Cricket: Bumble by name, definitely not by nature

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The Independent Online
DAVID LLOYD came into the England dressing-room at Hobart after England had been badly beaten last winter and simply said, "Well, thank you very much." He did not need to add anything else.

England had bowled and fielded appallingly against Australia A. It was the lowest point of the tour, a match in which we conceded 370 runs in 55 overs, and that brief statement had a profound effect. We looked at each other as he walked out. We all felt we had let the coach down. And we had.

A few days later England won an astonishing victory in the Test at Melbourne. It is not stretching the point too far to say that we did it for Bumble. How ecstatic he was then.

England owe a big debt to Bumble as coach. He has been motivational, inspirational and enthusiastic. To a man the players respect him and what he has done for them. He has always backed us to the hilt, always pleaded our case to the press and he will be missed.

I did not know Bumble at all well before he became England coach, and indeed our first meeting had not been auspicious. Middlesex were playing Lancashire in Manchester in 1994. I had heard that Bumble had a reputation for being mildly eccentric and he seemed to confirm this. During the match he filmed the action of one of our bowlers from the boundary edge because he suspected its legality, even though it had never been questioned before. As a team Middlesex did not like it, and thought it was the wrong way to go about things. It made me slightly wary of him, I suppose. I did not come across him much after that except at a couple of testimonial dinners when he was among the speakers. He was hilarious.

But it was not until The Oval in the late summer of 1997 that I started to get to know him. From the beginning I could tell that the England set- up had changed since I had last been involved. I had been recalled for the final Test against Australia and David Graveney, Graham Gooch and Bumble all came up to me to wish me well. That had never happened before.

The atmosphere in the dressing-room struck me immediately as different, too. It was relaxed and welcoming, you were made to feel a part of the team. There was a proper effort to encourage rapport, which can sometimes be difficult with England squads. It was also clear that the team's preparations were much more thorough. Bumble was obviously responsible for much of this.

On the eve of Test matches he would show compilation tapes - set to music - of each player performing well. It was a little thing and the tapes did not run for very long, but it was extremely effective and uplifting; you came out of that room feeling as though you were ready for the battle ahead.

All teams are full of different personalities and it can be hard to make those gel in the England set-up. But Lloyd managed it. He promoted a sense of genuine camaraderie and friendliness on and off the field. I felt from The Oval that we were all going in the same direction.

He was a players' man but he was firm as well. In the West Indies in 1998 I did not agree with every aspect of Dean Riddle's fitness regime and did not strictly adhere to it. I was given a talking to by the coach, and he clearly meant what he said. But you could take that from him because he was so supportive. And at a second meeting he listened to my point of view. Firm but also flexible.

He will not leave England as all-conquering - though the World Cup gives the side everything to play for - but their improvement has been vast. The players are fitter and simply better equipped. As coach he was not afraid to introduce specialists. His own technical knowledge is hardly slight but by helping to draft in the likes of John Emburey, who was a tremendous help to Robert Croft in the West Indies, and Bob Cottam, whose work with the seamers in Australia last winter reaped enormous rewards, he showed how much he had grasped about the importance of delegating.

England are undoubtedly harder for Lloyd's presence. We came back against South Africa last summer and against Australia in the winter and a lot of that is down to his influence. I thought he would want to have a go at New Zealand, even if he did not go on after that because there is a chance of another series victory.

Bumble was a coach for whom you would be prepared to go through the pain barrier. He has certainly helped to make me a better a Test batsman. His love for the job has been huge and his enthusiasm is infectious. It just goes to show that first impressions can be misleading. Whoever replaces him, Bumble will be a tough act to follow.