CRICKETER OF THE YEAR 2001

Darren Lehmann



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Domestic first-class cricket in the first year of the new millennium was dominated both in Australia and England by Darren Lehmann, who transferred his phenomenal form in the 1999-2000 Pura Milk Cup to the County Championship with sublime ease. In doing so, he confirmed his peerless ability to adapt to different weather conditions and pitches.

Lehmann returned to Yorkshire for a third season after a break in 1999 because of the World Cup and now felt an even closer part of the family, having married Craig White's sister, Emma, at Christmas. He turned up at Headingley for a practice match in mid-April, after a few days' belated honeymoon in Paris, and the weather could not have been less welcoming for a batsman who, in recent months, had plundered seven centuries in ten first-class matches for South Australia. Yet the shivering rain held off just long enough for Lehmann to stroll out, strike three fours and a six, and play one or two cheeky reverse sweeps. It was, said one team-mate, as if he'd never been away.

And that is how it continued throughout the summer, by the end of which Lehmann emerged as the country's leading run-scorer in first-class matcheswith 1,477 runs at an average of 67.13. Such was the solidly built left-hander's consistency that he weighed in with four centuries and nine half-centuries in his 23 innings; at one stage he had consecutive scores of 77, 83, 56, 115, 66 and 116 - and this after starting out with knocks of 95, 85 and 133. Without his contribution, Yorkshire would not have finished third in Division One of the Championship or second in Division One of the National League. The rest of their batting was too brittle by far.

As ever, Lehmann was a delight to watch. If sometimes he failed to convert fifties into centuries, owing to a moment's carelessness, that is the price he has to pay for being a Compton or a Miller, rather than a Boycott or a Lawry. He hit it off with players and officials immediately he joined Yorkshire in 1997, and proof that his popularity was not on the wane came late last season when his contract was extended to 2003 and he was appointed vice-captain to David Byas.

Darren Scott Lehmann was born in Gawler, South Australia, on February 5, 1970, and went on to represent South Australia at all age groups before making his Sheffield Shield debut for them in 1987-88 as a precocious 17-year-old. Two seasons later, at 20 years 32 days, he became the youngest Australian to score 1,000 first-class runs in a domestic season, and has since been in Sheffield Shield-winning sides for both Victoria and South Australia. After three seasons with Victoria in the early 1990s, he returned home to establish himself as one of the most successful Shield batsmen of all time. Having taken over the captaincy of South Australia from Jamie Siddons in 1998-99, he entered the 2000-01 season with a career record of 9,519 Sheffield Shield/Pura Cup runs, a figure exceeded only by Siddons himself with 10,643 and Dean Jones with 9,622. His reward for his phenomenal 1999-2000 season was to be chosen as Pura Milk Cup Player of the Year, and he rounded off his English season with the Walter Lawrence Trophy for the fastest first-class hundred, made off 89 balls against Kent at Canterbury.

Astonishing, therefore, that despite such mastery with the bat, Lehmann should by that time have played only five Tests for Australia, and 60 one-day internationals. Indeed, he holds the dubious distinction of scoring more runs than any other Australian before making his Test debut, and the frequent snubs suggest his face does not quite fit. Perhaps it all dates back to his teens, when he rejected an invitation to join the Australian Cricket Academy because he was already scoring heavily for South Australia. He felt - as did his captain, David Hookes, and others - that he had reached a standard where playing for his state was more beneficial than being at the Academy.

Although not bitter, Lehmann was undoubtedly conscious, when he returned to England for the 2000 season, that a lengthy and distinguished Test career was slipping him by. "If I don't make the Ashes party in 2001, then I'm unlikely to play for Australia again and my future will be in the Sheffield Shield and County Championship." Not that Yorkshire will complain if they have his uninterrupted company over the coming three summers. It is hard to imagine that he was their third choice in 1997 when their previous overseas player, Michael Bevan, was included in Australia's squad for the tour of England, along with Michael Slater. Now, they simply wouldn't dream of being without him.

© John Wisden & Co