Thursday, October 13, 2011

My Favourite Cricketer: Darren Lehmann, by Daniel Gray

In our series "My Favourite Cricketer", we ask cricket writers and bloggers from around the globe to select the player that most fueled their love of the game.  In this week's post, Daniel Gray of World Cricket Watch selects Australia's rotund run machine, Darren Lehmann.

Choosing a favourite cricketer is a bit like trying to choose a favourite fingernail – they all serve a purpose, and a lot of the time they appear quite similar.

In this age of sports science, we are now slowly becoming accustomed to weasel words like "monitored workload", "consultant" and "high performance management". With professional sports now a corporate culture that embraces Six-Sigma with all the energy of drunk brothers, we risk driving out the characters and wily competitors that became cult heroes in the past.

You can make a strong argument that in the cat-and-mouse game of Test cricket, a good eye and an ability to flat-out slaughter any particular delivery surely trumps the results of a skin fold test. With this in mind, my favourite cricketer is still Darren Scott Lehmann of Gawler, South Australia.
The latest in a series of rotund Aussies, "Boof" followed on from predecessors Boon, Hughes, Marsh and Burge as the dependable anchor of a flourishing Australian team. Like his brethren, you knew what Boof was going to bring to the table: the bristled and roly-poly formed the core of Australian (and New Zealand) teams for nearly half a century.

The recent antipodean slide into a fifth-placed Test ranking is no coincidence. It will be interesting to see if Mark Cosgrove, Boof’s successor as a South Australian rotund batting machine, ever plays for Australia again. Weight of runs may again trump weight of body. It worked for Darren Lehmann; lightning may (very slowly) strike twice.

There's something appealing about a professional sportsman who carries a few kegs. Maybe it's the lingering perception that fat people are supposed to be jolly. It could be that we feel more appreciation for their exploits knowing they have a Dunlop steel-belted radial around their midriff. In true vicarious style, we could tacitly think "if that fat bastard plays for Australia, so can I".
Although he only managed a few years of Test cricket, Boof carved a unique legacy with his rotund figure and multitude of unorthodox strokes. Lehmann’s approach to the fitness and the modern rigours of the game is perhaps best described in this brief quote from his Wikipedia page – ‘[Lehmann was] known for his disregard for physical fitness and modern dietary regimes’. While perhaps weakening his abilities in the field, Boof’s stand-and-deliver style at the crease saw him plunder over 25,000 first class runs at an average of 57.59. More astonishingly, when you consider how injury-prone his rake-like teammates were, his 21-year career included 283 matches.

Through the years, the Lehmann represented South Australia and Victoria, as well as spending nearly a decade with Yorkshire on the county circuit while awaiting an Australia call-up. During this time he added to the misery of English cricket whilst almost single-handedly propping up their processed meat industry (although this cannot be commercially proven).

He was amongst that group of Aussies for whom County Cricket was a second home; learning how to monster fast, slow and seaming deliveries, playing five or six days a week. The demise of Darren Lehmann was the Australian cricket version of the Four Horsemen: with him went batsmanship as a artisan's craft, rather than a science.

He positioned himself outside leg stump and moved across his wicket at the last minute, which made him a difficult man to bowl to. His stupendous rear, ballasted by his paunch allowed him balance and poise at the crease; no Australian since Border played spin better. None since have even approached his skill; Darren Lehmann could teach Indians how to play spin.

While the great man had his ugly moments (keep your voice down in the sheds, kids), crafty ways and a laconic nature won him many fans. His left-arm spin bowling was the aesthetic opposite of his batting: orthodox a the little ugly. However, it often proved effective and you could rely on him to spell the flingers without giving away needless runs.

And though his Australian career took two attempts to kickstart - like a Gawler lawn-mower - he almost captained Australia throughout Ricky Ponting's early days as skipper. He was Punter's own personal Cricket wikipedia; full of knowledge, tactics and - apocryphally - meat pies and West End. It is fitting that he's grown into a good coach, recently named as a possible successor to former teammate Tim Nielsen.

His first class record alone - let alone leadership and crafty orthodox spin - would see Darren Lehmann amongst the first picked for the Australian XI of today. Actually - there's a thought - can someone get Greg Chappell on the phone?

Back to My Favourite Cricketer series homepage.

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