Lehmann the Yorkshire settler

Iain Fletcher meets an Australian whose attacking style has wooed a county
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The Independent Online
To please a Yorkshireman is notoriously difficult and usually involves a full capitulation to their way of thinking. To please a Yorkshire cricket supporter demands nothing less than a match- winning performance against Lancashire, or for that minor extension to the great homeland - England. But to please a Yorkshire cricket supporter as an overseas player, nothing less than proof of a long-lost relative from Huddersfield might just do the trick.

So it is something of a surprise to find how quickly the Yorkshire faithful have taken to their new import, the 27-year-old Darren Lehmann, a man so Australian that you half expect him to call all men Bruce and all women Sheila.

Part of the reason may be that the South Australian left-hander displays many of the qualities traditionally revered in Yorkshire - an unswerving belief in his ability, a real desire to "mix it" with the opposition and the honesty to speak his mind. "If I have an opinion," he said, "I'm not worried about upsetting people by saying it."

Or has the value of Yorkshire so diluted that a match-winning innings of 177 against Somerset is enough to join the pantheon of greats alongside Illingworth, Boycott and Trueman? In truth it is probably a mixture of all these and more besides, but the best answer came from a Yorkshire supporter watching the present match at Ilford against Essex when he said: "He's exciting. He's good to watch, and he can't arf thump a ball."

But if Yorkshire is enjoying him, then he is enjoying Yorkshire. "I'm having a ball," he said. "Really, this is the best decision I've made lifewise. I play cricket for enjoyment and after 10 years of Sheffield Shield cricket at home, I was starting to get stale, but I can't emphasise how much I'm enjoying cricket again."

A hugely successful 10 years that is, for though he has never played a Test match and has only three one-day international appearances, he does boast a career average of over 50. It is strange, then, that he has been overlooked so many times by the national selectors, but Lehmann thinks he knows the reason why.

"Possibly discipline. Discipline is not really me at all," he said. Yorkshire's rigid discipline structure is renowned, so how does Lehmann cope?

"Easily," he replied. "We have 11 players who are desperate to do well for each other, desperate to win, and that is the basis of our discipline in the dressing-room."

Ah yes. The famous Yorkshire dressing-room, for so long the possessor of more factions than many Middle Eastern religious groups but now, seemingly, a pleasant place to do business.

"It's a good atmosphere. There's a lot of support among the players and a lot of jokes. It helps having such good characters in the team, people like [Darren] Gough. He's always laughing, always positive and cares passionately about Yorkshire cricket. His enthusiasm is so infectious that even when things don't go for him on the field, he's still hugely beneficial off- field.

"I think he'll have a good Ashes series this summer, not just because he's a good bowler, but because he is always thinking about how to get batsmen out. He has asked me about all the Aussie players and keeps coming up with plans for them."

Lehmann has also been impressed with how David Byas is faring as Yorkshire's captain, for so long the poisoned chalice of English cricket.

"He's growing into the job. At the moment the side is very young and that can't make it easy for him but the nucleus of this side will be together for the next five or six years. He has huge respect from the players and keeps everybody down to earth. When wrists need slapping he is fully in charge," he said.

Lehmann's belligerent and aggressive strokeplay will certainly entertain the Yorkshire faithful this summer. After all, you have to like a man who says: "I want to play cricket. I want to win. And I want to have fun."

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