket brain that he embraces the new and blends it in with some of those old-fashioned values. You can't just create a team environment like magic, but his approach makes it evolve naturally.

I'll always remember his first day on the job as Chargers' coach in 2009. We had an intra-squad practice game and afterwards the fitness guru asked everyone to jump in the ice bath, which was second nature to the Australians in the group but not for some of the other players. But any hesitancy they had disappeared when a naked Darren Lehmann came steaming through the change rooms and did the biggest bomb you could imagine into the ice bath, saying, "One in, all in!" It wasn't a pretty sight but it brought a lot of laughter and broke down the barriers. It also showed his commitment; he doesn't ask anything of the players that he wouldn't do himself.

He creates that sense of fun and gives the players a long leash, but with that comes accountability. If you don't adhere to the team's ethos you'll know about it in no uncertain terms. And you may not get a second chance. I'm yet to see any evidence of players taking advantage of his relaxed approach. Already we're seeing positive signs from the Australian camp under Darren. Not only has he relieved Michael Clarke of some of his burdens, he has given the players clear direction and let them know where they stand and what he expects of them.

I love the way Boof has announced ten days before the first Test that Chris Rogers and Shane Watson will open. It means there is no uncertainty. I think a lot of Australia's batting trouble started when Simon Katich was relieved of his position and Watson was flicked down the order to try to get more out of him as an all-round cricketer. Now Watson will be judged purely on his results as an opener, and it's a bonus if they get some overs out of him as a bowler. His 109 against Worcestershire was a great start.

In fact, most of the batsmen have scored valuable runs in the tour games, which would make it difficult for the selectors to pick David Warner. I had him pencilled in at No. 6 long before his suspension for the altercation with Joe Root. I just thought in this series Warner would be better served down the order. But now he hasn't played the two warm-up games, what sort of message would it send to the other batsmen who have scored runs if Warner was picked?

I expect Clarke will bat at No. 4 and I would have Steven Smith at No. 5. Whether Phillip Hughes slots in at No. 3 or No. 6, I'm not sure. Brad Haddin at No. 7 should provide a very solid foundation at the base of that batting order, and he'll launch the bottom five really well. I think Haddin was a terrific selection for this tour for everything he brings on and off the field. He deserves his spot, although Matthew Wade hasn't done anything particularly wrong.

The first one or two years for a wicketkeeper are tough. You worry about every mistake and hope that you're not judged purely on one catch or one stumping. Fortunately I was in a team environment that was successful and individually our little errors weren't really magnified. Everything has been magnified over the past couple of years, which has made it hard for Wade. But I still see a solid future for him in international cricket.

The pace-bowling attacks for Australia and England might almost cancel each other out, because both are strong groups. Graeme Swann will also be very dangerous to Australia's left-handers if any of the pitches are dry, as some were during the Champions Trophy. But I think there's some uncertainty around the England batting line-up and Australia have the chance to run with their momentum from these warm-up games.

I'm not going to predict a series result, but this first Test is a good opportunity for Australia to shake things up a bit.

Adam Gilchrist was speaking to Brydon Coverdale

Adam Gilchrist played 96 Tests for Australia as a wicketkeeper-batsman and was part of three winning Ashes campaigns