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Bowl at Boycs
'Today's administrators are greedy'
July 24, 2008
Geoff Boycott on Twenty20 overkill, how finger-spinners can be effective, and more
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'It was so thrilling to watch him (Waqar Younis) with his little legs pumping and running in as he got the big swerve with the old ball' © Peter J Heeger

Medini Mangala: Hello and welcome to Bowl at Boycs. As always, I have with me Geoffrey Boycott to answer all your questions.

The first question is about the England-South Africa Test series. It comes in from George from Birmingham and he says we have seen six consecutive draws at Lord's. What seems to be wrong with that pitch?

Geoffrey Boycott: The problem is that although it [the pitch] has got better and better, it has lost its pace. So when the bowlers defeat the batsmen in length, the batsmen have time to adjust. As the match goes on, with lots of sunshine and dry weather the pitch gets drier and slower. So when the batsmen are defeated they have time to get the bat down and get a thick edge instead of a thin edge that gets them out.

That has come about because of better covering. I mean they have hovercrafts now in three major grounds in England, and Lord's is one of them. They [the covers] can keep the rain off and keep the pitch very dry. You can see that around the world, over the last 10-15 years, the pitches have got better for batsmen. But they have got slower, which makes it difficult for bowlers to defeat the batsmen.

MM: Salman Shakeel writes in from Canada and he says that he has been playing for his club in Ottawa for two seasons now. He is a regular offspinner and although he has got positive reactions from whoever has seen him bowl in the nets, he is unable to repeat his heroics in the actual game. How can he correct this?

GB: I don't think he can very easily. There are two points I would like to make here. Throughout the world, in the last 15-20 years, finger-spinners have hardly ever won matches, unless it is in the subcontinent, where the soil doesn't bind as well as most countries and so the ball turns quite a lot. So you get people like Harbhajan Singh, and before him Erapalli Prasanna, who were good finger-spinners and who took wickets.

In years gone by, if you look at the history of the game through the Wisden Cricketers Almanack, you will see that cricket was played for most of its time on uncovered pitches. This means that it was open to the weather. In places like England and New Zealand, in particular, after it had rained, when the pitch became tacky and dried out it was the finger-spinners who won the match - they bowled people out cheaply and quickly. But nowadays pitches are covered for quite some time, and the covers have got better, and so finger-spinners are not match-winners unless they use the foot-holes. For instance, a left-arm spinner bowling to a left-handed batsman makes a lot of foot-holes or if there are left-arm seamers bowling, the finger-spinner or offspinner can bowl into those footmarks at the right-handers.

The people who have done well as finger-spinners bowling offspin are those bowlers who started bowling the doosra. [Muttiah] Muralitharan bowls the doosra, Harbhajan can bowl it, and I think that is what the modern-day youngster will have to do. He will have to learn to bowl the doosra so he can deceive the batsman as an offspinner going one way and as a legspinner going the other way. By just being an orthodox finger-spinner, I'm sorry, but he isn't going to make a lot of difference whatever he does.

MM: The next question comes in from Tom from the UK and he wants to know: where have all the "blockers" gone? Even till recently players like Gary Kirsten and Michael Atherton saved matches by batting all day. Why do you think this has happened?

GB: I think it is because we are all products of our upbringing - the area we are brought up in and the way we play our cricket. In recent times, kids grow up with one-day cricket right from the word go. So they have to learn to play against the clock by hitting good balls and playing outrageous shots.

When people like Kirsten, Atherton and I grew up, there was very little one-day cricket. There certainly was no Twenty20 cricket, and 50-over cricket wasn't as established. So we grew up in what was the normal, classical way of playing cricket - three, four or five-day Tests. But you cannot change what you are. Kids today grow up with Twenty20 and right from an early age they have to learn to slog the ball. So when it comes to playing Tests, they find it hard to switch to a different game.

You'll see that Test cricket is quite interesting now. There are lots of shots played but also lots of mistakes by the batsmen. Therefore you get a lot of runs in the day. Most of the time there are wickets falling and a lot of Tests are now finishing in four days. This is because batsmen are playing more shots. They are growing up with it and doing it naturally. It is their normal way of playing and I don't think anything will change that.

MM: Niraj Parekh writes in from the USA and he wants your opinion on the proposed World Test Championship once every two years. Do you think it will help revive the sagging fortunes of Test cricket?

Over the last few years the administrators have done everything to sell one-day cricket and done nothing for Test cricket

GB: No I don't think it will make the slightest difference. It is not long ago when we had Australia, the world champions, playing the Rest of the World. It was a farce; the Rest of the World was a joke and it was like a charity match. It just doesn't work.

I think the biggest problem is that over the last number of years the administrators have done everything to sell one-day cricket to the public and have done nothing to help Test cricket. I mean, the over rates are pathetic: they are down to about 13 overs an hour, when in my days we used to bowl 17.

I also think that we have not tried anything. In the warm countries like India, Pakistan, South Africa, Australia and the West Indies, we have not tried day-night Test cricket. People today have jobs and they don't have much time to sit and watch five days of a Test. If we had day-night Tests they could come to watch cricket after work, after they have picked up their children from school. We should be selling family tickets: if you pay for two adults, you get tickets for two children free. This way the family can come.

Also, they are always making excuses about not being able to produce a white ball that stays white. We have put a man on the moon but we can't find a white ball.

We have no problem in England. We play to full houses in our Tests. The first three or four days of a Test, wherever it is played in England, is a full house. People pay enormous amounts of money to get in. The tickets in London for the South Africa Tests cost £100 - not rupees and not rands but pounds. That is a huge amount of money. But we are the only country in the world who can sell out Tests.

MM: Heshan writes in from New Zealand and he wants to know who will be the best "hitter" of the ball in the next few years now that Adam Gilchrist is gone and Matthew Hayden and Sanath Jayasuriya won't be playing for too long.

GB: The ones at the moment are the two Indians, [Mahendra Singh] Dhoni and Yuvraj Singh. In Australia you've got [Andrew] Symonds, and New Zealand has their wicketkeeper, [Brendon McCullum].

I think somebody will just come along because it is really like baseball: hit it; stand and deliver. I mean, all the rules are for the bowlers. They have to bowl in certain areas. If it is slightly wide of leg stump or more than a foot and a half outside off stump, it is a wide. If you bowl a short ball, you're allowed one an over. So the whole thing is like the ball has to arrive in a certain area. For people who can set themselves and who are powerful and can hit the ball, it is really like baseball for them. It is not the same skill as batting in a Test.

MM: Faisal Cheema writes in from USA and he says that in the last 20 years or so we have seen some excellent fast bowling partnerships like Curtly Ambrose and Courtney Walsh, Wasim Akram and Waqar Younis, Shaun Pollock and Allan Donald, and Glenn McGrath and Jason Gillespie. Who in your opinion has been the best fast bowling partnership?

GB: Fast bowlers are a thrilling sight. I think Pollock and Donald were very good, but as much as I love Pollock, he is not going to hurt you bowling a fast-medium pace. That is the thing about fast bowling. McGrath was a great bowler; Gillespie was a good bowler.

I will have to go with Ambrose and Walsh because both of them were fantastic bowlers. Also the two Ws - I liked Akram and Younis. They were fast, they could hurt you, they were a thrilling sight, and they just got wickets. Waqar at his peak was actually getting wickets quicker than anybody in the modern era. It was so thrilling to watch him with his little legs pumping and running in as he got the big swerve with the old ball. Wasim could bowl over the wicket or around the wicket. His bowling was fantastic. I liked the two Ws, to be honest.

'Mahendra Singh Dhoni is one of the hitters of the future' © Getty Images

MM: And now, Geoffrey, to the question that you've chosen as the best one that has come in for you this week. It is from Jonathan in the UK. He wants your views on the new Twenty20 tournament unveiled by the ECB. Do you support the move to do away with the Pro40 Tournament to make way for the English Premier League?

GB: Well, I agree with getting rid of the Pro40 Tournament, not necessarily to make way for the EPL but because it plays no part now in world cricket, where we have Twenty20, 50-over and Test cricket.

I played in the first John Player League, which was a 40-over tournament, in England in 1968-69. It has been going on for 40 years and when it started it was new and exciting, and it was played on a Sunday, when no other games were played. So it has been good because it was a novelty. It is a little bit like the ten-pin bowling craze we had in England - that came and went.

That may even happen to Twenty20, because I don't support the move to have two Twenty20 tournaments. One is surely enough. It is overkill to have two in England. It's barmy. The administrators, quite frankly, see Twenty20 as a pot of gold. So now they are not satisfied with one pot of gold, they want two pots of gold. They are greedy. But what may happen is that we will get too much of Twenty20. It will become a surfeit; everybody will get fed up with it because they would have had too much after a while. Instead, if we integrated it with 50-over cricket and Test cricket, it could be here for a long time. It could be a great boon to the game to get families there, watching for three hours. But I think, like everything, if you get too much, you get fed up with it and you want to move on to something else.

In England, our best months for sunshine - late, sunny evenings and good weather - are June, July and August. I worry that they are going to take the whole of June for Twenty20 cricket. In that whole month there is not going to be any proper cricket played - no Tests or anything - just Twenty20. I think they are crazy.

MM: Well, that's a wrap on today's show. Thank you so much for your views Geoffrey.

To send your questions to Geoffrey Boycott please fill in our feedback form. Please select "Bowl at Boycs" from the Subject dropdown. He'll answer them right here in a fortnight.

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