Darren Lehmann doesn’t even pause when asked the question.
“It’s the biggest club in the world mate, there is no one bigger than Yorkshire… you don’t find bigger than Yorkshire,” he says.
Surrey? TheCC ventures.
“Not even close, mate.”
It’s a big call from the former Australian coach but he puts forward a compelling case.
“I love Surrey, but if you ask any cricketer from Australia they would say Yorkshire straight away – it’s the most famous county around the world, I think.”
It’s little surprise that Lehmann has a serious soft spot for the county. For almost a decade, Lehmann was both the immovable object and the irresistible force in the county’s batting line-up. When the county won the title in 2001 – their first County Championship crown since 1968 – Lehmann scored 1,416 runs at an average of 83, including a top score of 252 against Lancashire off just 288 balls at Headingley in late July.
Yorkshire captain David Byas described the knock – the highest score in a Roses match – as a ‘truly great innings’. He was, he said, ‘privileged to have seen it’.
That seven-wicket win over their greatest rivals went a long way to securing Yorkshire the title and further entrenched Lehmann’s reputation as one of the finest overseas players to have graced the county game.
No surprise then, that it was party time when Yorkshire finally banished the ghosts of the previous 33 years when they defeated Glamorgan by an innings and 112 runs at Scarborough’s North Marine Road on 24 August.
“Oh it meant a bloody lot, mate, and probably meant more to the supporters than the players, if that makes sense. You know, the fans of the county are brilliant and had put up with losing for a long period of time, so to get across the line and do it for the fans was pretty special. For an Aussie to be there and a part of something special was pretty cool.
“I was pissed for about two weeks,” he says, laughing at the memory. “I sort of went a bit loose, mate.”
He loved Yorkshire and The Tykes loved him for it. Suddenly all the years of disappointment were swept aside, with Lehmann’s flashing blade leading the charge. For a relative latecomer to the county game, Lehmann was more than making up for lost time.
“I had always wanted to play league cricket, but I had never got across [to England],” he says. “I was lucky. Michael Slater was supposed to be playing for Yorkshire in ’97 and (Matthew) Hayden had signed for Hampshire.
“Slater got picked and Hayden got dropped, and I was the reserve for Hayden at Hampshire. The slot came up at Yorkshire, but it was only a one-year deal as Michael Bevan was coming back the following season.
“To end up there for a good part of my career and to only play for one county was quite special. It was a great learning curve for me. I didn’t realise how proper it was when I arrived – you had to wear whites, there were no earrings or facial hair. That wasn’t ideal for me! But I loved the club, and when people realised what I was like they stopped looked at the goatee and the ear-ring.
“It brought more pressure than you could ever imagine but I was just lucky to be a part of a great team. We had (Darren) Gough, (Craig) White, the likes of Michael Vaughan, Matthew Wood, Steve Kirby, Gavin Hamilton – you can go through the whole lot, there was so many different players that were essential to that top 11, that environment and that group.
“We missed out on a few things because of weather and things like that in terms of the important stages, but it was an unbelievable time for two or three years.”
It was Yorkshire’s good fortune that Lehmann was attempting to get into an Australian side that remains one of the most formidable in history. It says everything about its strength that he only played 27 Tests between 1998 and 2004 – a paltry return for a player of his quality, but a tally that still puts him ahead of the likes of Stuart Law and Martin Love, two others who would have walked into any other international side at the time.
If he found it hard to get into Australia’s side as a player, his coaching record made him the perfect choice for the Aussies when Mickey Arthur was released from his duties in unprecedented fashion during the 2013 Ashes series.
England won that series but were powerless to stop a Mitchell Johnson-inspired Australia ripping through the tourists in a 5-0 whitewash that winter. He repeated the victory, if not the whitewash, five years later before leaving his post in March 2018 following the ball-tampering scandal in South Africa.
This winter, health issues have handed him a different challenge entirely.
“I went to watch England A vs Aussie A [in early February],” he says. “My son [Jake] was playing in the Australian second XI and I stayed overnight. I had met up with him and had a couple of beers, but I didn’t go ridiculous. It was about 4.30am and I didn’t feel great. I was having pains in my chest and cold sweats so I called the doctor and an ambulance came. Things just went from there and within two to three hours I was booked in for heart surgery.
“You see so many younger guys and people who pass away on a sports field or riding a bike. So many people don’t know they have a heart problem. I was one of the lucky ones.”
Now back on his feet, Lehmann can look forward to returning to Yorkshire next summer, when he’ll coach the Northern Superchargers in the delayed inaugural season of The Hundred. And he’s confident that, despite the delay, the tournament will be a success.
“I was looking forward to working with the young players at Yorkshire but obviously I can understand the delay, with what’s going on in the world at the moment,” he says. “I think putting it back 12 months was right because you just don’t know what is going to happen for the rest of this year. No one knows at the moment.
“If it (The Hundred) does work, then fantastic – it’s only going to help counties because it is bloody tough work for counties to survive at the moment.”
He can be assured the warmest welcome possible when he re-enters a county that’s very much a second home. He might get a slightly livelier reception when he heads south to take on the Oval Invincibles.