The yin and yang of Darren Lehmann was given full range late in the third Test. And that contrast provided a significant insight into the reasons why a resurgent Australia have turned around their 3-0 Ashes loss in England four months ago for a 3-0 victory so far at home.
On the eve of the last day of the Test, Lehmann harangued Australia’s bowlers for their lack of control as they attempted to blast out England in their second innings. “We’re brutally honest,” he revealed. “The blokes got a bit of a lashing last night for the way we bowled.
“I might appear relaxed outwardly but if you had been in some team meetings recently, you would probably think the other way.”
Yet play started on the last day with the Australia players still giggling about the “worst joke ever told” by physiotherapist Alex Kountouris just before they took the field to claim the final five wickets required to secure the Ashes.
“I like seeing the sweat on the faces of the players or coaching staff when they’re telling a joke because it’s quite nerve-wracking,” Lehmann explained for his decision to introduce the regular joke sessions.
“It’s just light-hearted to kick off the day. I think you need some fun. After all, the game’s for enjoyment. We had the worst joke throughout my time today from Alex Kountouris. He won’t be doing it again.”
Lehmann’s ability to relax the dressing room, while demanding an unprecedented work ethic, has helped Australia recover from a horror year when the series in India was lost 4-0 to precede the Ashes disaster in England.
Mitchell Johnson has surged back to form, David Warner has become as reliable as he is brutal and Shane Watson may be about to finally deliver on his vast potential.
Certainly the Australia camp now combines hard heads with soft touches, steel spines with flexible options, and a suitable mix of tough experience and youthful exuberance.
Thirtysomethings Brad Haddin, Chris Rogers and George Bailey provide sensible advice and cool heads, the bowling partnership has gelled as well as any in Australia’s history and the stars like Michael Clarke, Warner and Johnson are allowed to shine.
Australia may not be compiled of 11 outstanding players, as they were in the clean sweep series in 2006-07, but the current combination is clearly greater than the sum of the parts that stuttered and bumbled through India and the early part of England.
Bit-part players or those with questionable temperaments have been abandoned and while Warner remains a work in progress, whose capacity to go off half-cocked and become a public-relations disaster forced Cricket Australia to put a muzzle on him after his Waca century, the core group of players have provided a steely centre for the team.
Clarke was reluctant to single out any individuals for Australia’s resurgence but was adamant that the increased workrate had proved the most critical difference between his current team and the ones he led a year or so ago.
That is a curious assessment, given that the highly driven Ricky Ponting and Mike Hussey were part of the team well into last summer, but it is difficult to contradict.
“Every day I see how hard these guys are working on and off the field to become better players and become a better team,” Clarke said. “That is what makes it so special and why today, when we got the Ashes back, was so special.”
No factor has matched the impact of Johnson’s return to form after his previous Ashes campaigns wavered between match-winning and disastrous.
His absence from the summer series was a blessing, and one not even in disguise, because he was able to rebuild and strengthen the two most vulnerable elements of his game - his technique and confidence.
The result is 23 wickets and a crushing Ashes victory. If nothing else, Johnson’s resurgence gives Jonathan Trott hope that a sabbatical may not necessarily lead to Test exile.
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