David Lloyd: 'The Blast is the best T20 competition in the world'

Bumble on hot tubs, mascot races, community engagement, and treading on egg-shells

David Hopps
David Hopps
David Lloyd with the runners and riders in the T20 Finals Day mascot race at Edgbaston  •  Getty Images

David Lloyd with the runners and riders in the T20 Finals Day mascot race at Edgbaston  •  Getty Images

A familiar voice will be missing when the Vitality Blast begins its 20th year. David Lloyd, the commentator who has symbolized the tournament's distinctive mix of deadly serious sport with a little fun on the side, will no longer play a leading role.
Lloyd's commentary career came to an abrupt end over the winter - he became collateral damage when the debate over racism and Azeem Rafiq was at its most feverish. He made some private observations about the challenges of integrating Muslim players into club cricket, pertinent yet trenchantly expressed. That confidence was broken, Rafiq bared his soul in his appearance before the Department of Digital, Culture, Media and Sport committee in November and wheels began to turn. Apologies were made on all sides, understanding reached, wounds healed, but a few days before Christmas, Lloyd's "retirement" was announced.
If he is bitter about the circumstances of his departure, he is wise enough, human enough, to leaven it with good humour. He also knew deep down that the tone of cricket commentary was shifting and, as his 75th birthday loomed, it was not playing to his advantage, not even to one of the finest raconteurs the game has ever known.
"I grew up with Elvis and the Stones and there was a poor man's Elvis at the time called PJ Proby who was most famous for splitting his trousers on stage," he mused. "He once had a No. 1 hit with a song called 'I Apologise'. He'd make a fortune now.
"I will miss working on the Blast incredibly, just as much as Test cricket, but it is a different age and you can't get away from that fact. And it's not my style to watch your Ps and Qs. Somebody else can do that.
"My first T20 game was down at Hove with Charles Colvile. It reminded me so much of how 40-over cricket had taken county cricket by storm a generation earlier. The counties backed it up with gimmicks and at that particular one there was a fun fair. Charlie was always saying 'all the fun of the fair', it was one of his fall-back lines, and he said to me 'I see the screamer's here'. I said: 'Is she really? I've not seen her for ages'. Imagine doing that now.
"The hot tubs stay in my memory. The Worcester one was full of models and I had to go and chat to them. At Leicester they made it a more mature hot tub and it was bubbling up to which I said 'Is that a machine or is it you?' Different times."
Lloyd tells how the pressure on commentators used to be the reverse.
"When Mark Nicholas went to Channel 9 years ago, he thought he was doing fine. Then the call came through on the red phone, a direct line to Kerry Packer. The big boss. The man who caused the explosion in one-day cricket. Mark thought that he was doing great and was summoned to see him. 'I want you to entertain me,' said Packer. 'You're boring me rigid.'
"Anything went and that has been unbelievably reined in. You were encouraged then to take it to the limit. Take a risk. Now you have to be PC. I was on egg-shells a bit by the end. There was more of a danger of a call from upstairs."
Lloyd's love affair with cricket remains as strong as ever. He is as proud a Lancastrian as ever, and is excited to be part of Lancashire's in-house coverage, Lancs TV, this summer, but he now lives in North Yorkshire on the other side of the Pennines. The rural life suits him.
He has made a miniature cricket ground in his back garden, big enough to stage an U-13 game, complete with old-fashioned pull roller, groundsman's hut and a wooden bench where he can tell old stories till the end of time. "I'm getting some tins for the scoreboard," he said, with a relish that is impossible to resist. There has always been a touch of eccentricity in Bumble. It is what gives him his life force.
Consider this for an eccentric notion. David Lloyd - with the weight behind him of 407 first-class matches and 288 List A games, over 21 seasons, spells as a first-class umpire and England coach, and rounded off with a 22-year commentary stint that made him one of the most loved figures in English cricket - thinks the Blast is a better T20 tournament than the IPL.
No wonder he often used to go to the pub in disguise.
"I think the Blast is the best T20 competition in the world - not for its quality necessarily, but for its longevity, the joy that it brings to spectators in the UK culminating in one of the greatest days in the cricket calendar - Finals Day - which I used to dread. Fourteen hours, full on, with a mascot race when I didn't have a clue what they were doing and the Hollies Stand where they don't know what day it is from 10 o'clock in the morning.
"I have worked on the IPL, but it is a private enterprise and benefiting already wealthy people. The T20 Blast is for the people and bringing money into the game. That's a major factor for me in saying it is the best. The IPL fits an Indian audience because the players are Gods out there, but it is deadly serious. If I am doing a T20 game I'll have a hoot. Blokes messing up and having a laugh, although serious enough that everyone cares about the outcome. I embraced the competition straightaway and could see that it is fun and entertainment."
Now the Blast is under pressure, part of a county game that feels under siege. Attendances were at record levels before the disruption caused by Covid, but since then the Hundred has been heavily marketed and a few county officials are looking at advance Blast ticket sales this summer with a little concern. The future of the professional game in England is impossible to predict.
"The Hundred is fun and has brought new interest. But the problem is it doesn't fit, it messes up too many other things. If you look at the three main players - ECB, Sky, BBC - ECB like it because it brings a shed-full of money, Sky's viewing figures are high, and it gets the BBC into the game, a game that is short and that fits their schedules. But it kills county cricket."
Lloyd's fondest memory of the Blast is the climax to the 2010 final when Hampshire's Dan Christian called for a runner then inadvertently ran a leg-bye off the last ball himself. Somerset's fielders could have pulled off a run-out, but nobody wised up to it and if the umpires hadn't eventually called dead ball, the players might still have been out there, 12 years later.
"I am commentating but, in my head, I am umpiring as well. Somerset look demoralised and eventually the umpire had to call dead ball because they didn't appeal for the run-out. It reminded me of a similar occurrence at Derby when Ole Mortensen did exactly the same. Pete Willey was umpiring and he told a fielder to throw the ball to the keeper, and take the bails off. There was a matter-of-fact appeal. That's out. 'What?' said Ole. He could swear a bit. 'I'm in, he's in, he's in, we're all in.' 'Yeah, but you should be in at that end.'
Chat to Bumble about cricket and, in between a torrent of old tales from his playing days - Ken Higgs never having a shower, and David Steele nipping off the field during a South Africa tour because he had just spotted a mate in the crowd he hadn't seen for years were among those that spilled into his mind on this occasion - it is not long before his bugbear about the pace of the game gets an airing.
"When they started T20, the players themselves were unsure about it so it was a bit of a softly-softly approach and it was seen as a bit of a giggle. But it was a quick game. You had to be out there quickly as a batsman. Now the players have just said they'll take as long as they want because there is no punishment, they'll just swan around.
"It was a better game when you had to get in to bat. You should have a ticking clock and if they don't get to the crease in time, just bowl. The Laws of the Game say that when the bowler gets to the end of his run the batsman has to be ready. I'd add to that, if you're not ready, just bowl.
"I am perplexed that players don't understand that the game needs pace. Everything has improved out of sight except the pace of the game. I'd implore players to put it right. I would think that umpires are told to cajole and try to move things on, but there is no comeback when they don't. There are many reasons why cricket isn't on terrestrial TV, but one of the reasons is the length of time it takes - they can't schedule it. It has to finish on time."
There was still a chance to nudge him gently away from a string of tales of an old Derrick Robins tour of South Africa, and back to the Blast.
One of his wishes is to see a Roses T20 match at Scarborough - although it will only happen if he volunteers to stump up the fall in revenue as a result. "That's my favourite cricket ground in the world. I used to love the barracking when I played there for Lancashire. 'Get back over't bloody Pennines!' Bluey Bairstow would march into our dressing room, telling us what pubs we'd be going to afterwards and how we'd all finish up in the chip shop."
A more feasible wish is simply for the counties to fill the grounds. He is influenced by too many low-key Blast nights at the more quiescent counties, where building up an atmosphere on commentary has been a thankless task. He watches non-league football at York City these days, but he also cares deeply for his home-town club, Accrington Stanley, one of the most famous names in football history, where the chairman, Andy Holt, "does community". And, for Bumble, community matters.
"People rubbish the Hundred and defend the Blast but, having done matches at Derbyshire, Leicestershire and Northants, there are 3,000 there. Market it better. Get your bars and hospitality working, have a fan zone before the game: £2.50 a pint, two live bands, if we win it's a £1 a pint - just like we do at Accrington Stanley. Fill your ground, somehow. Your players deserve it. Get them into the ground. It's a great night."
Bumble picks his 'Entertainers XI'
1. Alex Hales
"An assassin, made for T20. Big levers and hits it a long way."
2. Luke Wright
"Reminds me of the old comedian Norman Wisdom, and he comes from Sussex as well. Little cheekie chappie, fantastic longevity."
3. Aaron Finch
"He once hit two simultaneous sixes at Old Trafford and hit the top of The Point. Extraordinary. A happy-go-lucky, powerful cricketer."
4. Samit Patel
"Never far away from a disaster. Great watching him. And he has lovely touch, power and supreme confidence with bat or ball."
5. Liam Livingstone
"He is from Cumbria. A tough lad. If there's any bother he'll sort it out."
6. Moeen Ali (captain)
"One of my favourite cricketers. He makes me chuckle. He reminds me of a league cricketer - he gives it a tonk, he bowls a bit and enjoys what he's done. He is a terrific human being."
7. Andrew Flintoff
"I'm not leaving him out. More comebacks than Frank Sinatra. And one of the great crowd pleasers."
8. Shahid Afridi
"Another one to fill grounds. He thinks every ball should be hit for 10."
9. Phil Mustard (wicketkeeper)
"Got to have 'The Colonel' behind the stumps. I think he comes from a foreign country. Pick him up on the stump mic and you hadn't a clue what he was saying."
10. Mark Wood
"There's little more exciting than an ability to bowl at 150kph. And he's a tee-totaller: just imagine how quick he'd be if he had a drink."
11. Luke Fletcher
"Epitomises county cricket. A complete throwback to when I played. Sweating and kicking, and looks like he gets a bit thirsty, but knows what he's doing."

David Hopps writes on county cricket for ESPNcricinfo @davidkhopps