Jason Gillespie: Darren Lehmann's Nous Gives Australia Ashes Edge
Former Australia fast bowler Jason Gillespie says the coach Darren Lehmann's cricketing brain can be key to Ashes success and that England should try Adil Rashid
There are a number of reasons why Australia are favourites for this summer's Ashes series , but right up there is their head coach, Darren Lehmann. Appointing him, just 16 days before the 2013 series , was one of the most significant moments in Australian cricket's recent history and the results since - a 5-0 Ashes whitewash later that year , a series win in South Africa and the World Cup earlier this year - are testament to that. (Alastair Cook, England's Last Great Red-Ball Duke)
Boof, as he is known around the sport, has overseen an incredible transformation in fortunes for the national side in his two years in the job. Before he arrived, we had lost our way a little bit. Everything I heard come out from Cricket Australia and Boof's predecessor, Mickey Arthur, seemed to revolve around the future; I felt they had became obsessed with it, at the expense of the here and now of winning games of cricket. (Four Key Australia Players for England to Contend With)
But Boof came in and his immediate response was to reverse this mentality and start devising plans that revolved around achieving success as quickly as possible. That first Ashes series in 2013 - and bear in mind he had just over a fortnight to prepare - became about experimentation: trying to find the right players in the right positions to do damage in the series that followed. And damage England they certainly did. (England Missed A Trick When Failing to Road Test Adil Rashid)
The same thing happened in one-day cricket. Some of the chat previously had been about building towards winning the 2019 World Cup and to simply compete in the tournament that came before. Darren looked at the tools at his disposal and simply disagreed. Sure enough they went on to lift the trophy as unquestionably the best team in the tournament. (Bayliss Urges England to 'Fight Fire With Fire')
Darren and Cricket Australia's biggest challenge now will striking the balance to accommodate some forward planning again, because, as I have mentioned previously, age is becoming a factor in the Test squad. But that can wait. This is the Ashes, right here, this summer. And besides, I know Darren has the talent to manage that transition naturally.
Because for all the cliches about him being a beer-and-fags, knockabout kinda bloke, he is a guy with a serious cricket brain. Yes, he is a joker with a big personality. But he is also one of the best readers of the sport I have ever met. Anthony McGrath, part of my coaching staff now at Yorkshire, tells a story from Boof's early days as the club's overseas professional that sums up how sharp he is.
With a long drive down to Taunton from Headingley for a game with Somerset the following day, Boof decided the journey itself was going to be his net session, so he asked his young teammate Mags to list off the bowlers he was set to face. And one-by-one he explained how he would play them. A tuck off the hips here, a cover-drive there; he devised a game plan for his entire innings on the motorway. When they got to practice at the ground, Boof struck 10 underarm throwdowns against a side net before declaring he was done for the day and hitting the showers. His new teammates couldn't believe it.
And yet the next day he peeled off a hundred to order, in the exact fashion he had outlined in car. Boof has always shared this tactical nous too. Speak to anyone at Headingley and they will say he is the best overseas player they have had for this reason, as much as his 8,871 first-class runs for the club.
Darren also sees cricket for what it is. He instils in his players, like I try to now at Yorkshire, that we are in the entertainment business. That means playing hard but with a smile on your face, engaging with supporters, speaking to media outlets, selling our great sport and ultimately not taking yourself too seriously. I think this mentality was passed down by the late David Hookes, who was Boof's mentor in the South Australia dressing room. He always preached that we must put on a show for the crowd.
Boof's empathy is one of his strongest suits. He has an ability to judge an individual's mood and react accordingly and would always make sure the whole dressing room feels involved. I certainly felt that when I came in the South Australia side as an 18-year-old, where he was among the first to welcome me. As my captain, he only ever had one question for me: "Dizzy, how are you trying to get the batsman out?" That was the starting point for every field we set together. Simplicity in planning and a calm environment behind the scenes are crucial.
Judging from his press conference on Wednesday, it sounds like this is the same philosophy that our fellow Australian Trevor Bayliss will bring as England's head coach. It wasn't hard to be impressed by his vision going forward. The skill level of the modern player is very high at present; so much so that the dressing room needs the kind of calm environment he is talking about. It's the same thing that Boof has fostered with Australia in the past two years.
And it was great to hear Trevor say that he sees our leg-spinner at Yorkshire, Adil Rashid, playing a part in this Ashes series. It was with huge pride that I was able to deliver the news to Adil that he had been named in the squad for the first Test in Cardiff as he walked off the field at Chester-le-Street after our win over Durham.
Leg-spinners of his quality are a rare commodity in cricket and how they are captained can be as important as how they bowl. Eoin Morgan used him superbly in the one-day series, especially at Trent Bridge where he trusted him to bowl at the death . He went for 28 in his penultimate over but Morgan saw the bigger picture, kept him on for the 50th over and he repaid him with a wicket and just five runs conceded. Rash was able to walk off brimming with confidence.
But my message to Alastair Cook in Test cricket is to not think about Rash in terms of runs, but to concentrate solely on the attacking side of his game, which is spinning the ball hard, getting it above the eye line and creating opportunities. If England want someone to control the run-rate, he's not your man. But pick him and as the match develops, he will come into his own - that is where leg-spinners earn their paycheck.
You can still bowl him early in a match - he will be a threat - but come the second innings, having sent down a few spells already, he will have worked out the pace required by the surface and, with his variations, he will create opportunities. His wrong'un is very good: players around the circuit have troubles picking it and not just lower order batsmen. Rash is touching 400 first-class wickets and playing the leg-spinner is something England should certainly consider.