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Lehmann reflects on racial outburst

Australia's coach Darren Lehmann has called his racial outburst against Sri Lanka in 2003 "the biggest mistake" of his life

Daniel Brettig
Daniel Brettig
Australia's coach Darren Lehmann has called his racial outburst against Sri Lanka in 2003 "the biggest mistake" of his life, and also offered an insight into how he manages the diverse personalities and egos present within the national team, from Mitchell Johnson to David Warner.
Lehmann has returned to work at the National Cricket Centre in Brisbane following a long and wildly successful summer with the Test team, and is currently planning for the challenges ahead over the next two years, including the 2015 World Cup in Australia and the defence of the Ashes in England a few months later.
In an interview with the ABC's 7.30 on Tuesday, Lehmann reflected on the storm created by his bellowed rebuke of "black c****" in the dressing room after he was run-out in a Brisbane ODI against Sri Lanka 11 years ago, and what he said had become a cautionary tale he has shared with numerous players.
"It was the biggest mistake of my life. I apologised for it on the night, to the captain Kumar Sangakkara [Sanath Jayasuriya was captain] and the Sri Lankan team, and hopefully they've forgiven me and we can move on," Lehmann said of an offence that had him banned for five ODIs. "I speak about it honestly, it was a big mistake, and it was a big learning curve in my career and if I can impart anything on other players along the way, then so be it."
A decade later, Lehmann took on the job as Australia's coach on the eve of the 2013 Ashes tour of England, following the sacking of Mickey Arthur. Among Lehmann's most vital tasks was to regain a sense of unity and fun among the players, who had splintered into cliques during Arthur's time as coach amid a general atmosphere of fear and mistrust.
The suspension of four players - Johnson, James Pattinson, Usman Khawaja and Shane Watson - in India for failing to follow team instructions was a fiasco for the team in the midst of a 4-0 hiding, and Lehmann said the matter should not have been allowed to reach the public eye. "From my point of view it was a case of it should have been dealt in house, and shouldn't have gotten out to be perfectly honest," he said. "But that's been dealt with and done, so we move on."
In repairing the damage caused by that episode among others, Lehmann showed an ability to relate to the various personality types within the team, as defeat in England was used as the platform for a rousing Ashes sweep at home and then another triumph in South Africa. He highlighted Johnson and Warner as examples of how to handle players differently.
"Mitchell is a beautiful quiet guy who just goes about his business, so for me it's just about keeping him up. He'll have times when he's down, but not to let him get too down on himself," he said. "Players are their own harshest critic, as you would imagine, there are times when they're going to get a rocket from me. But I'm making sure they're in a really good place to play the best cricket they can. And knowing each player, they're all different.
"I wouldn't talk to David Warner too long, because he wouldn't understand, he'd lose it. So I keep it really short for guys like that, Glenn Maxwell, and that's fine, that's when they play their best cricket. But if I have to talk to Shane Watson or Mitchell Johnson or Michael Clarke, I might take it more in depth because they'll get it easier."
Australia's most recent assignment was far from successful, as they failed to make the semi-finals of the World T20 in Bangladesh. Lehmann said he was prepared to wear that result, so long as it was learned from.
"We were riding high on the back of beating England and South Africa, and then we struggled in Bangladesh. Albeit it all of those games were winnable and we were in winning positions when we let ourselves down," he said. "That's a good learning curve for us.
"I know it's not great when you're out of the World Cup, but as long as the players learn from that, and then don't make the same mistake - I'm okay with players making mistakes, don't make it twice."

Daniel Brettig is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. @danbrettig