Tim Lamb, the chief executive of the England and Wales Cricket Board, launched a startling attack on the team and their coach, David Lloyd, and then bewildered Tetley Bitter by claiming that the withdrawal of its sponsorship of the England team was partly down to the players' appearance not achieving the standard expected of professional sportsmen.
Lamb delivered his bouncers regarding the winter tour to Zimbabwe and New Zealand at Sunday's annual meeting of the Council of Cricket Societies in Birmingham. "The England team's performances over recent years have been extremely disappointing and I think the way in which the England team have conducted themselves recently is also disappointing," Lamb said. "Ian MacLaurin [the ECB chairman] and I were absolutely horrified by what we saw in Zimbabwe. We were very, very disturbed by some of the things we came across."
Lloyd was criticised for his "we murdered them" reaction to the drawn first Test against Zimbabwe. "We thought David Lloyd's comments were completely inappropriate," Lamb said.
He and MacLaurin were not impressed with the way the England team presented themselves. "We understand their demeanour was fairly negative and not particularly attractive," he said. "Their dress left a lot to be desired. That was a factor in Tetley Bitter not renewing their sponsorship. Things improved in New Zealand, but there is a long way to go."
Lloyd, taking a leaf out of the PR handbook, reacted cautiously. "It is difficult to comment without checking with Tim to see what criticism he has put forward. I will have to get in touch with him. Beyond that I can't comment, and I'm not sure I'll want to react after that."
Tetley had no such misgivings. The brewer is in the last year of its sponsorship which began in 1991, and a spokesperson said yesterday: "We are dropping the sponsorship for marketing-led reasons. We have had a long and fruitful partnership with the TCCB and it's done a lot for brand awareness, but things move on, and this year we are having a major relaunch of Tetley with a new brand identity.
"The England sponsorship is still an important part of our programme this summer. We are putting a lot behind this summer's Test series between England and Australia. The Ashes are always a great point of interest and we will be focusing on that for the summer. We are a little bit baffled by the comments. We are going into the Ashes series very positively. We want to go out with a bang."
Lamb later claimed: "Nothing that I have said has not already been said with regard to the Zimbabwe tour. We as a board accept that things have improved in New Zealand, with results improving on the field and England's players in a better frame of mind off it. We are 100 per cent behind David Lloyd and the England management."