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Dreary anticlimax

Peter English reviews Darren Lehmann's autobiography

Peter English
Peter English

Darren Lehmann had a topsy-turvy career, but this account fails to match the drama of the real-life version. Overlooked by the Australian selectors for eight years after being 12th man aged 19, he eventually became a valued batsman, counsellor and confidant, especially for the new captain Ricky Ponting. As he unsuccessfully fought for his international future last winter, he was treated and publicly supported like a 100-Test veteran rather than a player with 27 matches. If only the adoration came in his early 20s instead of the 30s.
The true Lehmann story revolves around stockpiling thousands of seemingly worthless runs for South Australia and Victoria as he pounded at the gate of the national team. Unable to break through the walls of the Waughs, he holds the country's record for the most runs and first-class appearances before receiving a Test cap. Yet in a book titled Worth the Wait he is already in the top side by chapter eight.
From there it becomes a dreary ghosted autobiography that excites adolescents and makes adult supporters wish they hadn't bothered to peek behind his attractive, beers-and-smoking attitude. The in-joke dressing-room tales don't necessarily make good reading - even if they are included.
Lehmann's most moving chapter covers the death of David Hookes, his mentor and childhood hero. At 17 he told his mum he had been picked for South Australia. "What," she said, "to play with David Hookes?" When Hookes lay unconscious outside a Melbourne hotel in January 2004 Lehmann called the ambulance. After Hookes died Lehmann considered quitting cricket to spend more time with his young children and wife, the sister of Craig White, and on the 2003-04 tour to Sri Lanka cried in his hotel room.
As he brought up his fourth Test century at Galle he glanced to the heavens. "It was as though [Hookes] looked down and said in his typical style: `You're right now, mate, you don't need me anymore, off you go, get on with it.'" Four months later Lehmann stood in as Australia's vice-captain, but by New Year's Day he had played his last Test.
As a person Lehmann is the archetypal Australian. It's generally agreed he's a great bloke, but he struggled with the national selectors and he dissects the relationship, which eased after the departure of the coach Bob Simpson.
However, much of the material is the fourth-day-heading-for-a-draw type with stories of how my mum and wife supported me, gee my team-mates are funny, winning two World Cups was fantastic, I'm sorry for offending the Sri Lankans ("there is no excuse for those words ever being said") and it's great scoring hundreds for Australia. Throw in talk about the inner sanctum of the dressing room and a hypothetical world squad and it's time for the career summaries.
Ponting wrote in the foreword that Lehmann was always there to give him sound advice and was never short of a one-liner. "Every team could do with a Boof in its line-up," he said. The rule does not need to apply to personal libraries.

Peter English is the Australasian editor of Cricinfo