x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 20 January 2018

Darren Lehmann's stock has risen among Australia cricketers

Australia went down fighting in the first Ashes Test when no one gave them a chance and part of the credit goes to the coach, writes Dileep Premachandran.

The Australia batting line-up has flaws but the columnist expects coach Darren Lehmann to amend that soon. Ryan Pierse / Getty Images
The Australia batting line-up has flaws but the columnist expects coach Darren Lehmann to amend that soon. Ryan Pierse / Getty Images

To get a measure of Darren Lehmann, it is best to go back nearly a decade, to a Bangalore Test where Michael Clarke – the current captain – made his debut.

Clarke, who was playing only because Ricky Ponting was nursing a fractured finger, made a sensational 151. Lehmann, who averaged nearly 50 after 21 Tests, made 17 and 14.

"If I was a selector, I would think that Michael Clarke should play every Test for the next 10 or 12 years," Lehmann said. "If a guy plays a genius knock like that in the first innings of his first Test and is earmarked by all of us to play well, you have to let him.

"He works bloody hard at the game and respects the game more than any other youngster that I've seen for a long time."

Lehmann's Cricket Australia contract was worth in the region of US$600,000 (Dh2.2m) at the time. Yet, he had little hesitation in saying that he would recommend to the selectors that Clarke took his place.

"Sometimes, you have to make it [a decision] for them, because it's a lot harder for them to make," he said. "I don't think blokes should be playing on too long."

Lehmann, who played in an era of unparalleled Australian success, made his debut at 28.

He became a regular on the verge of his 33rd birthday, and played the last of his 27 Tests a couple of months after Clarke's debut.

Few know the value of a baggy green cap as he does.

The result of the Trent Bridge Test doesn't matter. The five days of cut and thrust were ample proof that Lehmann's appointment as coach has galvanised Australia, that England certainly are not going to have it all their own way.

England still look the better balanced and stronger side, but Lehmann has already coaxed tremendous performances from those of whom little was expected.

Phillip Hughes, expected to be a walking wicket by some, made an unbeaten 81 in the first innings, helping Ashton Agar, the 19-year-old debutant, add 163 for the final wicket.

Chris Rogers, who played his only other Test more than five years ago, chipped in with a gritty half-century in the second.

Steven Smith contributed 53 in the first innings after Australia had slumped to 22 for 3. As for Agar, there would have been those who mistook him for a food additive before the toss and announcement of the teams at Trent Bridge.

After the first-innings 98, he made a resolute and watchful 14 in the second, after having taken the wickets of Alastair Cook and Jonny Bairstow.

There are still big flaws in the Australian line-up.

The seamers did not always put England under consistent pressure, and a spot has to be found for a presumably chastened David Warner in the batting line-up.

Lehmann was something of a maverick in his day, and Australian supporters will hope that he can get the best out of someone who has blown hot and cold over the course of 19-Test career.

The man most at risk is Ed Cowan, who has passed just 50 just once in his last 13 innings.

There were more than a few wistful sighs in the Australian camp as Ricky Ponting exited first-class cricket with an unbeaten 169 for Surrey. No similarly dominant replacement has been found.

Replacing Cowan will only start another game of musical chairs.


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