The Monday Interview: David Lloyd - Lloyd fights to improve odds in the win equation

Despite the recent setback in the West Indies, the England cricket coach, David Lloyd, tells Ian Stafford (left) why he is confident about beating the South Africans, who arrive today
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The Independent Online
DAVID LLOYD is effing and blinding - effing as in "flipping", his favourite word - as he arrives late at Trent Bridge the other day, courtesy of a pile-up on the roads. "Just typical, isn't it?" he says, by way of explanation. "You take what you think is the best route, and you end up in a jam, with ambulances racing past."

He's missed Mike Atherton's short innings, followed by a painfully disconsolate walk back to the pavilion, but is just in time to see his son, Graham, produce a useful knock for Lancashire. "First time I've seen him in ages", says Lloyd. "He's calmed down a bit now, I'm glad to say."

Which is more than can be said for the England coach. Now two years into his appointment, and with a frustrating run of results to his and his team's name, David Lloyd remains bullish as ever about the future and, indeed, the recent past.

Take, for example, his thoughts on the 3-1 defeat in the Caribbean. "We really should have got more out of that tour than we did," he says, shaking his head. "The preparation was spot on, until the weather mucked up our plans. We managed to lose the second Test. Let's get this right, we lost it, the West Indies didn't win it, but we did everything one could ask for, in terms of fighting spirit, to win the next one.

"Then we lost a crucial toss that more or less decided the match, got held up by rain when, four miles away, the sky was clear, and then threw away the last Test after a nonsensical run-out precipitated a batting collapse of 7 for 25, for no apparent reason." Another shake of the head is followed by a repeat of these statistics. "Seven for 25!" The old English disease.

So what are we saying here? That England were unlucky? That England have only themselves to blame? Surely Lloyd knows that the bottom line will always be results?

"Yes, of course, and we have big deficiencies which we have to try and overcome. All I'm trying to point out is that we had little to show for our efforts, which was frustrating, but yet, contrary to popular belief, we haven't done as badly as some would like to think. In fact, after Australia, we've won more Tests than any other country in the past 12 months. It doesn't make us a great side. Far from it. But we've never been a great side, not in the 1990s, not in the 1980s, not even in the 1970s.

Few around the world have. Right now, no Test team is winning every Test match, not even every series. The West Indies got hammered in Pakistan, Australia lost in India. It's not easy to win consistently."

Especially not in England's case. This is a team that continues to tease, a team that can, to use one of Lloyd's famous words, murder Australia at Edgbaston and The Oval last summer, and the West Indies in Trinidad, only to go on and lose the series.

"You're dead right", agreed Lloyd. "And that's one of the deficiencies I was talking about. It's not as if the players we have can't perform at the highest level. They've proved they can. But they're not doing it Test after Test. That's why we're winning games, but not a series."

He mentioned deficiencies. What, then, are the others. "Our main problem is that we don't have what I would term big pace. We've only really had five such bowlers since the war, Trueman, Tyson, Willis, Snow and Malcolm. The others have the right personnel: Gillespie and McGrath, Ambrose and Walsh, Akram and Younis, Donald and Pollock. We don't."

Anything else? "Yes, there's one other glaring problem. The best sides in the world are bowling the opposition out, using a combination of big pace and leg spin. Add to the names I've just mentioned the likes of Warne, Ramnarine, Adams and Ahmed. These are world-class wrist spinners. We don't possess any.

"It's a big challenge, not only for me and the selectors, but to our cricketers. It's down to them, really. A place, and a chance to become a match winner, is there for the taking."

OK, so we don't have a world-class paceman, nor a match-winning leg spinner. That rather places us at a disadvantage, doesn't it?

"Technically, yes, it does", Lloyd answers, after a short pause whilst Lloyd Jnr is nearly run out. "So we have to find inner resolve and strength instead. To substitute our deficiencies we need a group of players who will die for each other, and for England. We don't possess a Botham right now, nor a Willis or an Underwood. So we have to produce 100 per cent effort instead to make up for this lack of talent."

And do we? "Sometimes yes, and sometimes no. When we all pull together, we win matches. When we don't, we lose. We're trying to do the best with what we've got. I believe I am giving the best players the best chance yet to succeed."

By this he means the various methods which he has introduced to the national side, policies which are seen as innovative by the traditional game of cricket, but which, so Lloyd argues, are merely part and parcel of professional sport.

"We used the identical company the Lions used to build the team," he cites, by way of example. "For the Lions this was seen as wonderful coaching, but for us, there was an assumption that it was just one, big love-in. I've introduced a full-time fitness coach to the set-up. You may have noticed we haven't had anywhere near as many injuries as a result.

"I've started up a full stats service for the players, so that they know exactly what they're up to, and I've endorsed the use of sports psychology. I couldn't give a flying toss what people say about this. I know this element has been ridiculed, but I'm looking for an extra five per cent from my players, and I'll debate the issue with anyone."

He insists other people's opinions do not affect him. "I couldn't care less what some old player says, nor the view of a writer who gets paid to fill column inches. There's a sign on the England dressing-room door. It says: 'Invitation by express permission of the coach'. In other words, it's my dressing-room, and I'll do what the hell I like to try and get the best out of my players."

Despite this typical response, Lloyd still appears perturbed by a lack of appreciation for his and his team's track record. "Look, we beat Australia 3-0 in the one-dayers last summer. That was down to the Aussies being underprepared. We beat them in three days in the first Test. Again, down to them, not us. We knew they'd come back strong, and they did. But we beat them in the last Test. What was the verdict? It didn't matter. Well, you ask the Australian's coach if it mattered. He'll tell you that they were seen as a soft touch for not completely seeing us off. They very much targeted that match."

"Mark Taylor doesn't shave. Not an issue, because they won. Anyone in the England dressing-room will tell you that Mike Atherton's public image is nothing like the real man." I suggest that it might be different if England were winning more matches. "Yes, I'd accept that", he agrees.

"And that's my point. Everything is in place now for this. We have an Under-19 side that's just won the World Cup. A young player like Shah's going to be box office. Ben Hollioake nearly is already, and I happen to believe he's going to emerge as a fine fast bowler. We have a very successful A team, with a number of the players knocking seriously on the first team's door. Those players are there by design: I want to see them in the first team, but they have to earn their place. We have the third best batsman in the world right now in Graham Thorpe, plus a number of others averaging 40-odd in Test cricket.

"Yes, we need to work more on the bowling side, which is why a leg spin academy's been introduced at Lords. But all we're lacking now is a win, a big win, not in a Test, but in a series."

Lloyd, of course, has not been immune to some stick in the past two years. His new coaching methods have raised a few eyebrows amongst the blazer brigade, but his infamous outburst after tying in Zimbabwe provoked shudders throughout most of the game. It is something that he, through gritted teeth, would like to put straight.

"That's one of the big lessons I've learned about this job", he admits. "I've been a bit naive, and bit too trusting. They chose to use three words in that interview: We murdered them. I've got the transcript of the whole interview, and in reply to the question: do you feel you were lucky to get a draw, this was my answer: 'The opposition bowled wide and over our heads, and placed their fielders all around the boundary, and you ask me if we were lucky. We murdered them, and they know it.' But the way it was reported set me back a bit, I don't mind telling you. I won't make that mistake again."

His former captain, Mike Atherton, has had a fair dose of bad press as well. He is now someone who many believe has reached the end of a long, partially successful but also torrid spell as an international player. Not so, at least according to Lloyd.

"He averages 40 in Test cricket, has scored 5,000 Test runs, and was captain for 50 Tests. He commands huge respect in the dressing-room. I can tell you that the people involved in the sharp end of the England cricket team want him back in the fold because he deserves it."

I mention that he could be opening himself up for further criticism by saying this. "It doesn't matter", he replies, defiantly. "Mark Taylor had a big problem with a lack of runs last summer, but the Australians stuck by him and he came through. Atherton knows he needs to score runs, and he will. The desire's there, and I have no doubt he will remain one of the best opening batsmen in the world."

And Alec Stewart? Does the coach really believe the new captain can also continue to score runs heavily and keep wicket? "Well, I'm not a selector, but I have a view, and this is conveyed to those who make the decisions. As far as the player is concerned, he says there's no problem. We'll have to see, but we believe he can, we've asked him, and he's told us he can handle it. That's good enough for me."

There are easier baptisms than a Test series against South Africa, even if it is at home. Lloyd accepts this. "Assessing the sides, they'd take two of our batters, but we'd take two of their bowlers, and our problem is with our bowlers. Donald and Pollock will be a handful, and we'll have to match them, and more."

If they fail to do so, will even Lloyd's unshakeable belief begin to crack? "I know that we have to start winning, believe me. I've already asked myself if I've really done my best and done things right. I do it after every defeat. I ask others who I respect as well.

"All we need is a win. I'll put that word above the dressing-room door. WIN. The result always comes at the end of any equation. We've provided the players with the best chance to do so. Now it's more important than ever that we start to produce the results, match after match."

As we make our separate ways out of Trent Bridge, Lloyd asked me who I believed were winners in sport. I mentioned Steve Redgrave, and told him the story of how Redgrave took Olympic gold in 1992 despite suffering from colitis.

Lloyd shook his head yet again and blew out his cheeks. "I wish he played cricket," he said. "What I would give for that kind of attitude. You see, that's what wins medals, and that's what wins Test matches."

No less than 100 per cent will do for Lloyd this summer, then. It is a point his players would be advised to heed, that is, if they wish to remain in the England team.