Australia v England, 3rd Test, Perth, 5th day December 17, 2013

Australia's revival bears Lehmann's mark

It is impossible to say how this series would have panned out had Mickey Arthur still been in charge, but Darren Lehmann's approach has paid off handsomely
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Push Alastair Cook's men close in England, develop intelligence on their players, return to Australia to win the urn on home soil. That was the plan formulated by Mickey Arthur and Michael Clarke earlier this year. It is now coming to fruition, just with one slight change of personnel. Instead of being in the dressing room as Australia tightened their grip on England the WACA, Arthur was in a radio commentary box, watching Clarke and Darren Lehmann from afar.

So much has happened with this Australian team that it is hard to believe it was less than six months ago that Arthur was summoned to a meeting in Bristol with Pat Howard and James Sutherland and summarily terminated as coach. It was a swift and decisive move from Cricket Australia's bosses, who believed the atmosphere in the camp had deteriorated to such an extent that change had to be made, even if the Ashes in England was less than three weeks away.

That series was lost 3-0, but now Australia are reaping the benefits of change. It is impossible to say how the results would have panned out had Arthur remained. What can be said without doubt is that Lehmann has instilled in the squad a sense of calm, and a sense of fun. It is intangible, but visible in the way the players interact in the nets, their relaxed smiles while dealing with the media, and the way they have played.

Of course, it's easy to be relaxed when you're winning. The question, perhaps impossible to answer, is whether the Australians are relaxed because they're winning, or winning because they're relaxed. Michael Vaughan, who played under captain Lehmann at Yorkshire, said Lehmann was capable of delivering a verbal rollicking when required, but his most important trait was the capacity to calm the nerves of his players.

"His ability to make people view cricket as just a game is his strength," Vaughan wrote in the Telegraph last week. "He makes a player, even during pressurised situations, feel as if he is playing for his club side on a Saturday afternoon."

It is a common theme amongst those who have played under Lehmann. Adam Gilchrist, a player in coach Lehmann's Deccan Chargers side, was in Perth ahead of the third Test. He said that while Mitchell Johnson's bowling was clearly the difference between the two sides on the field so far in this series, he sensed an off-field change in the Australian camp as well.

"I continue to go back to Darren Lehmann and the seeds that he would have planted as soon as he assumed that role," Gilchrist said. "His fingerprints are all over the atmosphere around that team. I know from personal experience he's a guy who creates the right atmosphere for people to feel like they can then do their best.

"I think Michael Clarke is one of the great beneficiaries of having Darren Lehmann around. I can't put words in his mouth but I would imagine if you ask him at the end he would speak along similar lines. He just de-stresses situations and players and leaders, so I think Pup has really relished working with him, and that's allowed a lot more of his inner personality to come out."

Another of the great beneficiaries of Lehmann's approach is Johnson, whose previous incarnations in Test cricket have combined on-field ups and downs with off-field anxieties. Johnson is now a husband and father and has gained a sense of perspective about what is important in life. That cricket-life balance is a key part of the Lehmann mantra, and while any number of factors have contributed to Johnson's resurgence, the new coach was one of them.

"He's been a big part," Johnson said of Lehmann's ability to keep him grounded. "He understands the players. He's been in the situation before as a player. He knows what's going on and he has got a calming influence. But he'll also tell you if you're being an idiot or doing something that you shouldn't be doing.

"He is a straight shooter, which is what you want, but he understands the players and gets to know each player, which is pretty important as a coach. He knows how people tick and he's definitely found that with me. We have got a lot of trust, and trust is another big part of it."

There appeared to be a breakdown of trust during Australia's tour of India earlier in the year, when Johnson and three other members of the squad were suspended for a Test for failing to complete an off-field task Arthur had asked of them. Chris Rogers, who was not part of that touring party, said the players always knew where they stood under Lehmann.

"His fingerprints are all over the atmosphere around that team."
Adam Gilchrist on Darren Lehmann

"He's been exceptional," Rogers said. "I think it's the real calmness he's brought; he's given us a great direction in how he wants us to play but also how he wants us to act on and off the field. I think as a player if you can relax and express yourself and not be worried about what's going on in the change room, it's the best feeling in cricket. I've no doubt he's brought unbelievable attributes to this side."

One is the aggressive approach he encourages against spin. "There are no fielders in the car park," Lehmann likes to say, a mantra based on the way he batted himself. Australia's batsmen have tested that theory, hitting 26 sixes off England's spinners so far in the series - 20 of which have come against Graeme Swann's offspin. Swann's economy rate of 3.94 in the first three Tests is comfortably his worst in any Test series, and in turn heaped pressure on England's seamers. Several players, George Bailey among them, gained confidence in this method by taking down R Ashwin in the ODIs in India that preceded the Ashes.

International coaching has been a learning process for Lehmann, who was fined by the ICC during the tour of England for calling Stuart Broad a cheat during an interview for an Australian radio station. And as a selector, he was one of the men responsible for the constantly changing team during that series. The net effect, though, was settling on a preferred line-up for the return series in Australia.

Regaining the Ashes will mean the 3-0 loss in England will be largely forgotten. It was, after all, a learning experience, an intelligence-gathering mission. That was how Clarke and Arthur viewed it. They had very different views of proceedings at the WACA, where the ultra-aggressive approach of Shane Watson and Bailey on the fourth morning was indicative of the Lehmann style.

"Our destiny as a captain-coach relationship was going to be defined by the Ashes in Australia," Arthur said in a radio interview on day four in Perth.

Instead, it is the Clarke-Lehmann legacy that has been ensured. Arthur may wonder if he could have delivered the same results. Nobody can answer that question. In any case, he has moved on. And under Lehmann, Australian cricket has moved onwards and upwards.

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

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • dummy4fb on December 19, 2013, 21:06 GMT

    Shaggy076 ..... spot on!!! I have never seen such unrelenting bowling ... And the bond between Siddle Johnson and Harris is amazing. Like a pack of wolves on a hunt. Pattinson and Starc will be relegated to Australia A for some time if they can keep this up.

    Congratulations must go to Boof and McDermott.

  • Kulaputra on December 19, 2013, 10:58 GMT

    It is a game and let us keep it that way

  • valvolux on December 18, 2013, 14:33 GMT

    Australia have a wealth of bowlers that should dominate everyone for years, except maybe India in India. Still need heaps more batsmen. At least we abandoned those bowler friendly pitches of the last couple of shield seasons, now we have heaps of batsmen in form with confidence. The last ashes we were picking booked with shield averages in the 30s with no confidence. A batsman who has spent 5 hours on a flat pitch, which all 3 ashes pitches have been, is always going to be seeing the ball better, no matter what pitch you put them on, than a better batsman who's spent 20 minutes at the crease facing hand grenades. In ashes terms though, it never matters about whether you might win them in 2 years time, it only matters if you have them now! And by golly do australia have them. 5-0 would completely erase the previous years of hurt. Do it boys!

  • Shaggy076 on December 18, 2013, 4:12 GMT

    I don't see why Australia will drop off in the near future. They seem to have a hungry team, the bowling line-up is brilliant and the major reason we have won back the Ashes, and I can't see Harris, Johnson or Siddle retiring in the near future. We will still have back-up in Pattinson, Bird, Bollinger and Starc if anything goes amiss with them. Haddin had an exceptional series but keepers are easily replaced, Rogers wouldn't be around too much longer and a hungry Phil Hughes will be ready to take over at his end. The rest I cant see finising up in the next couple of years.

  • dutchy on December 18, 2013, 3:53 GMT

    Arthur deserved to be sacked for his ridiculous plan to go to England and "gather intelligence". That's an appalling strategy. We should have gone to India to win, to England to win. We still have a long way to go and we will only get there if we keep trying to win.

  • dummy4fb on December 18, 2013, 2:48 GMT

    People have commented on the age of the Australian team. I for one believe that no matter what age you are if your at the top or near top of your skills you can still play a part. The whole idea was to win the Ashes and that they have done. CA now has two years to blood new players and if fitness is good we already have a bowling cartel for the future. If all the cricketers in the Australian team were 35+ it doesn't matter the job is done.

  • DesPlatt on December 18, 2013, 2:38 GMT

    Leggie ; good comment. Think this will be near the peak of this aging , injury prone Aus team though I would like them to do well in SA. Good to hear that DL helped players enjoy the game ; he probably gave the impression he would take the flak which is what good bosses do in any walk of life .

  • SoyQuearns on December 18, 2013, 2:07 GMT

    @Manxmuppet - to label it a plan is to misinterpret the entire standpoint.

    It was a realistic assessment of things at that point in time. Heart of hearts, Pup and Arthur knew we had very little chance, so it was about measuring and setting reasonable expectations in order to give us the best possible chance of a victory in more suitable and enabling conditions.

    And Australia has played better in Australia v England in this series than England played in England v Australia (in the most recent series).

    England have been blown out of the water and are now shells of the 'fabulous cricketing team' the English media incorrectly lauded them as.

    Cook is a decent player, a very good man manager but a dreadful captain. This isn't news, however it has been firmly underlined in this series. If your team is good enough, anyone can appear as a 'great' captain (e.g. Ponting).

    Once England's buttons were pushed Cook had nothing, Clarke superior with bat and captaincy = super obvious/undeniable.

  • disco_bob on December 18, 2013, 0:22 GMT

    @Manxmuppet, overall Australia played better cricket than England in England the difference there was that England played the crucial moments better, their 3-0 scoreline flattered them however the 3-0 scoreline here accurately reflects the difference between the teams.

  • disco_bob on December 18, 2013, 0:15 GMT

    I gotta admit I had some serious doubts when Lehman left Lyon out of the first two matches in England especially so after the India debacle. It seemed like crazy funkiness and I think it still was, but I can forgive it now that it is patently clear that Boof is exactly what we needed. It's also obvious that while our futbol team is certainly better managed by a European manager, only an Australian should be in charge of the Australia Cricket Squad. No outsider could possibly understand the Hills Hoist Aussie mentality.

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