Cricket: Lever steps down as England bowling coach

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Peter Lever, England's bowling coach, has tendered his resignation to the Test and County Cricket Board, just two days before the start of the crucial second Test against Pakistan at Headingley.

Lever, who will continue in his present role until the end of the season, is thought to have been increasingly at variance with the hip new regime introduced to the England set-up by his old Lancashire team-mate David Lloyd, whose innovative use of slogans and music to prepare players has left many of the game's traditionalists appalled. As one of Raymond Illingworth's appointments, Lever probably felt he was being marginalised by Lloyd, brought in as coach by England last May, after Illingworth was forced to give up the supremo role he had held since the sacking of Keith Fletcher in March 1995.

Widely held as the man responsible for trying to remodel Devon Malcolm's action last winter - an event that ended in widespread acrimony and a pounds 2,000 fine for Illingworth - Lever has felt his influence wane. As a man who applied the old-fashioned virtues of hard work and common sense, Lever was nevertheless a popular figure among the players. In addition to being involved with England he was also consultant bowling coach to the Kenya national team, whose valiant showing in the last World Cup was in part attributed to him.

However, since his short-term appointment, Lloyd - no doubt correctly sensing further opportunity - has worked hard to stamp his identity on an England side in crisis after a winter of poor performances. As someone already involved, Lever no doubt felt frozen out, a feeling no doubt magnified by Illingworth's waning influence at the selection table.

According to one report, Lloyd and Lever have allegedly never got on, even when they played together for Lancashire. But, although Lloyd denies any rift between them, it cannot simply be coincidence that Lever's decision to quit has arrived at the same moment the TCCB have decided to ask Lloyd - whose contract expires at the end of the season - to continue as coach for both of England tours this winter.

"If you look at the winter and how I am involved, " Lloyd said at Headingley yesterday, "the personnel will perhaps be suggested by me," the comment doubtless referring to Lever's decision to resign. "The role of specialist coaches will be different to the way they are now," continued Lloyd, amidst speculation that Ian Botham could be one of those involved, should the England coach be given the freedom and a long enough contract - the recently released Acfield report suggests two years - to put his vision of making England one of the top three sides in the world into play.

Part of that vision was being brought to bear yesterday and before England's practice was washed out, Lloyd, having had enough good sense to identify Waqar Younis as Pakistan's key bowler, had his batsmen facing a bowling machine set to bowl in-swinging yorkers at 75mph.

However, with rain bringing a premature end to proceedings, England's batsmen will have to wait to see if their selection is affected either by Alec Stewart opening, or by a broken toe courtesy of an over-exuberant bowling machine doing too good an impersonation of a unique bowler.

n Stuart Law could miss Essex's NatWest Trophy semi-final against Surrey next Tuesday after Australia insisted he depart for their tour of Sri Lanka on the evening of the match. Essex had asked that the 27-year-old batsman be allowed to delay his departure by 24 hours but the Australian Board of Control rejected the request.