The Ashes 2013-14 January 6, 2014

Lehmann made playing for Australia fun again - Watson

'Special feeling for everyone involved' - Watson

Like a politician brought back from the cold due to change at the top, Shane Watson is no longer an anguished voice in the Australian wilderness.

The most ardent in-house critic of the national team's former direction, Watson has added reason to feel satisfied about Australia's Ashes rampage this summer. They have come a long way since the fractious days of less than a year ago, when Watson and three others were suspended for a Test match in India as relationships with the former coach Mickey Arthur broke down.

The day after Australia completed a barely believable 5-0 sweep of England in the second of back-to-back Ashes series, Watson spoke of how Darren Lehmann had returned a sense of fun and balance to a dressing room that had become insular, intense and often unpleasant during the latter days of Arthur's tenure.

Watson did not enjoy the "high performance" direction the team culture had taken, and was not shy about saying so. As a result of this frankness, his relationship with the captain Michael Clarke suffered, and he was also stood down from the vice-captaincy. But Lehmann's appointment - and the wise medical counsel of the team doctor Peter Brukner - has allowed Watson to rehabilitate, as the team around him gathered strength in England before rumbling to the most comprehensive series triumph imaginable in Australia.

"Personally it makes it more sweet," Watson said. "To know that there were times when I knew I had to stand strong with my beliefs only for the betterment of what I thought was the amazing talent we had in the group. I certainly would never take back how I stood and voiced my opinions at certain times. I know that when there are down times, if you stand strong for long enough and persevere for long enough things might turn around and they certainly have in a way that I never expected.

"I've always had certain beliefs and I've been lucky enough to be around so many great teams, whether it was the Australian team or other teams that I've played in. I got to know most importantly that you need to be making sure you're having a lot of fun because it's a game that if you take too seriously - and I do at times, and I've always got to turn myself around - you can really get too internal and the game gets too much for you. That's what was happening in the Australian team."

Reflecting on the team room of 12 months ago, Watson said the concept of having fun and enjoying the game had been forsaken in pursuing goals that seemingly became less attainable the harder the team aspired to them. Lehmann reduced the tension in the air, while at the same time encouraging his players to be themselves. By adding perspective to the team, Watson said Lehmann had helped make the quest for the Ashes a challenge to be enjoyed rather than an all-consuming struggle to be endured.

Largely thanks to Lehmann,Watson said the reality of playing cricket for Australia now matches up to the dream of doing so. "That it was meant to be the time of your life had gone out the window," Watson said. "It was more so you had to be desperate and put every other part of your life on hold to become the best player and best team in the world instead of just getting the perfect balance, which means you're more chance of actually putting the performances on the board as a team and individually. And Darren knew that from experience and that's exactly what he implemented.

"I know how lucky I am to be involved in such a special environment because it doesn't always come along.

"It's not just something you stumble across, it's something that people do put a lot of time and effort in certain ways to be able to make sure that an environment like this is created and that's the amazing skill that Darren Lehmann has brought in. It really is an absolute pleasure to be a part of, not just the dream of playing cricket for Australia, but to actually be involved in something that is so much fun, that's the reason I started playing and why I'm playing now."

Daniel Brettig is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. He tweets here