Jeremy Lloyds talks to Theo Sloot and Ted Sandbach about wine, cricket, golf and what it takes to be an international test match umpire.
Ted Sandbach and I met well-known cricket player and test umpire Jeremy Lloyds in his local, The Lamb in Great Rissington, just after Jeremy had returned from umpiring his last game of the season at Chelmsford, where Essex were playing Middlesex. Ted has known Jeremy since their school days, when they played rugby and cricket together for Somerset.
Jeremy was a member of the MCC ground staff at Lord's before rejoining Somerset in his mid-20s. He then played for Gloucestershire for seven years before joining the Cricketing Panel from where he rose to become a Cricket Council International Panellist umpiring test match cricket.
This is a man who as well as having had a fine career as a county player in England had been in charge of the Western Province Cricket Union's youth provincial coaching in South Africa before going on to umpire five test matches and 20 one-day internationals. He talks with great affection about the game that has been his life for so long. "My parents encouraged me to become a serious player and I've been involved with the game for 36 years now. The fascination of cricket is that no matter how long you're involved in it, and no matter how much you watch it, something new will always happen."
Interestingly, though, Jeremy could easily have gone into the wine trade. "When I was younger I had travelled in France and Germany and was always tasting wine, and later, whilst a young pro, I worked for Hugh Duder, who owns the County Stores in Taunton. One winter I had nothing to do so I worked in his wine department. If my cricket hadn't gone so well he was very keen to employ me so that I could learn about the wine trade. In the last 15 or 20 years wine has become quite a big part of my life; I much prefer it to beer."
Jeremy lived for many years in South Africa, and one of his favourite producers is Uitkyk, on the slopes of the Simonsberg mountains between Stellenbosch and Paarl. "Amazing vineyards, very small. They do a great Cabernet Sauvignon, which they call Carlonet after one of the original owners of the vineyard." He first came across it after a trip to the Kanonkop winery, when he suddenly saw Uitkyk and drove in. "Big circular drive with steps up to some massive great oak doors. Knocked on the door and an English guy called Brian Church took us into this magnificent Cape Dutch building with a huge table to taste the wine. So for three or four years after that I bought wine from them." He bought some elegant Chardonnays from Uitkyk, too—"not at all the designer, over-oaked styles of the `90s"—and also enjoys Sauvignon Blanc and a wide variety of reds. Drinking temperature is important to him. "I get some strange looks if we have a BBQ on a hot day and I put the red in the fridge for 20 minutes—but red wine should be served at room temperature, which is 15 to 16 degrees."
Cape Town was a big part of Jeremy's life and he lived there for a number of years after he gave up county cricket in England and was running the Western Province Cricket Union's youth provincial coaching. "One of my best mates over there was Euan McGlashan, who took over the Cape Grace Hotel, being then, at the age of 31, the youngest general manager of a private 5-star hotel in the world. He had this fantastic house which was built into the rock with a massive deck that overlooked the golf course on one side with the Atlantic in the distance, and the False Bay with the Indian Ocean on the other. The amazing thing was that, despite knowing his wines inside out, the only thing he ever used to drink was a wine called Versus, which was a blend of Chenin Blanc, Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay from Stellenbosch. It was only 11% and came in a litre bottle and sold for around 16 rand or about 1 pound. Believe it or not, Safeways sold it over here for a while, too."
Jeremy has certainly seen a lot in his long career—and has of course met, played with and umpired most of the great names in cricket. A particular friend of Ian "Beefy" Botham, Jeremy has shared many great times with the cricketing legend. "One day I arrived at the Clovelly Country Club (which was my home golf course and the centre of my life for about 10 years) and heard that Beefy was in town. Beefy always stays at the Vineyard Hotel, which backs on to Table Mountain in the heart of Cape Town. They have a private cellar underneath that Beefy is always allowed to go into. So I phoned Beefy and he said, 'Joburg! What are you doing? I'm down here for three weeks. Fancy a bit of golf?'" (Botham always called Jeremy "Joburg", because when he was playing for Somerset Jeremy had been out in Johannesburg coaching at St Stithians College: "Beefy and his family always call me Joburg, because we're good friends, and Beefy is very loyal to his friends.") "So we played about 12 days of golf over the three weeks he was there."
"Beefy's contacts in South Africa were amazing. One day we played at the Boschenmeer course with Schalke Berger, the ex-rugby player. Schalke had a massive house with a lake nearby and he invited us back after the game. There were a couple of friends of Schalke's from local vineyards who brought some really fantastic wines along, and there we sat looking at the fantastic view and drinking superb wine just having had a wonderful day's golf. It was absolutely perfect! Even though you don't see the sunset itself from there, the mountains are opposite you and change colour as the sun sets, going from orange to red, with all kinds of amazing purples and greens. Wonderful wines, great friends and beautiful places—you always remember experiences like these."
When it comes to umpiring, it's clear that Jeremy's long experience as a county player has really helped in his later career. "At the end of the day, when you are the sole arbiter from one end during a game of cricket you have to make sure you are concentrating extremely hard, because to make a mistake would be unforgivable. What you can't see, you can't give. You can't ever guess. But the more you do it, the better you get. I think I played 29 out of 36 cricket seasons on the trot—and there's no substitute for that kind of experience."
Ted asked Jeremy what he considered to be the most important attributes in an umpire. "I may be slightly biased about this. but I think the best umpires are those who have played cricket at a high level and have played it over a period of time, because they can understand the pressures the players are under. They see situations before they happen on the field. Having stood at first slip for a lot of my career I know that there are certain phases of the game where you really do have to concentrate, especially the first ball of the game. And 20 minutes before lunch you may think nothing's happening and it's all gone a bit quiet-and that's the time when you have to be alert because something is bound to happen. Straight after lunch or before tea are other times to watch out for—you really have to push your mental strength just that bit further—and that I learnt from playing county cricket. You have to have a real passion and a love of the game, because if you're going to stand out there for anything up to eight hours a day, it's very demanding."
Talking about his first experiences as a test match cricket umpire, Jeremy comes on to the subject of the first ball of the game. "The ironic thing is my first ever ball as an umpire in St Lucia was from a certain Pedro Collins who was a left-arm West Indian bowler bowling to the Bangladesh opening batsman. He faced the opening ball which pitched on middle and off and straightened up. He shouldered arms and the ball hit him on the shin and did everything right - he was out! My first ball in test match cricket! It was a simple decision because it helped that he didn't play a shot. I'll say it again. You never know about first ball. It's not the first time that this has happened to me. I seem to attract an awful lot of first-ball decisions!"
Jeremy's love of cricket comes through very strongly during our meeting. After all, the game is his life and one could be forgiven for assuming that what he hasn't seen isn't worth knowing, but he is quick to point out that "what goes around comes around. Very true in life, but particularly true in cricket—and that's what keeps it fresh. If you ever think that you've seen everything in the game, it has a horrible habit of turning round and kicking you straight where it hurts!" Jeremy stepped down from the International Cricket Council International Panel in 2006, but still umpires at county level. When I asked him how he saw the future, he replied, "Just keep doing what I'm doing and keep loving it—that's not difficult!"