COACH CLASS

ABC Cricket - - CONTENTS -

As Justin Langer takes over, Robert Drane looks at how he com­pares to Dar­ren Lehmann.

Highly suc­cess­ful out in the west, Justin Langer takes over the reins of the Aus­tralian side. How will he be dif­fer­ent to Dar­ren Lehmann? Robert Drane ob­serves.

The key dif­fer­ence be­tween the coach­ing styles of Justin Langer and Dar­ren Lehmann is man-man­age­ment. It’s not sex­ist to note that the New­lands af­fair was about men be­hav­ing badly. Abra­sive­ness (pun in­tended) led to the down­fall of the three pro­tag­o­nists, and the team – among many other his­tor­i­cal and cul­tural causes.

Just be­fore he re­signed, un­der­stand­ing dropped on Dar­ren Lehmann from a great height. He ad­mit­ted pub­licly his team’s re­la­tion­ships with op­po­nents needed im­me­di­ate re­pair. An un­pleas­ant brand of ag­gres­sion had flour­ished, but in the ab­sence of de­feat and that scan­dal, ob­ser­va­tion of it would have been con­fined to a whinge­ing fringe of jour­nal­ists. Cer­tain ex­pec­ta­tions ex­tend into the deep past and ex­ten­u­ate Lehmann’s guilt.

Lehmann is a fine coach. Twice, the Aussies won home Ashes se­ries un­der his tute­lage. Most se­ries these days go with serve, but they won other good vic­to­ries. Im­por­tantly, the losses were hard-fought. Even in los­ing se­ries, they pro­duced re­demp­tive mo­ments that ap­peased even the sever­est crit­ics.

Lehmann calmly, as­tutely sought an­swers and re­cruited ex­per­tise when trou­bling pat­terns emerged. It re­mains to be seen whether Langer’s coach­ing will re­sult in bet­ter bat­ting in for­eign con­di­tions, though we know he will cre­ate op­por­tu­ni­ties for suc­cess.

Lehmann was once the breath of fresh air Langer is now. He im­me­di­ately had his team

fo­cus on win­ning matches by mak­ing runs and tak­ing wick­ets, play­ing as though they were en­joy­ing it again. If those mum­blings about on-field be­hav­iour gained fre­quency, though, Boof wasn’t solely to blame. His em­pha­sis was al­ways on the stan­dard of cricket. Many be­havioural norms were in­her­ited. Lehmann rep­re­sented some of them which, iron­i­cally, is why he got the job. His “Aussie” ap­proach was to leave ac­ri­mony on the field rather than re­move it al­to­gether, share a beer and a laugh with op­po­nents; swap war sto­ries – all that. Truth be told, it only re­ally ever worked for Aussies.

Change was im­pos­si­ble if the cul­tural space around Lehmann dis­cour­aged it. Vi­tal clues were be­ing missed by Cricket Aus­tralia that team cul­ture had been prob­lem­atic, not only with op­pos­ing sides, but in­side the team. The con­trol­ling body gave few sig­nals that ex­pec­ta­tions had been al­tered. If we needed a good car­pet to sweep it all un­der, the Ashes were Axmin­ster!

Mi­cro-man­age­ment was never Boof’s forte. He was an out­comes man, much-needed at a time when out­comes were de­cid­edly or­di­nary; an “old-school” trou­ble-shooter, gen­er­ally un­flus­tered, a good men­tor with high ex­pec­ta­tions and a for­giv­ing na­ture who be­lieved in “con­trol­ling the con­trol­lables”. He fast-tracked Ryan Har­ris’ progress from Shield also-ran to feared match-turner. Chris Rogers, too, be­came cru­cial to Aus­tralia’s tran­si­tion. Much of what hap­pened dur­ing Boof’s ten­ure was grat­i­fy­ing.

He had a trait in com­mon with Langer: he taught his play­ers to love what they do. It will

LANGER BE­LIEVES A GOOD MAN ENDS UP PLAY­ING GOOD CRICKET, AS LONG AS HIS SKILL LEVEL IS AL­READY UP TO IT.

man­i­fest dif­fer­ently un­der Langer. Lehmann, like Chap­pelli, was an ad­vo­cate of en­joy­ing one­self away from the game. Langer is too, but has seen, and re­paired, the dam­age that ap­proach can do if un­re­strained. It im­pacts on lives, and ul­ti­mately, the cricket it­self.

Langer is a process man, but not at the ex­pense of re­sults. Many coaches ob­sess about pro­cesses, and their cor­po­rate-speak is a dead give­away. Langer uses a hu­man lan­guage, as his re­cent di­ag­no­sis of the Smith-Warner-Ban­croft af­fair demon­strates. Words he used, like “joy” and “for­give­ness” seemed an ill fit, but that’s be­cause we’ve be­come un­used to hear­ing such out­moded ideas.

Cul­ture is im­por­tant to both coaches, but they see it dif­fer­ently. Langer be­lieves a good man ends up play­ing good cricket, as long as his skill level is al­ready up to it. To that end, he has con­ver­sa­tions with play­ers about agreed stan­dards but also in­sists on non-ne­go­tiables. He builds a fence around his team. Within those con­fines, they can be free and ex­pres­sive with their game. Look for lightly-re­garded play­ers to be­come cham­pi­ons un­der him. He’s no stiff­necked au­thor­i­tar­ian, as some be­lieve, but a learner.

Lack­ing Lehmann’s flair as a bats­man, but pos­sess­ing a flex­i­ble mind that car­ried lessons from one part of his life to an­other, Langer had an abil­ity to ap­ply those lessons. He im­parts them with pa­tience, for­give­ness and ju­di­cious­ness, and is pre­oc­cu­pied with lead­ing peo­ple away from habits that might de­stroy them or their team. He be­lieves the sum of all that good in­di­vid­ual be­hav­iour equals good cul­ture. It’s as work­able as any­thing an or­gan­i­sa­tional the­o­rist will give you. We know that be­cause he’s ap­plied it to real, some­times dire, sit­u­a­tions at the WACA.

Give Lehmann his due – he learned from the Cape Town af­fair. He’ll coach many more sides to be­come win­ners if he con­tin­ues. Langer is still busy build­ing fences. The hope is that his men will then be free to suc­ceed at what they do best. It’s the method Aus­tralia cur­rently needs – as long as they’re per­form­ing well and mostly win­ning. That ex­pec­ta­tion will never change.

Get­ting in gear: Justin Langer com­pletes a long-awaited rise to the Aussie coach­ing role, and faces im­me­di­ate chal­lenges.

Boof left the job in tear­ful cir­cum­stances ...

... but count on JL to em­brace it, as he did in WA, in the way he knows how.

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