Lloyds puts his finger on bravery

New umpire is more than a match for the naked eye. Stephen Brenkley sees him pass the official test

So you thought it was tough for players. Gros Islet, St Lucia, late May this year, First Test, first ball, West Indies v Bangladesh, a lovely morning. The umpire at the bowler's end, Jeremy Lloyds, is mildly nervous because this is his Test debut.

In truth, he could probably do with a few overs of forward props and gentle playing and missing to get used to the pace and the rhythm. Pedro Collins, left-arm over, whooshes by his right shoulder. The ball is right on the button for length and swinging in. Hannan Sarkar elects to leave.

"I just thought to myself, 'why oh why has he done that? That's hitting, that's out'," said Lloyds. There was no time for bedding down, he had to adjudicate. The finger of doom went up. Sarkar was on his way. The replays showed he was dead right. Dead-eye Jerry.

Sabina Park, Jamaica, a few days later, Second Test, first ball, same combatants, same personnel. Collins strides past once more. The ball thuds into Sarkar's pads. Bowler, wicketkeeper, slips go up. Lloyds dispenses his verdict once again. That was actually the third time Sarkar had fallen to Collins off the first ball of a Test - he was bowled in Dhaka in 2002 - but Lloyds in only his second match created his own bit of history. There have been only five instances of a player being leg before to the first ball of a Test, the Lloyds index finger has featured in two of them. If the verdicts were proper, they were brave, which is probably an essential quality for international umpires.

"Dav Whatmore, the Bangladesh coach, came up to me at lunch and said it was a brave thing to do and not everybody might have done it," said Lloyds. "But the batsman was out, the ball was hitting and that's all that mattered."

All of this and umpiring in front of crowds of 30,000 in the Under-19 World Cup at the start of this year help to explain why Lloyds has taken the NatWest Series in his stride. He has attracted commentators' plaudits but only, of course, because Hawkeye, the grey strip and the zoom cameras have all concurred with his naked eye. The decision that wowed them was the rejection of the appeal against Darren Gough when England played New Zealand at the Riverside. It denied James Franklin a hat-trick and it would have been easy to uphold given the circumstances. But Lloyds correctly spotted that the swinging ball pitched, just, outside leg stump. Not out.

These incidents demonstrate that Lloyds has undergone trial by television, and passed (as has Mark Benson, the other English umpire new to the international list, if not so dramatically). Lloyds is phlegmatic about it all. He believes that the best umpires go unnoticed.

"When I was playing, we'd talk about the game afterwards. You could be going for an hour and if nobody mentioned the umpires, that's when you realised they'd had a good game. When I started umpiring the most important thing I was told, and remember, is that the game belongs to the players, not the umpires." For all that, Lloyds is easy to spot as an umpire. He is fairly gaunt of face, which lends him a stern look, an image supplemented by his dark glasses and hat. You wouldn't want to mess with him.

He was a journeyman pro for a dozen years with Somerset and Gloucestershire (more than 10,000 runs and 300 wickets) and went into coaching in South Africa before Barrie Meyer, the former umpire, told him he should think about donning the white coat. Lloyds took to it straightaway, the long days and the need to focus. He is full of praise for English umpires generally and points out that nowhere else can they have such a grounding because nowhere else is there so much cricket.

In 2001 he stood in two one-day internationals but did not gain elevation to the ICC international panel proper until this year. Then it was only because Peter Willey and Neil Mallender both said they had had enough. The talk is of player burn-out, but umpires may be first in that particular firing line internationally. "I'm just waiting to see what happens as far as I'm concerned and will go with it," said Lloyds. "But I think there is a general recognition that the number of umpires on the international list is too small for the number of matches that there are. Umpires are expected to be away from home for extremely long periods, and it is bound to have an effect."

At 49, Lloyds is not quite part of the new breed but he exemplifies the fact that umpires get more right than we perhaps have a right to expect. He is not convinced that technology would necessarily help to increase efficiency. Positioning, patience and consideration are the keys. But getting it right is what matters and Jeremy Lloyds has just got it right.

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