A chat with cricket legend Darren Lehmann
High-profile international sports coaches tend to attract nicknames that hint at their Svengali-imperiousness, of their orphic connection to sacred knowledge.
Think of Manchester United’s Jose Mourinho, universally known as “The Special One” or German footballing great Franz Beckenbauer – aka The Kaiser. So, are you aware of the nickname of the Australian cricket coach Darren Lehmann? Boof. Just plain Boof.
Take a look at him and you’ll see why. Despite daily gym sessions, the bald, barrel-chested 48 year old looks like a million other blokes propping up a million bars from Broome to Berowra.
But go past the sly grin to the arms as thick as a regular man’s legs, arms that crunched nine centuries for his country. Look past the laconic drawl and use of the word “mate” as a full stop and you will encounter a mind that fizzes and turns like a Warnie on a crumbler.
In the onslaught of cricketing books that greet an Australian summer, Lehmann’s Coach (Penguin, $39.99) is a standout.
Not least for the fact that he writes as he speaks – like a bit of willow-wielding throwback who, in another era, might have spent tea dispensing with a Winny Red alongside Doug Walters.
Yet the tone is at odds with a thoroughly modern sensibility that sees the welfare of his players and their kin elevated above that of the team and their games.
In era of sports stars media-trained to the point of beige sound bites, this alone is a blessing. He slides across a spectrum from soft-hearted to harden up depending on the circumstances and is no stranger to bluntness or blame.This was evidenced by wicketkeeper Brad Haddin leaving the 2015 Ashes Tour to be with a sick child. This is also a man who, before a mourning Australian team were to take the field for the first time in the wake of Phillip Hughes’ death, ended a memo to all with the words: “Take care. Love you with all my heart and want to protect you all as best as we all can. Coach.”
Asked what cricketing books made a mark on him as a young player, he laughs, “To be honest mate, I was never much of a reader. I was too busy watching the players who eventually turned into my mentors – David Hookes in particular.”
Okay, not much of a bibliophile then. Doesn’t mean you can’t write a book that’s as a crisp as a cover drive.
What of the story that when offered the job of national coach by Cricket Australia’s Pat Howard coach by Cricket Australia, he replied with a phrase that can’t be printed here, but one when the first word rhymes with “truck” and second is “off”.
“That one’s true,” laughs Lehmann. “I was just so shocked and luckily my boss let that go through to the keeper.”
That was in 2013. Since then there have been myriad ups (such as a World Cup win at home in 2015) and downs (a home test series against South Africa last year that wrought substantial generational changes), all dealt with by Lehmann’s unwavering “the buck stops with me” management philosophy.
Lehmann puts the pads back on and takes a few swings at the end of the team's pre-series training session at Premadasa Stadium
He writes, “You might argue that is unfair given I don’t set foot on the field throughout any given match, but in this era in which millions and even billions of dollars are invested in the game, someone has to be accountable and that someone is me.
“On that basis my primary job is to take as much of the heat, preparation and organisational responsibility as I can on to my own plate while, at the same time, allowing the captain to be his own man out on the field and also to allow him to perform to the best of his abilities as a player. If I can do that then I say that I have done at least part of my job.”
Given the scope of his role and the set of KPIs that must accompany it, Lehmann maintains that time away is both reviving and essential. The father of four (including promising batsman Jake who is turning heads in the Big Bash) says, “Whenever possible we head up to the Sunshine Coast from Brisbane to just enjoy the beaches and do a bit of fishing.
“Believe it or not, I can also switch off from what I do for work and just enjoy watching my kids play cricket. I’m just another parent on the sideline riding every ball. Albeit knowing that I’ve missed out on a lot of time together because I’m away from home so much. I try to make sure they know how much I appreciate their sacrifices.”
Doesn’t quite sound like your stereotypical, hard-bitten Australian coach now does it? But that is the beauty of the Boof.
(Images: PA Images / Alamy Stock Photo)
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