The Hundred: Why Northern Superchargers coach Darren Lehmann is happy to embrace new format
“YORKSHIRE gave me more than I gave them, put it that way.”
And so Darren Lehmann, the greatest overseas player in Yorkshire’s history, scorer of 8,871 first-class runs for the club at an average of 68.76, plus 5,229 one-day runs at 49.33, showed himself to be as modest as ever on his return to the county that he calls “second home”.
Lehmann is back at Headingley as coach of the Northern Superchargers franchise for The Hundred tournament that starts this week.
The reflection that Yorkshire gave him more than he gave them – as opposed to the other way round – partly explains his enduring popularity in these parts, undimmed by the passage of 15 years since he played for the club and even his involvement in a 100-ball competition which, it is fair to say, is not everyone’s cup of tea/can of Foster’s.
Lehmann’s take on The Hundred is interesting and relevant.
After all, this is someone who loves the traditional game, who played 27 Tests for Australia, who scored 25,795 first-class runs at 57.83, and who ended his Yorkshire career with an innings of 339 in a Championship game, the second-highest score in the club’s history.
“My concern is that if The Hundred is not there, and the TV rights aren’t there, then where does county cricket go? How do you fund that?” said Lehmann.
“My view is that The Hundred will protect the game and help to keep it going. We’re also talking about grassroots here because you need that funding right the way down.
“I appreciate that people have different views, but I think we should embrace it, that’s my point of view.
“We want the game of cricket to continue for as long as it possibly can in every format, and for me it’s imperative that this goes well.”
The proof of the pudding will be in the eating, of course. The England and Wales Cricket Board has staked the farm and its reputation on The Hundred’s success, introducing a fourth format into an already crowded schedule.
Views seem entrenched on both sides of the argument. People have been talking about and debating The Hundred for so long now that it is almost a shock to realise it is actually upon us.
Lehmann hopes that some of the critics will be won over and that it will encourage the target audience of new cricket fans to gravitate towards the established formats.
“I hope that it will win people round,” he said. “We hope that the traditionalists come along and watch because it’s not here to replace the Vitality Blast, or anything like that; it’s here to add to the entertainment of the summer.
“Attracting new cricket fans is very important, and, once you’ve got them, then they’ll play the longer format, they’ll come to the longer format, and so on.
“I’m a traditionalist as well –you want people to watch Test cricket, so although the new audience has got to be there, we still want to attract the current audience to come along and watch.”
Lehmann, 51, fit and well after a triple heart bypass last year, is upbeat ahead of the tournament.
He is ‘in it to win it’, as the saying goes, determined that a Superchargers’ squad that includes Ben Stokes, Faf du Plessis, Chris Lynn, Mujeeb Ur Rahman and no fewer than seven Yorkshire players in Adil Rashid, David Willey, Adam Lyth, Harry Brook, Tom Kohler-Cadmore, Jordan Thompson and Matthew Fisher can challenge for the trophy.
“Last time I was at Headingley, two years ago, Ben Stokes stole a Test match off Australia,” quipped Lehmann. “Now at least he’s playing in our side, so that’s not too bad.”
Lehmann will have the England players available at the start of the tournament, which Superchargers begin with a match against Jonny Bairstow’s Welsh Fire at Headingley on Saturday.
The eight franchises each play as many games before an eliminator between the second and third-placed teams to determine who plays the top-placed side in the final.
The men’s competition starts on Thursday and runs until August 21, with the women’s tournament starting a day earlier, after which the men’s and women’s games are played as double-headers.
“We’ve got most bases covered,” said Lehmann of his Superchargers’ squad. “I’m pretty pleased with it. If we get in trouble, then hopefully we’ve got the players to come in who can get us out of trouble, things like that.
“But taking your moments in games, fielding well – all the basics will still apply. If you do that, whatever format of the game, then hopefully you’ll get the right result.”
Has Lehmann got his head around the rules, with no “overs”, for example, but blocks of five balls among sundry innovations?
“Nah. Faf (du Plessis) has got that under control – that’s why he’s captain,” he quipped.
Lehmann went on: “I do think the game will be quite tactical for the captains. We’re lucky enough to have Faf, whose experience will be really good in that regard. He’s a very smart cricketer, a good communicator with the boys.”
Now everyone’s favourite adopted Yorkshireman cannot wait to get started.
“We’re looking forward to it,” said Lehmann. “Preparation has been good. The players are excited. We want it to be entertaining, and we want to win.”