David Gower is better placed than most to make the judgment. ‘I have never seen Bumble as racist,’ he says, ‘or any of the other sins that are prohibited nowadays.’
Sipping Earl Grey on Melbourne’s Southbank as he reflects on an unlikely change in his own circumstances, Gower is choosing his words carefully following Tuesday’s announcement that David ‘Bumble’ Lloyd had called time on his 22-year career at Sky.
The real reason behind Lloyd’s departure is an open secret. Comments he made during a private text exchange about Azeem Rafiq — the former Yorkshire all-rounder whose whistleblowing on racism at the club has exposed its rotten core — and the Asian cricket community found their way to Rafiq.
And when he named Lloyd during last month’s hearing in front of the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Parliamentary select committee, Sky sprang into action.
Gower, who himself was sacked by the broadcaster two years ago because — as he told Sportsmail — they wanted to ‘move on and change style’, is quite clear where he stands.
David Gower (left) has given his thoughts on David ‘Bumble’ Lloyd’s exit from Sky Sports
‘Bumble’ was let go by Sky Sports after 22 years for the broadcast group covering cricket
‘Yes, it’s right to investigate if someone has said or done something that is out of order,’ he says. ‘And, yes, it’s right to correct that, bring people to book and hold them accountable.
‘But there are limits. One of the things that strikes me now is that we are all having to be so very careful to say anything to anyone under any circumstances, just in case someone somewhere perceives one or two words to be out of place.
‘But I do understand that on certain topics you have to make sure your thinking and speaking are careful. And obviously there are modern standards that might be different to 10 or 20 or 40 years ago.’
What does he believe would have been an appropriate response to the airing of Bumble’s text messages?
Bumble (middle) was a popular figure in the Sky team along with Gower (middle, back)
‘I personally see a difference between things said in confidence and things said in public,’ says Gower. ‘At best, it’s bemusing. At worst, it’s frightening.
‘If it takes one word out of place, then absolutely no one in the entire western world would still be in a job. At no stage am I trying to condone anything that is egregiously or even vaguely racist. But balance is all. Surely a heartfelt apology is a step in the right direction.’
At his DCMS hearing in Westminster, Rafiq said Lloyd was ‘talking about my personal drinking, going out and socialising’ in an attempt to smear him amid his allegations of racism at Yorkshire.
Lloyd later apologised to Rafiq and insisted they were ‘private messages about a number of topics with a third party involved in cricket’ before apologising to the Asian cricket community.
Gower, 64, who led England to victory in the 1985 Ashes and made nine of his 18 Test hundreds against Australia, is himself the unwitting beneficiary of another of English cricket’s high-profile cancelled figures.
Bumble’s exit comes after he was accused of making racist remarks by Azeem Rafiq (above)
He has flown to Melbourne to join the BT Sport commentary team and fill the shoes of Michael Vaughan, who is currently persona non grata following claims by Rafiq and his Yorkshire team-mates, Adil Rashid and Rana Naved-ul-Hasan, that he said, ‘There are too many of you lot, we need to do something about it’, before a county match in 2009.
Vaughan says the three witnesses are all mistaken. ‘Ironically, I’m here because of someone allegedly mis-speaking, and I feel very sorry for that someone that a career has been maybe interrupted or threatened,’ says Gower.
‘I feel slightly guilty for popping up as the sub. I’m very happy to be here, it’s an unexpected pleasure. But I do find it worrying just how careful people might have to be.’
What Gower calls a ‘basic guiding principle’ of commentary —namely, the ability to relax and speak naturally — is threatened, he believes, ‘if you’re always looking over your shoulder’. He adds: ‘It will make it dull.’
As for Bumble, his commentary box colleague for the best part of two decades, Gower says: ‘He’s a man who has played cricket with his brother Clive, as he describes him, Farokh Engineer. He’s been around Wasim Akram.
Gower (right) insists that cricket has ‘always been an inclusive’ sport despite recent allegations
‘If you look through the list of people… Cricket has always been inclusive, and it’s galling that what I’d like to think are relatively isolated examples are tainting the whole thing. Bumble is a unique animal, because he has — and always will have — that great ability to appeal to a wide range of people.
‘He’s passionate about cricket, but it’s no secret that if the day was dull, you’d ask, “Where’s Bumble gone?” He has that lovely way of lightening the mood.’
Gower’s thoughts must now turn to Boxing Day’s third Test at Melbourne, but not before a frank assessment of England’s performances at Brisbane and Adelaide.
‘Two things that have stood out,’ he says. ‘The one thing I wanted to happen at Brisbane was for Stuart Broad to bowl at David Warner. The one thing I wanted to happen at Adelaide was for two of our finest bowlers of all time to remember to do in the first innings what they did in the second innings four years ago, and apparently that didn’t happen.
‘I’m very fond of Joe Root, because a) he’s a fantastic bloke, and b) he’s a very good player. You want people like Joe to do well. I’d love him to lead us out of trouble, but it ain’t going to happen.’