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'Age catching up with India's seniors'
January 10, 2012
Geoff Boycott on India's batting woes down under, the highs and lows of 2011, and England's chances in the UAE
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Rahul Dravid, Sachin Tendulkar and VVS Laxman in the field, Cricket Australia Chairman's XI v Indians, Canberra, 1st day, December 15, 2011
"Simply, old Father Time is catching up. It does to all of us." © Getty Images

Siddhartha Talya: Hello and welcome once again to Bowl at Boycs. I'm Siddhartha Talya. This is our first show for the New Year. I'm joined, as always, by Geoffrey Boycott, who's still in Cape Town.

Morning, Geoffrey. Good to talk to you again. First and foremost, wish you a very happy New Year.

Geoffrey Boycott: Thank you. I hope the New Year's going to be good for everybody, especially cricket. What I've seen over the last few months - there's been really good cricket throughout the world. The Test matches between South Africa and Australia, Sri Lanka v South Africa that I watched on TV, and India… there have been results, that's the key. We're getting results, and on decent pitches. It's not that the pitches are bad or that the bowlers are just enjoying a field day. No, there's enough there that if you bat well, you'll make runs and there's a bit in it for the bowlers.

So we're not getting boring, flat pitches which make for long drawn-out draws. We're getting good cricket with runs being scored, wickets going down, and for the public, there's been pretty good stuff around.

ST: Let's go over to our questions now. The first one comes from Nick in Australia. Unsurprisingly, it's about the series between Australia and India, where India have already gone down 2-0. The question is about Michael Clarke and his captaincy.

Nick says: Clarke seems to be enjoying his role as captain and Australia have had some success under his leadership. He's been in excellent form as well. Australia beat Sri Lanka, they drew with South Africa, and have now taken a 2-0 lead. Under Clarke, do they look like a team that can reclaim the top spot in Test cricket?

GB: Not quite. Australia, to me, are still building and still have problems with the batting. The opener Shane Watson is injured but he is very good. When he gets well and is fit to play, he's a good, solid player, has a good record and has played exceptionally well since he's opened. But nobody yet has cemented the other opening spot. They're trying Warner at the moment. They've tried [Phillip] Hughes. I'm not really convinced yet about either of them; that doesn't mean one of them might make it, but you can't honestly say you're convinced. They haven't settled into the opening spot like Simon Katich did. Katich was a very good player for them. They've got a new boy, [Ed] Cowan, and there's [Usman] Khawaja around, but none of them has really cemented a place. Khawaja has been in and out. The batting - that's the one thing isn't that good yet. It's got a bit of work to do.

The seamers have been a revelation. It's unbelievable how they found Pat Cummins. Pat swings it out but unfortunately he's got a stress fracture of the foot. James Pattinson - tall, hits the deck, very good. But just as Australia thought they had another good young one, he's gone down with a stress fracture.

Then they've got Mitchell Johnson, who's injured. He's never quite been the force they wanted, hoped or expected. His bowling needs bouncy pitches like Perth, where he bowled England out during the last Ashes series - the one Test the Aussies won. It bounced and he looked fantastic, whistling through off a length , past your chest, past your neck. He looked a different bowler, but other times he was pretty ordinary to poor. The Barmy Army, who went in with about 12,000, they got it right. When Mitchell came to field near them after bowling, they started singing: "He bowls it to the left, he bowls it to the right, Mitchell Johnson, he bowls a lot of…" And you can think of a derogatory swear word to rhyme with left and right. It was a banter; they didn't mean to be nasty to him. He smiled and got the message. But he is a bit all over the shop.

So the two youngsters who came in surprised us and got wickets and did brilliantly. It's a shame for Australia that they've got fractures. They've got these stress fractures and they don't heal so quickly. If they get them back, they've got two quality youngsters there to go with guys you know will give it everything. They've got plenty of fast-medium seamers, but you need that bit extra to get to the top and bowl people out. So they're still in progress, are Australia.

ST: And do you get the impression that Clarke is really enjoying his captaincy? He just got a triple-century, he's been in very good form with the bat...

GB: It always helps if the captain does well. If the captain is fighting for his place in the team, as a bowler or batsman, not making runs or not taking wickets, then it does go through the team, it is a bit deflationary, it doesn't help the team. So when the captain is playing well, whatever his role is, it gives him confidence to do the job well, to be positive, and I think from that point of view it's very good for Australia. But most people, when they come in as a manager of a football team or captain of a cricket team, usually they have a bit of a honeymoon period where things go well - there's an uplift in everybody. The test will come if he can keep it going.

ST: Moving to another important series that's going to kick off on the 17th of this month, between England and Pakistan in the UAE - we have a question about it, and it comes from Adarsh in India.

Adarsh asks: What do you make of England's chances in the UAE? Pakistan are a team on the rise, while England haven't played top-flight cricket for quite some time. They've been preparing hard. Some of them have trained in India, others went to the UAE quite early. Do you think Pakistan have an edge, given their recent form and their familiarity with those conditions?

GB: On paper, they do have an edge. They're playing well and they give everybody the impression, when I watched them on TV, that they are a united team. If that is true, if they are united, if they are going to play as a unit, then they are dangerous. I've always said that they have talented players. Many times there's too much infighting, by officials and players around the team, so it's always been a problem. But at the moment they look good.

The UAE pitches usually are pretty good for batting, usually take a bit of spin. Both teams are well equipped for that. England are taking Monty Panesar to go with Graeme Swann. But Pakistan are familiar with the UAE, they play there more than anybody else. It's got to be their home patch at the moment, with nobody wanting to go and play in Pakistan because of terrorism.

England will be a bit rusty after a good layoff but at least they'll be fresh. So Pakistan do have an edge and they should try to make it count in the first Test, when England are really rusty. No matter how many nets you have, how much physical practice you have, you need cricket in the middle, you need to bowl and bat in the middle. So as the series goes on, I expect England to get a bit better. The more overs the bowlers bowl, the more innings the batsmen get, they'll get better. But I hope England play Panesar with Swann. I hope they don't stick with three seamers and just one spinner, because they rarely ever play two spinners, and I hope they play them. Monty's quite a good bowler, Swann's a terrific bowler and has a good record since he's come in, and I'm looking forward to it.

I just hope the pitches are not so flat that we get five days of draw. Normally they turn a bit. Whatever we say about the quality of players, the 22 yards is the most important bit. It's what the groundsman produces. I'll say again: you can't play a good snooker or billiards match if it's a bumpy table. They need a flat table so they can pop the ball. We need a good cricket pitch which is fair to batting and bowling, to make a good Test match.

ST: Would there be any Pakistan player that you would single out as the biggest threat for England? Someone like Saeed Ajmal, perhaps?

GB: No, I don't think anybody is a significant threat. I don't think England are worried about anybody in particular. They've got to the point now that they're pretty confident about themselves. They're a very good side. They're a good, tough unit. They have character and ability. They're No.1 in the world. They didn't get there because they are lucky. They got there because they were good. And they'll intend to stay there. So don't think about them being frightened about anybody. They ain't.

ST: It's now time for a bit of a flashback to the year gone by. We have a question from Nathaniel in the UK about it. Nathaniel says: Looking back at 2011, what was cricket's biggest high and biggest low from that year? It was an eventful year - lots of fast bowlers breaking through, the 2011 World Cup in the subcontinent, the spot-fixing convictions, famous wins for New Zealand and Sri Lanka. What are your picks from the year gone by?

GB: The biggest high for me in 2011 was India winning the World Cup. That's not just because I'm talking to lots of Indians on ESPNcricinfo. The Indian team had modest bowling, terrific batting, and the players had the strength of character to pull it off in their own country. For me, Dhoni was absolutely fantastic. The reason: he wasn't in good batting form, had few runs behind his name, but to promote himself in the final, promote himself when he wasn't playing well, play a match-winning innings on a turning pitch, I thought that was fantastic. Everything about that match was good, exciting and thrilling about cricket. Gambhir played well too but Dhoni's effort and India's performance - they batted second, chased down a big total, the ball was turning, some of the top guys got out early, and you thought, "They're in trouble here"… to win the World Cup, whatever other Test matches or one-dayers you play, the fact is the World Cup is huge to win, and that's got to be my No.1, definitely, for the year.

"They're No.1 in the world. They didn't get there because they are lucky. They got there because they were good. And they'll intend to stay there. So don't think about them being frightened about anybody. They ain't" Boycott on England's chances in the UAE

The low was the spot-fixing. When spot-fixing reared its head at Lord's, the jail sentences in my opinion were too lenient for the harm and the stigma that it brought to cricket. Everytime there is a surprising result at the cricket, many people now are going to ask, "Was it fixed?" Instead, we used to think, before Hansie Cronje, before match-fixing, before the various Indian players were subjected to circumstantial evidence… when there was an unusual result, "That's cricket, that's the beauty of our game. One just can't be sure who will win." Now we have spot-fixing, match-fixing - it really hurts our game.

It makes us conscious, and subconsciously think, "Hell. Was that fixed? Was that real?" We start asking ourselves the question, and talking to friends. "What do you think about that? That was an odd result, wasn't it?" And we are asking ourselves now: "Was there some murky deed done?" We never used to think like that. And so, every time we get match-fixing or spot-fixing, the damage it does to cricket's name is so enormous. You can't even count it.

ST: Coming to Geoffrey's favourite question for this show, it's from Ashutosh in India. Right before the series, when we recorded our previous show of Bowl at Boycs, Geoffrey said that if the conditions in Australia were favourable for swing and seam bowling, the Indian batsmen might struggle. And true enough, that's happened and India are down 2-0.

Ashutosh wants to know: What are some of the technical flaws that you've noticed with the way India's batsmen have performed in conditions that have assisted fast bowlers a fair amount? The defeat in Sydney was India's sixth in a row away from home, and quite obviously the batting has been the big problem.

GB: First of all, the technical flaws are there for all to see. It's just that they are not used to pitches that bounce or swing and seam, because they don't get them in India. It's been that way forever.

If there's a bigger problem now, it's that the established big names, like Laxman, Dravid and Tendulkar are getting older. Simply, old Father Time is catching up. It's impossible to be as good in your late 30s as you were in your late 20s. We never like to accept it, me included, none of us. But reflexes, eyes, our bodies, just aren't as good. Sorry, it's nature. It's very sad but true that as you get older, every batsman can be wiser, more mature, use lots of experience and knowhow that they've gained in the game, but there is a slight decline in age. Eventually age will catch up to you.

Gambhir, for me, is different. For me, his technique has always been suspect if the ball moves around or bounces. For instance, Australia, England, South Africa - on these type of pitches, he's always going to have a problem. He'll get runs from time to time, but I just don't fancy him getting a lot of runs. It can and does cause him problems on these sort of surfaces when there's bounce and movement.

Michael Clarke walks off unbeaten on 329, Australia v India, 2nd Test, Sydney, 3rd day, January 5, 2012
Michael Clarke's Australia: still a work in progress © Getty Images

Sehwag - well, he's a flawed diamond. I'm sorry to have this to say to all his fans and supporters in Asia. On certain pitches, on certain days, he will mesmerise all us watching public. He'll thrill us to bits. His game is chancy, risky, outrageous and fantastic. You've got to say. When you watch him bat on his day and he's carving the opposition up, it's fantastic to behold. But I'll repeat this again: it's chancy, risky and outrageous. If the pitch is flat, doesn't bounce, doesn't move much, he's in his element. But on bouncy pitches, when it seams or swings, the bowlers fancy their chances, because he's giving them a chance. And they'll get him out cheaply.

Occasionally he'll succeed. And he won't change or adapt his game. He'll say, "Why should I? I do great. I play well." Indian supporters, for him, will accept him for what he is. Success and failure will go hand in hand, dependent on the type of pitches and the quality of bowling. He'll always give bowlers a chance, and if the ball is moving around a bit, and there is a bit of bounce, it will be more in their chances of getting him out than it will be of him bashing them for runs. You'll have to accept that when he goes abroad and plays on these sorts of surfaces, he's not going to be the force he is.

And the youngsters, people like Kohli, who I think is a very good player, have not come to terms with playing abroad. They look good in India; they don't look so special abroad. I've said before: they'll come through it. People like Kohli, if he's good, he'll learn and he'll adapt, because he is young enough.

But it's my view, that's all, and I can tell you I can only say this honestly: I love them all - Laxman, Dravid, Tendulkar. I know them personally, I've met them, they've been to my house for lunch. I love them dearly. But it's like all of us. You ask yourself out there: can you run as fast at 50 as you could at 20? The answer is no. And it's the same with us when we play cricket. You don't notice that age is catching up on you. You don't notice that you're not quite as quick on everything. You don't see everything quite as fast. You can't move your hands, body - your reflexes. It's a slow thing that catches up on us all. You can keep it at bay for quite a long time, through experience, knowledge, maturity, wisdom… but it will catch up with you.

ST: Geoffrey, there's been quite a bit of comment about India's struggling batting in Australia. A lot of ex-players have come out and said that one of the seniors should perhaps step aside and make way for a younger player. Do you think the time is right for that to happen?

GB: But which youngster? Which youngster is pushing? I haven't seen anybody. Kohli's playing, but he isn't making a million runs, is he?

ST: Someone like Rohit Sharma, who's part of India's Test squad in Australia, and is waiting for a chance.

GB: Well, that's up to them. When he gets in, he'll have to make runs. There's always going to be a bit of a turnover, you're right. But somebody else will have to make that judgement, I don't have to.

ST: Thanks a lot, Geoffrey. That's all we have for today's show. Please do send in your questions using our feedback form, and Geoffrey will be back in a couple of weeks to answer them. Until the next time, it's goodbye from all of us at ESPNcricinfo.

Comments: 4 
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Posted by Alex on (January 10, 2012, 17:49 GMT)

I do not think so. Big 3 are as good as before. They scored lots of run in australia before. Key was openers has to play atleast that time middle order comes ball will have no swing. So dravid , sachin , VVS can grind opposition. At present sehwag/gambhir failed , big 3 facing new ball in unfamiliar situation. Everyone is good only at certain conditions. There is no one batsman who can play in all situation. if you are not under pressure , its easy to bat. if you have good bowling unit , batting unit will never be under pressure. it is just that simple. India always under pressure because indian bowling is kinda impotent. So they rely openers to give decent start. When that fails , team fails. It is as simple as that. India do not need sehwag to draw the game. India do need sehwag to win the game. So india have to make choice. May be move him to middle order and ask dravid to open. Key is gambhir has to play well also.

Posted by   on (January 10, 2012, 12:19 GMT)

I disagree with Geoffrey on certain thoughts. If the young Indian cricketers are performing well there is a reason for the aged and experienced players to move way for them, which is not happening. To my thoughts what the Indian board has to do is reduce the number of International series played in India and leave a gap between each series, send these young cricketers like kohli, Raina, Ghambir, Rohit Sharma to Austraila, SA and England to adapt to their conditions(bouncy and pacy wickets) like what they did to Zaheer Khan and Sreesanth. This will help Indain Cricket in the long run.

Posted by Prajith on (January 10, 2012, 11:18 GMT)

@Shaktiiman,... Plz understand what Boycott said.... The seniors are declining and they cannot bring again the performances of the past.... They are better than a Kohli or Rohit now only because of their past exp (100 - 150 tests).... Since decline is confirmed you should start building for future.... Remember VVS got around 20 Tests before he sizzled in Sydney.... If we start now we can build a new team within 2 years

Posted by Darshak on (January 10, 2012, 4:43 GMT)

I would not agree with you Geoff that ageing batsman are the issue. If you look at the scorecard, it is the Aged batsman who scored and young ones have struggled. Virat-The next big thing in India's cricket has showed how hopeless he is. Gambhir - Looks like even Sachin's son would bowl him out first bowl and keeps poking at the bowl going outside off. Sehwag- Even after being in the game for more than a decade, doesn't move and doesn't understand the importance of the situation and we can't keep tolerating it saying that's his style. He is a senior and has to understand the importance. Dhoni - thinks this is a T20 and goes defensive then being aggressive to save the boundries against Pattinson and Siddle. If Clarke would have scored 400 runs and broken Lara's record, I would have said India should stop playing cricket. He does not deserve it. If Punter or Huss scored it, I would accept it. You're right on getting everyone's defect but agree that older can't leave when new can't play.

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