Australia v Sri Lanka: Sub-continent to shape Darren Lehmann’s coaching legacy

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GALLE: Darren Lehmann doesn’t believe his tenure will be defined by how Australia performs on the sub-continent – but that’s a debatable point.

Skipper Steve Smith has spoken about his determination to win on the sub-continent and Lehmann is central to that – all the way through until October 2019 when a World Cup and Ashes road trip culminate in what will have been his six-year coaching run.

Already, Lehmann has helped secure a home Ashes whitewash and the World Cup last year. Some would understandably define those two events as the pinnacle, but such have the world champions’ troubles been on the turning decks of Sri Lanka and, particularly, in India, that this part of the world will define the Lehmann legacy.

The resources and attention to detail Cricket Australia has put into improving results on the sub-continent highlights the importance of this task. There are Australia A tours, specialist training sessions (four players were sent to India for a week before this Sri Lanka series) and extended warm-up campaigns.

“What else can we do really?” selection chairman Rod Marsh pondered this week.

That so many Australian players now feature in the Indian Premier League also adds to the frustration of why they do not have better results in Tests on the sub-continent. It certainly shows why the long-form format remains the pinnacle of the game.

Lehmann was a fabulous player of spin, one of the best of his blue-chip generation, in his 27 Tests, as shown in his series high of 375 runs at 62.5 on the winning 2004 tour of Sri Lanka. His challenge is to pass on why he was so successful, and there is no better place to start than in Galle on Thursday when the tourists chase history – they have never come from behind to win on the sub-continent.

Admittedly, the challenge of winning in England also looms as a major one. Some would argue the greatest. Australia have not won there since 2001. But the defeats since haven’t been as one-sided there, on the whole, as they have been in India. Australia’s dominance from 1989 to 2001 in England also eases the recent frustration.

When it comes to India, Australia’s two most recent Test series wins were in 2004 under stand-in skipper Adam Gilchrist and in 1969-70 under Bill Lawry. They have not won an individual Test since that 2004 campaign, having been subsequently beaten 2-0, 2-0 and 4-0. That’s why for many cricket purists, victory in India – for the time being at least – remains the pinnacle. It would certainly put an end to questions whether Australia, when ranked No.1, as is the case now, are truly the best side.

A comeback victory on the sub-continent, as early as in this series against the sport’s seventh-ranked nation, would also give Smith’s team a fear factor it lacks. Mental dominance can be just as powerful as a physical one – the former something Australia had enjoyed over South Africa through the 1990s and early 2000s.

Lehmann says it’s important to win anywhere, and that is true, for big series wins typically come as a result of taking care of business against the lesser-ranked nations.

“I think you’re judged on results most of the time all around the world not just on the sub-continent. I think you’ve got to play well and win a lot of games of cricket basically as a coach,” he said.

“That’s what players have to do, that’s what coaches have to do in any sport. You’ve got to, hopefully, keep getting the results that makes it a lot easier.”

As Australia can attest to, there’s nothing easy about winning on the sub-continent. And the task of a breakthrough series win in India in February – one which would begin to shape Lehmann’s legacy – won’t be made any easier should there be failure here in a series many had tipped the tourists to win.


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