First as a player then as captain, I always felt Australia would receive at least one “favour” from England during an Ashes series.
That “favour” generally came in the form of a strange selection; either an England player chosen whom we felt happy about his being in the side or one (John Snow in 1974-75 for instance) where we were delighted he was missing from the squad.
However, in the lead up to this Ashes series the boot is on the other foot, with Australia regularly giving England a “leg up”. The “help” has come in the form of some poor lead up results, player suspensions and eventually the sacking of coach Mickey Arthur. Such drastic action so close to an Ashes series could be seen as a panic move but the elevation of Darren Lehmann to the coach’s role may be one of the few recent decisions emanating from Cricket Australia (CA) that actually made sense.
It had probably reached a stage where CA decided the team was going to lose with Arthur in charge so there was no downside in dumping him. As an American baseball manager mischievously once said to a player who was demanding more money: “We’re losing with you, we can sure as hell lose without you.”
The Ashes rivalry is probably best encapsulated in a story concerning Douglas Jardine.
In 1954 a young Peter May was named in the England squad to tour Australia. The following day May entered the Surrey dressing room at the Oval, where an elderly gentleman invited him over. “Son,” he began, “I believe you’ve just been chosen to tour Australia.”
“Yes sir,” May replied proudly, “I’m hoping to do well and represent my country with honour.”
“Don’t worry about that,” the man exploded, “just beat the @#ckers.” The elderly gentleman was none other than Jardine. The spirit of Jardine’s words still reverberate in England — and hence the joyful sniggering — as Australia lurched from one crisis to another.
While Lehmann will immediately command the players’ respect and has already brought some much-needed commonsense to the squad with his decision to open with Shane Watson, the coach doesn’t make any runs or take any wickets.
It’s only when a player actually gets out in the middle and scores runs against a Jimmy Anderson and a Graeme Swann that he finally feels comfortable in his own mind, that success is a possibility. What has sustained Australian hopes has been the confidence inspired by a strong pace attack. However, they can’t conjure up victory without considerable help from the batsmen. That’s where the big improvement must come from. About the best words Lehmann can offer the team as they leave the dressing room are either a choice of Jardine’s refrain or “Don’t do the opposition any favours.”