Cricket: Lloyd's high reading on the gaffometer

Stephen Brenkley says England's coach is being caught too often by the slips
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The Independent Online
A Letter was once sent to David Lloyd's employers which suggested he was ill-suited to his job. It was curt, to the point, written on the back of a National Savings Certificate paying-in slip and said: "Why don't you get rid of that biased Lancashire b....?"

This call for Lloyd's sacking, it should be noted, was sent not to Lord's in regard to his position as England's coach but to the BBC concerning his place on the Test Match Special team. Of course, it may be only a matter of time before the England and Wales Cricket Board starts receiving similar correspondence.

Lloyd recalls the dismissive missive in a splendidly humorous volume of anecdotes about his career, which then embraced only the roles of player, umpire, broadcaster and after-dinner speaker. It was, like the fellow himself then, relentlessly chirpy. Whether he can come up with something similar when his tenure in his present post ends may be doubtful. The journeys to Zimbabwe and New Zealand have taken their toll and demonstrated that eternal optimism does not necessarily equate with deep-rooted commonsense. Lloyd began his job in characteristic style - whatever he said privately to his players, publicly he was constantly upbeat.

"I'm looking to instil enthusiasm and get some enjoyment back," he said. "This is their full-time job, it's what they have chosen to do and it's important to show that enjoyment."

A few dodgy results and one tour later and those inaugural words have already come back to haunt the poor chap. England may have pulled their socks up to their knees in the Second Test against New Zealand but this does not disguise the fact that they have spent much of the winter dangling round mid-calf and ankle level.

Lloyd's initial vim and zest is apparently no more. Where once he was viewed as refreshing he is now judged curmudgeonly: how quickly international sport cen be perceived to change your character.

There were signs even in the early days that the man known as Bumble may sting himself. After India had much the better of the drawn Lord's Test and made England's attack look decidely ordinary for much of the match the coach declared that the result was brilliant, giving rise to speculation as to how he might react if: a) England had won; and b) the opposition had scored fewer than 429.

It was fairly clear from this that he was a coach determined to back his players at any price (though his patience has been stretched this winter). Later in the summer, at Lord's again, Pakistan won the opening Test of the series after England tumbled from 168 for one to 243 all out. When asked to comment on the collapse immediately afterwards Lloyd instead paid tribute to Ian Salisbury's 40 and the fact that Simon Brown "hung about at the end".

There was also his coaching column in The Cricketer magazine, perhaps an unfortunate victim of editorial lead times but a tad embarrassing nevertheless. Lloyd began September's hints on bowling: "One of the big pluses for England this summer has been the bowling of Chris Lewis and he was badly missed during the Lord's Test." A fortnight later Lewis was omitted from the winter touring parties.

But it is this winter that Bumble has begun truly to bungle. He might even recall his early broadcasting days when he was outside Lord's to seek spectator's views on the forthcoming Benson and Hedges Cup final. With microphone in hand he approached one man for his prediction and was told: "F... off mate, I'm trying to sell tickets."

Talking a good game: Lloyd's list of quotable quips

We've got some work to do... I'm absolutely certain we've got the talent to do well. April, 1996, on assuming the role.

The target is to make England the best team in the world. It will take hard work but I believe we're already on our way. August, when interviewed after losing the First Test to Pakistan by 164 runs.

We don't travel well and we'll need to put that right... we're looking to get a winning habit, to breed confidence and self-belief, to have a bit of style. November, shortly before the departure for Zimbabwe.

We flippin' hammered them; we absolutely murdered them, and they know it. December, after a draw against Zimbabwe in Bulawayo with the scores level.

We got what we deserved against Zimbabwe in the one-day games but I believe I am quite right to repeat that we had the better of the Test series. We are looking forward to New Zealand and even if we have a gruelling journey we will be arriving there with a smile on our faces. January 1997, between tours and determined to make his point.

It was as good a performance as we could have expected. I was very proud and very pleased. January, after England had lost by 90 runs to New Zealand A.