Lloyd digs in for pitch battle

Stephen Fay discovers that home advantage is being put to little use
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The Independent Online
Bumble was in a minor key. Driven by frequent rain showers to an early press conference, David Lloyd talked in the dejected tone of a coach whose team has just lost a Test series. Clearly, this is a game that England might not lose, but certainly will not win. But it wasn't entirely England's fault. Lloyd blamed the groundsman for producing the wrong type of pitch.

This story of an English failure starts with a remark by Saeed Anwar, whose 176 made quite sure that Pakistan will not lose the series. On Friday evening he had said that the Oval was the sort of pitch that Pakistan liked. Lloyd was nonplussed: "Wherever I go, there's been a slight bias towards the home side," he said.

Not in England. The exchange that followed suggested that English groundsmen have declared UDI from the English management. Lloyd was asked whether he had tried to influence groundsmen to prepare pitches that suit England?

"I ask politely," he replied.

"And you get politely refused?

"Yes."

"What can you do?"

"I can't do anything. I just get on with it," said Lloyd.

Lloyd, who has rarely cut such a passive figure this summer, appears to have forgetten that the last time England's management asked a groundsman to build a bias in England's favour into the pitch was when Ray Illingworth persuaded Steve Rouse at Edgbaston to shave the wicket at each end and the West Indies won by an innings and 64. But it was neither the time nor place to remind him.

He thought that England had played better yesterday after a dismal day in the field on Friday. "We bowled with good discipline for a good period in the morning," he said, ignoring the other period when discipline was a word that Ian Salisbury and Chris Lewis had evidently forgotten. Lloyd got no pleasure from the prospect that rain has let England off the hook: "You can't defeat the weather," he said, "but we would rather play, take wickets, and drag ourselves back into the game."

Lloyd's interpretation of the state of the game is not that Pakistan are 13 runs ahead with six wickets standing, but that, in yesterday's curtailed day, England took three wickets while Pakistan added only 110 runs.

He doesn't see only the bright side of life, however. The mood in the England dressing room on Friday night had been grim: "We said what we needed to say," he said. He had not enjoyed it: "I like players to succeed and feel for them when they don't."

Graeme Hick and Chris Lewis seem to be the casualties of the summer. Looking back, Lloyd regretted the poor bowling on the first day at Headingley, and the failure to score more runs in the first innings at the Oval. England had become pretty decent at saving matches, but "the team's next challenge is to win."

And what had he learned?

"You can never get it right. I've been playing since I was 16 and I know you can never get it right," he said.

England supporters know precisely how he feels.

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