Ask Darren Lehmann how Trevor Bayliss will fare as England coach, and he says all the right things: a good cricket man and a quality mentor who wants the game to be played the right way. Ask Lehmann about his memories of Bayliss the cricketer, and he breaks into a broad grin.
"He used to whack 'em! He used to slog 'em at number three for New South Wales."
Lehmann bears no ill towards Bayliss for choosing to coach England, and so far nor do many of his countrymen. If there have been fewer raised Australian eyebrows about this appointment than some expected, it is largely because of satisfaction at how Bayliss' old Sheffield Shield opponent Lehmann has done his job. There is also the fact that Bayliss has always kept a low profile, letting his work speak louder than his words.
Certainly Lehmann's cavalier batting tendencies were more widely known and celebrated, but there was scarcely less swash in Bayliss' buckle, something he was able to demonstrate in 1989-90 as the unavailability of Steve Waugh on national duty gave him prime responsibility for the No. 3 spot.
Walking to the wicket, the stocky and bespectacled Bayliss gave the appearance of a stodgy grafter. But his love for the game was evident in how he spent years driving the more than two-hour round trip from a job working on Navy armaments at Emu Plains to the SCG for practice as a fringe player, and in how he loved nothing more than to belt the ball. Teammates remember him hitting sixes inside out over cover when such a shot was unheard of.
Bayliss was always moving the scoreboard along, buying time for Greg Matthews, Mike Whitney and others to bowl opponents out across the summer of 1989-90. He was also an outstanding cover fielder, often snaffling catches when most eyes had darted from ball and batsman to outfield or boundary. "If you wanted a job done," says his former state captain Geoff Lawson, "you put Trevor there."
While Lehmann got in first for South Australia, soaring to an innings of 228 against NSW in Adelaide that made national headlines and helped catapult him into Test 12th man duty in January, Bayliss chose his moment in the return match. A run-a-ball 59 set the Blues on the path to a victory that helped push them into the Shield final - the "slog 'em at No. 3" innings Lehmann remembers.
An aggregate of 992 runs was second only to Mark Waugh among the NSW XI, and Bayliss earned the players' Player of the Year award. His spoils were a week's holiday for two at Opal Cove Resort at Coffs Harbour, flying Ansett. It was a simpler time, but an influential one for Bayliss, who has never forgotten the importance of building strong relationships within teams.
Where Lehmann was heavily influenced by the freewheeling ways of David Hookes, Bayliss was immersed in the value of positive thinking and aggressive play through the liberated approach favoured by the NSW captain Lawson and the coach Steve Rixon. At the time, both South Australia and NSW favoured styles of play somewhat at odds with the more measured, calculated ways of a national team led by Allan Border and ruled by Bob Simpson.
Lawson and Simpson often disagreed, as did Hookes and Simpson, and it was the path of the aggressor that both Lehmann and Bayliss chose to carry with them into coaching. At the same time Border's Australians were laying waste to England on the 1989 Ashes tour, Bayliss was based in Glasgow, playing league cricket for West of Scotland CC and filling the considerable shoes of Clive Rice. It was perhaps the germination of his globetrotting ways.
"It's the first time I've been over here," he told the Sydney Morning Herald that year. "I've got my wife here and I've got a car and we look around when I'm not doing any coaching at Glasgow High School. The club expects the pro to be the best player on the team ... the pressure is on me a bit. But I'm not doing too badly. I'm averaging 150 after six or seven bats and have 18 wickets. I run the practices and do extra practices with the younger players if they need or want it."
The habit stuck. After his playing career fizzled out in the mid-1990s, Bayliss coached NSW junior teams, where he mentored Michael Clarke among others, before taking on the state coaching job. Quickly he showed himself to be a softly-spoken but firm mentor, always preferring quiet counsel to histrionics. As common to his teams as regular trophies is a lack of internal strife.
Among his dictums for NSW was to insist that when on tour, all players met in the hotel bar at 7 pm each night and stayed long enough for a drink and shared chat. Other plans were fine, so long as they were scheduled for later. This simple measure meant no player would feel isolated away from home and hearth, while rapport had a chance to build. England's players can expect similar instructions.
"He takes a lot of the anxiety out of a change room and gets guys to enjoy the game for what it is," says Brad Haddin, who was state captain for much of Bayliss' first stint with the Blues. "He's been great for my cricket. He's been one of the guys that helped me get to where I am now. I think he's a really good appointment for England."
After four years with Sri Lanka, where Bayliss and Paul Farbrace built the fruitful working partnership they have now rekindled with England, a return to the NSW job was initially denied to him. Instead he was left to coach the Sydney Sixers, where a young Steven Smith was emerging as a batsman and leader. Remembering how their axis developed, Smith remembers Bayliss being strong in maintaining that captains, not coaches, run a cricket team.
"He never gives any specific instruction," Smith says. "I think he realises it's the captain's job and it's up to the captain to make the ultimate decision. However he is very good to talk to about the game, he understands the game really well.
"He talks about it non-stop, whether you're out having dinner or a beer at the bar or anything like that, he's talking about the game of cricket, and that's great for learning, particularly as a young player. He's been very successful wherever he's coached, whether it be IPL or back at NSW and the Sixers. He understands what a good environment's all about, what a good cricket team's all about."
Much like the former NSW administration, England were slow to realise Bayliss' value, declining to choose him over Peter Moores in 2014. Andrew Strauss proved to be sharper in his analysis than Paul Downton had been, ultimately presenting Bayliss with the "offer he couldn't refuse" and coaxing his man to the ECB. Lawson reckons that Bayliss will hasten slowly, ensuring he has built constructive relationships before enacting major change.
Anthem time at Cardiff will doubtless be the source of mixed feelings, but Australians seem comfortable that an avowed lover of the game is ensuring its virtues are propagated abroad. In 2005, when the Tasmanian Troy Cooley was England's Ashes-winning bowling coach, not only had Australia let a countryman slip through the net, but the equivalent role did not even exist with the baggy greens. No such oversight exists this time.
Should Bayliss' simple methods reap success this summer, a few more hackles will of course be raised. Lehmann might not grin quite so much at the memory of a blue-capped slugger, either.
This article was originally published in the Telegraph, London