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Australia ready to embrace coach Lehmann

June 25, 2013

BRISBANE, Australia (AP) — Shane Warne never was a big fan of the expanding role of coaches in international cricket, until Darren Lehmann was rushed into the Australia job in a sudden watershed event.

Amid the biggest upheaval in modern Australian cricket, Mickey Arthur was fired halfway through his contract and replaced by Lehmann, who played plenty of cricket with Warne and has had success as a coach in all three formats of the game since taking over at Queensland in 2010 and in his stints in the Indian Premier League.

Now he’s in charge of a national team in disarray, having failed to win a game in its Champions Trophy defense in England, coming off thumping 4-0 test series loss in India and beset by off-field disciplinary problems.

The sudden axing of Arthur, in a news conference in Bristol on Monday only a couple of weeks before the Ashes series stars, instantly made headlines in Australia, and still dominated sports pages and topped news bulletins on Tuesday.

Arthur, who guided South Africa to the No. 1 test ranking, was the first foreigner appointed head coach of Australia when he signed on in November, 2011.

Lehmann’s coaching career has been relatively brief, but he is well qualified according to most observers, both as a former test and World Cup-winning batsman and as a players’ man who is as stereotypically Aussie as they come. He’s widely known as “Boof,” a nickname that belies an astute cricket brain.

The 43-year-old Lehmann quickly laid out a coaching plan that involves recruiting ex-test players like Warne in a mentoring or motivational capacity, promised he’ll keep it simple with an emphasis on the basic skills of the game and instill his own approach to discipline. Ultimately, he has vowed to “win, win, win.” He knows that’s all that Australians expect from him.

Warne — a prolific Twitter user with more than 1.2 million followers — used his favored social media outlet to welcome the change: “Just caught up with all the drama that has gone on in the last 24 hours with the Aust Cricket Team, bottom line is this, Boof is the man!!!”

Former England captain Michael Vaughan used the same forum to offer his reaction: “For the 1st time in Months I am worried about Australia... If Darren Lehmann is the coach he will get them right.”

Captain Michael Clarke and his rag-tag squad had been given little chance of regaining the Ashes on foreign soil, due mainly to inexperience, a faltering batting lineup and lack of a quality spin bowler. Some pundits, including the great England allrounder Ian Botham, had forecast a 10-0 win for England in the back-to-back home and away series which starts on July 10 with the first of five tests on English soil before another five-test series starting later this year in Australia.

British bookmakers slashed the odds on England to win the Ashes, with one gambling house saying the Australians were imploding.

But Lehmann’s appointment has added to a growing confidence emanating from Australia that the visitors could trouble England.

Lehmann played in an era when Australia dominated the Ashes and had such batting depth in the selection pool that even he, a prolific run-scorer in first-class cricket, was restricted to just 27 tests and 117 limited-overs internationals. So his elevation to the coaching role in a time of need was widely supported by the public and the critics — even if the cricket fraternity was shocked at the timing of Arthur’s axing.

Respected author and cricket analyst Gideon Haigh wrote in a column for The Australian: “It has become a bit of a conversational theme in cricket circles that Australia is now to be described in all the ways that one used apply to England: brittle, panicky, backward-glancing, inward-looking.”

“But,” he added, “not even England ever sacked its coach two weeks before an Ashes series.”

Arthur, who guided the team to 10 wins, six losses and three draws, was widely praised for the humility of his departure news conference, and refusal to blame the players for his downfall.

Off the pitch, Arthur polarized public opinion when he dropped four players — including vice-captain Shane Watson — from his team for the third test in India for failing to complete written reports on their individual contributions to the team’s performance. The embarrassing saga was quickly dubbed “Homeworkgate.”

Watson left India before returning a week later to captain the team in the fourth test after Clarke was sidelined with injury. He has since stood down as vice-captain and, for the Ashes tour, veteran Brad Haddin was recalled as Clarke’s deputy despite not being the first-choice wicketkeeper in more than a year.

Arthur might also have been held partly responsible by Cricket Australia for an off-field incident during the Champions Trophy in which big hitting batsman David Warner was out drinking at a nightclub when he aimed a punch at England batsman Joe Root. Warner, who was fined this year following a Twitter rant at senior journalists, has been suspended until the first Ashes test.

Former test captain Ian Chappell blames the current woes on the system created by the “Argus” review into the running of cricket in Australia, which triggered an overhaul of the structure of the game and the national team following the Ashes defeat on home soil in 2010-11. Key among the changes was the addition of the coach and captain to the national selection panel. Arthur’s demise and Clarke’s decision Monday to quit the selection panel has brought at least a temporary end to that experiment.

“The fact that Cricket Australia (have) sacked him now is basically an admission that they made the wrong choice in the first place,” Chappell said in an interview with cricinfo. “It is a shock, yeah ... In some ways it’s not helpful, the timing.”

But the appointment of Lehmann, Chappell added, “That’ll have, certainly for a little while, a positive impact. The players will be pleased about that move.”

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