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Russell Jackson

Darren Lehmann, Yorkshire colossus

He did spectacularly well in county cricket and was part of many an escapade, but those exploits went largely unnoticed back home

Russell Jackson
Russell Jackson
20-May-2015
Darren Lehmann on his way to a double-century, Yorkshire v Lancashire, County Championship Division One, 3rd day, Headingley, July 28, 2001

Tons of runs, and some of them at a breathless rate too  •  Getty Images

Back in 2001, when Darren Lehmann helped lift Yorkshire to their first County Championship title since 1968, it's safe to say that some wild celebrations were had. Two days of raucous partying after they'd secured that trophy, Lehmann and his team-mates did however have to face up to the sobering reality of a Sunday League fixture against Nottinghamshire in Scarborough.
Legend has it that before heading out to bat in that game, Lehmann noticed that an overflow of champagne had pooled in his helmet. His reaction, perhaps not the natural one to some, was to slurp it down and then inform his comrades that they were about to witness something even more remarkable.
It's the kind of anecdote that those who have played a lot of club cricket might be familiar with; harmless and juvenile, and usually ending with some kind of bizarre, cheap dismissal or mild bodily harm. Not for Lehmann. He was true to his word, caning the Notts bowlers for 191 from 103 deliveries as though his portly, hungover frame had been swept across the field in a brief but destructive tornado.
In those pre-T20 days, seeing a player hit 20 boundaries and 11 sixes in a single limited-overs innings was hardly a regular occurrence. Yorkshire posted an unassailable 352 for 6 from their 45 overs that day, with Anthony McGrath the only other batsman passing 30. In typical Lehmann fashion and with no regard to his impending milestone, he holed out to long-on trying to club a young Kevin Pietersen over the fence one more time. On his own, Lehmann actually eclipsed the Notts reply by 18 runs.
Had this occurred on an Ashes tour, or even during a Sheffield Shield season back in Australia, it would be the kind of larrikin lore that generates advertising campaigns and miniature talking dolls. But Lehmann was playing for Yorkshire, whose cricketing touchstones were remote to most Australians, and whose matches still remain a mystery beyond ESPNcricinfo scorecards and perhaps a chance encounter via cable TV news.
In 88 first-class games for Yorkshire, Lehmann amassed a staggering 8871 runs (26 centuries and 43 fifties included) at 68.76, 11 more than he averaged in a record-breaking career for South Australia and almost 27 more than he did winning a Sheffield Shield title at Victoria. The sheer volume of statistics and his knack for winning are matched only by the number of anecdotes like the one above.
It's a shame, I guess, but Lehmann's Yorkshire career is really just a thing that happened while we were all watching football
Lehmann's county career certainly didn't go unnoticed in Australia at the time and the amount of runs he pumped out certainly contributed to his belated but all-too-brief rise to Test ranks, but no great fuss has ever been made of it to be honest. It has me wondering whether it's possible that Lehmann the player was more intensely loved and better appreciated in England than he was on home soil.
This is a strange one because Australians have never been backward in celebrating home-grown sportspeople who do well overseas. Entire cable TV shows are devoted to what Australians are doing in low-ranking college basketball leagues or obscure European teams. There was a time in the 1990s when English Premier League football could only be seen on commercial television or in mainstream newspapers in Australia if an Australian had scored or been sent off. Yet county cricket careers like Lehmann's and Stuart Law's - ones that made them greats of the English domestic game - might not actually have happened for all we knew.
So it remains today in most respects, with even Peter Siddle's and Adam Voges' recent stints in county ranks registering barely a blip on the radar back home when placed next to the comings and goings of various football codes and the much flashier and identifiable IPL. You'd have to conclude that English domestic cricket - even as technology shrinks geographical boundaries and pings even the most obscure sports all around the world via satellite - will always remain as culturally remote to Australians as Jaffa Cakes and the Beano. It's a shame, I guess, but Lehmann's Yorkshire career is really just a thing that happened while we were all watching football.
I've taken the long way around it here, but if the earthy and old-fashioned Lehmann really was best appreciated during his time playing in England, you wonder what might have become of him as a coach and also England as a team were the roles reversed in mid-2013 and he had found himself coaching against Australia. The immediate assumption would be that his methods are far too gauche for the current England administration, but it's a fascinating hypothetical to consider from the perspective of both parties.
A couple of years back the Yorkshire Post's Chis Waters spoke of Lehmann as a "revered" figure in the county that the Australian called his second home, before adding, "The great man could probably break wind in these parts and draw a standing ovation." If it was Lehmann and not Peter Moores in the hot seat this last year, might all of England been clapping along with them?

Russell Jackson is a cricket lover who blogs about sport in the present and nostalgic tense for the Guardian Australia and Wasted Afternoons. @rustyjacko