The man who has brought the smile back to English cricket

THE MONDAY INTERVIEW; David Lloyd's impact so far this summer has been startlingly successful. Derek Pringle found the new England coach determined to make further progress; 'My heroes are Matt Busby and Bill Shankly and neither of them ever criticised players in public. If there is anything to be said, I'll do it privately'
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Half-term is rapidly approaching for this summer's so far unbeaten England cricket team and apart from last week's close call at Lord's, the humiliations suffered over the winter seem to have largely been forgotten. For one man though, the memories serve as a constant reminder of why he took the job as England's coach; and why after England's current revival, it is still too early to start proclaiming miracles from the rooftops.

As coach of Lancashire, David Lloyd was still on the outside looking in when England reached their lowest ebb during the last World Cup. A tournament where they failed to beat a single Test-playing nation.

England returned with spirit in tatters, and with Ray Illingworth's supremo role - as coach and chairman of selectors - being dismantled and once more split into two separate jobs, England were suddenly looking for a new coach.

Candidates however, in the wake of the Test and County Cricket Board's treatment of Keith Fletcher, were not thick on the ground. But what was there - John Emburey, Phil Neale, and Lloyd himself - all had nous and dedication. In the end Emburey, newly appointed as player-coach at Northamptonshire withdrew his candidacy and Lloyd was given the post.

"I'd already spoken to Athers [Michael Atherton] about what we'd might do, if I got the job, so I was prepared when it finally came my way. Certainly from where I stood, England looked like they lacked stability. Up until the last Test and the one-dayers in South Africa, England had played good cricket and been hard to beat. So the impression from the World Cup that England were dreadful, wasn't to my mind quite accurate, and a lot of it was down to simply running out of puff."

But England certainly looked dreadful, and with cricket teams traditionally taking their lead from the captain, Atherton's state of mind at the time was of particular concern. In fact, long before the coaching vacancy became apparent Lloyd, a close friend of Atherton's, went to meet England's downcast skipper as he stepped off the plane.

It is a symbiotic friendship that has definitely helped speed the healing process and Lloyd can take much of the credit for fully reviving Atherton's flagging interest in the captaincy. "It wasn't that difficult, especially after he'd had a bit of time off," Lloyd said. "I know a lot of people's impression of Mike is that he's difficult and opinionated, but he does listen. At any rate, having both had our share of angry letters, we both agreed that it was important to put out a product that the spectators could get behind.

"Apart from constantly letting each player know that they were the best, we concentrated on improving the fielding. It's so visual, that by going for everything you get people on your side. It also shows the opposition that you mean business. If you're a top fielding team, it spills over into the batting and bowling as well."

The Texaco one-dayers provided the perfect showcase for the new product, and England romped home 2-0, after rain had washed out the first game at the Oval. Afterwards, an ecstatic tabloid press bayed their approval and Lloyd with his unusual ideas - which included players hitting tennis balls at each other as well as playing a five-minute tape of Churchill's speeches to a background of "Jerusalem" and "Land of Hope and Glory" - was pinpointed as the catalyst.

Lloyd downplays the hype, putting any success between him and the players down to increased communication and a hands-on role. "When I first went for the coaches post at Lancashire, they asked me what I could bring to the job? I simply told them that I could communicate with the players, the public and the media. You have to build a mutual respect between all three if you're going to be successful.

"Illy was good as well. There'd been a lot of talk that the management had been at loggerheads and we needed to show the players we were comfortable with each other. In his own way he did that by letting me know that once it had been selected it was my team. It was vital too that we won those one-dayers, and won them well.

"But you have to start by getting into the players minds and help them play to their maximum. To ensure they are giving themselves the best chance, you must take an interest in their lifestyle and preparation. If they are overawed by big occasions, it's down to me to persuade them that no one's watching them but their mum and dad."

"Bumble", as Lloyd has affectionately been known ever since his team- mates hit upon the likeness between his nose and the beaks of Michael Bentine's Bumbly Men, is a compulsively likeable bloke, whose influences range from George Formby to Meatloaf.

Curiously, for a person with a renowned offbeat sense of humour (for which all southerners should read northern) he is strangely focused. Graeme Fowler, a former team-mate and one-time disciple of his at Lancashire, thought him a genius - his ability to break cricket down into simple building blocks being nothing short of masterful.

The soft, but curiously staccato Accrington burr, is another persuasive tool of his and although he can and does become irate, it never comes over as hectoring. Something which those counties recently persuaded to allow their Test players time off, will readily testify.

"Got to look at it as a joint venture and listen to the player," he suddenly blurts unbidden. "You mustn't belittle, that's why you'll never see me going into a press conference saying so and so bowled like a drain, or thingybob played across the line. My heroes are Matt Busby and Bill Shankly and neither of them ever criticised players in public. If there is anything to be said, I'll do it privately."

How much, I wondered, had his methods of dealing with England been fashioned by his own experiences as a player?

"When I look back, it's alarming to think about some of the things I was told. I've sifted out what I didn't want, and kept on board the bits I liked. Probably my biggest influences from the past have been Bob Simpson and Wes Hall, who both played in the Lancashire league. But as I also opened the batting for Accrington with Eddie Barlow, played county cricket with Brian Statham and was captained and managed by Jack Bond as well as Clive Lloyd, the good sources are many."

A traditionalist at heart, he is still prepared to embrace the new, for which he admits an unrelenting fascination. At Lancashire he involved eye experts and baseball coaches and introduced signs with words like WIN, PRIDE and ATTITUDE printed on them into the dressing-room. The signs have come with him to the England dressing-room, but judging by the way his new charges have so far deported themselves, it is the man who brought them, that has had the greater effect.

"When the lads go out to play I want them to feel 10-foot tall. If that means putting on a bit of music or playing a video of them doing well, so be it. Actually the Sky mob have been great and I've got a library full of our best moments all done to music. Anything to get us revved up."

Test cricket, however, is not just simply about boosting your own players, and under Lloyd, England have prepared well. At Lord's their homework on Tendulkar and Azharuddin was richly rewarded, their broad plan only becoming unstuck after two relative unknowns notched up over 200 runs between them and put England under pressure.

"I liked the way we got stuck in. When 'Hicky' dropped Tendulkar, I watched 'em like a hawk to see if they went down. They didn't and when 'Lewy' [Chris Lewis] bowled him, we'd essentially got rid of one of the world's top players twice in the space of a few overs. We planned it too and that's why it was even more special.

"Same with Azha. We felt if we mixed the bowling up, with two men back for the hook and one up his backside at short-leg, he'd be more inclined to fence at balls wide of off-stump. Which is exactly what he was doing when 'Big Al' [Mullally] got him. Mind you they came back well and we had to show a lot of character and see off three new balls to save the game. Jack [Russell] and Ronnie [Irani] responded magnificently."

With the last Test against India looming and a series against Pakistan to follow, Lloyd refuses to get carried away. "We need to put more partnerships together for one thing and bat for one another. There is plenty of time in Test matches to score double hundreds, yet not many batsmen manage it these days. Same thing with swing bowling. It must be the balls or something, I just don't accept that bowlers can't swing it any more."

Lloyd is contracted for the summer only and realises the precarious footing of his current job is results-driven. "All good sides have a constant level of performance. They eliminate the swing between peak and trough. My aim is to not only make England a harder team to beat, but one that is capable of pouncing when a winning situation presents itself."

After a post-playing career that has involved running Kwik cricket and a spell of umpiring, he is just thrilled to be doing what he enjoys most. "It's no secret that I'm already planning ahead for the winter in Zimbabwe and New Zealand. A lot of course depends on how we go against Pakistan. But whether the Board say yes or no I'll be ready."