Cricket: Lloyd recovers a winning smile

After a hard winter, the England coach is still talking a good game. Derek Pringle reports from Auckland
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The Independent Online
The bland soundbite is not something people readily identify with David Lloyd, but after a winter of having his impassioned utterings thrown back in his face, England's cricket coach is becoming an expert.

"I've come quickly to terms with the fact that you either win, lose or draw and that it doesn't matter what you say," he said during a day off in Auckland. Fortunately, after the frustrations of Zimbabwe, England have been winning too, and even have a rare overseas series win, though even that wasn't settled until the last session of the final Test. It was a situation that would have tested the most even-keeled stoic, let alone an excitable jack-in-a-box like Lloyd.

"We met as a team on the fourth evening," he recalled. "There wasn't a lot to discuss except to remind the lads that although we set off on 25 November, this was the day we came for. At lunch the next day, when we'd only lost one more wicket, it was the afternoon we'd come for. At tea, the session.

"There was a bit of a wobble when we lost three wickets and suddenly, with 74 wanted, we had two players on nought. But I've stressed the importance of partnerships and Corkie [Dominic Cork] and Creepy [John Crawley] played it to perfection. It'll do both of them a power of good to have contributed in that way to winning the game."

But handy as those innings were they paled in comparison to Michael Atherton's efforts - carrying his bat in the first innings, and a match-clinching century in the second. It was one of the colossal Test performances, and of even greater merit after an appalling run. "In that situation, he was a banker for a hundred," Lloyd said. "If he hadn't relaxed against that Nathan Astle, he'd still be batting now."

Having been involved at Lancashire during Atherton's formative years, Lloyd knows the England captain better than anyone. Occasionally, closeness can be an impediment when it comes to ironing out problems, but Atherton's honesty meant that the coach was never tempted to mollycoddle when something stronger was needed.

"We worked hard - there's no magic wand," he said. "After Zimbabwe we had to get his feet and head going in the right position. I'd show him videos of himself and then put one on from when he was playing at his best. I told him 'just visualise how good you are and it'll come'.

"For some reason he started the tour adopting a more open stance, which I've got him to close. At Hamilton you could see the signs of a return, and he played a couple of vintage shots. Soon after, I knew he was back when he started to get low and sniff it through extra cover like Boycott used to do. There's a lot of Boycs in him and when that front knee is bending, I say to some of the others, 'that's how to drive, not with a stiff leg'."

There is no time for a coach to rest, however, and after Atherton's and Graham Thorpe's resurrection Lloyd now has to help the suddenly struggling Nick Knight. Though there are technical glitches, he feels Knight has also to rethink his game. "He must try not to live up to his reputation as an aggressive strokeplayer. It's exactly how Graham Gooch started, playing eye- catching shots. But he rethought it all to become a Test opener capable of playing long innings. What Nick has to learn to do is play within his body width, learn to be comfortable with a Test-match tempo and not to try to manufacture runs. When he got out trying to force that rising ball off Geoff Allott in the last Test, I told him to come and watch Athers who'd been on 30 for about 20 minutes.

"It was classic Test-match stuff and you just don't look at the scoreboard when that happens. Suddenly he hit two fours and a two and bingo he was on 40. Nick's got to realise that Tests are all about slow manoeuvring."

Which is why the England coach likes the idea of playing two spinners, and why Alec Stewart is a crucial. "We said we wanted a cutting edge as well as balance in our bowling and Alec gives us that. He's a top player and a model professional and fit enough at 33 to extend his career.

"For me, one of the highlights has been the spinners bowling in tandem. When that's happened, they've given the skipper control and stifled the opposition. They are a good combination with Croft's hard-spun deliveries being complemented by Tufnell's flight. Mind you, Darren Gough has performed tremendously too, and although he's uncomplicated, he always gives 100 per cent."

But the big question is how the winter has prepared the players for the Australians this summer, and Lloyd is not getting carried away. "It is no secret that we found it difficult to cope in Zimbabwe and our cricket, on slow pitches and outfields, suffered. In New Zealand we've really hit our straps, especially at Wellington, where we dominated from start to finish.

"Nevertheless, we still have bad sessions with both bat and ball and we need to eradicate them, as all you do then is play catch-up. Fortunately, we've managed to do that here and although we ended up winning two Tests in the end, it could just as easily have been four."

After a winter of having his more colourful remarks used against him, Lloyd is understandably guarded when asked about his plans for Australia, but he is clearly working out an approach. "With two wrist spinners in Shane Warne and Michael Bevan, Australia are a devastating fourth-innings bowling side. But they need runs on the board, especially if they are going to bowl Bevan. What we have to try to do is restrict their batting, which means having a long hard think over the type of surface that will give us the best chance.

"We've still got work to do and I want everyone to know they've got competition from the A team and the Under-19s for their places. We haven't got a Warne, a Lara or an Akram, so it is important that everyone is aware of the team effort. We can't afford to have anyone under-achieving."