CAPE TOWN - "The only way we can move forward is when we have an Australian coach because he understands us.”
These were the words uttered to Australia’s first - and still only - foreign head coach Mickey Arthur. It was the ultimate affirmation that the Australian cricket team - the wearers of the famed Baggy Green - was an enclosed Old-Boys club and Arthur, a South African, did not have membership rights.
Australian cricket players have long had objection to methods aimed at improving their team culture by coaches irrespective of their nationality. Shane Warne, for instance, believed “the coach is something you travel in to get to the game” in reference to John Buchanan's lack of influence on the all-conquering Australian cricket team at the start of the millennium.
Like Arthur, Buchanan had not played Test cricket - the time honoured automatic acceptance into the club. Instead, he was a bespectacled former university lecturer with just seven first-class appearances. Arthur may have enjoyed a more distinguished domestic playing career with Griqualand West and Free State, spanning 110 FC matches and 150 limited-overs games, including a few outings for South Africa A, but it did not matter a jolt.
Equally, they are both regarded as students of the game too, largely dependent on data analysis for the formulations of gameplans.
Although they had the support of their respective captains during their tenures, albeit Michael Clarke eventually became “****ed off” with Arthur despite “supporting him through thick and thin” when leaks emerged of a rift between the former Aussie skipper and all-rounder Shane Watson, the over-riding feeling was that they were outsiders standing at the door hoping to be let in.
After Arthur was unceremoniously sacked due to the #Homework gate saga that saw four players on a tour of India dropped for not completing an assignment, asking them to communicate to him some ideas about the best way to improve performance, Cricket Australia believed they needed to go “old-school”.
Tough to watch Cameron & Steve go through the 2 statements they just made. They will learn from this & be better in the future I’m sure!
Someone who would uphold the old-age values of Australian cricket. A coach who would restore the pride of the Baggy Green, with all the brashness that comes with it.
Enter Darren Lehmann. A gold-card carrying member of the 1999 World Cup-winning team.
The glaring blot on Lehmann’s CV, which was a five-match ban for racism, after yelling out “black c****” in Sri Lanka back in 2003 was seemingly overlooked. Lehmann could be grateful that he was not applying for the Proteas job for he would not even have been granted an interview on the basis of that indiscretion.
But the Australian coach's etiquette became even less of an issue after guiding his team to an Ashes whitewash over old-foes England and World Cup glory at home in 2015.
A desperate record away from home was forgiven as a “sign of the times” when all teams - bar the Proteas - are poor in foreign conditions. The fact that Australia's batsmen were found to be inept against the seaming ball in England, and even worse against the turning ball on the subcontinent, was no fault of Lehmann's.
The prevailing tune was always that Australia knew where to draw the line and that they refrained from “personal” comments.
It was a bit like dressing up the sheep in wolf’s clothing for “Boof” may long have hung up his whites, but his tongue was still razor sharp.
Just ask Stuart Broad, after Lehmann, ahead of the 2013 Ashes series, riled up the Aussie crowd in a radio interview in a bid to send the England fast bowler home “crying”.
For all David Warner’s loutish behaviour and ill-judged comments, there is a belief that if he had a coach who was inherently opposed to his antics, “the Bull” could yet have been tamed.
But that was virtually impossible with Lehmann still coming out to bat for his former opening batsman two weeks ago after the stairwell fracas involving Proteas opening batsman Quinton de Kock in Durban.
Even on the very night before the entire ball tampering saga erupted, the Australian coach strode into the Media Centre at the end of the second day’s play and branded the Newlands crowd “disgraceful”.
Cricket Australia may have cleared Lehmann of any involvement in the ball-tampering plot, but there is little doubt that Lehmann still has a lot to answer for.