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Geoffrey Boycott on the allrounder's transformation, the state of women's cricket, and the genius of Garry Sobers
October 25, 2012
Siddhartha Talya: Welcome once again to Bowl at Boycs. I'm Siddhartha Talya. Joining me today from his home in Jersey, as he mostly does, is Geoffrey Boycott.
Morning, Geoffrey. Before we start off, a belated Happy Birthday.
Geoffrey Boycott: Thank you. Sixty plus 12 - it sounds better than 72, doesn't it?
ST: Or 72 years young, as many would say.
Geoffrey, we're in the middle of the Champions League right now. Yorkshire have been one of the sides eliminated so far. Have you been following the tournament closely?
GB: Yes, I have. I've kept abreast of it. I haven't watched every single ball but I've kept abreast of quite a lot of the matches. Quite honestly, it's a bit difficult for some teams. Take Yorkshire. Their main strike bowler Mitchell Starc plays for Sydney Sixers and he's probably as good as anybody in the world. He's got into the Australian side, is a wicket-taker up front, he stops you from hitting the boundaries when he bowls at the death; he's just a brilliant cricketer. We did have him in England. Then [David] Miller, one of [Yorkshire's] explosive middle-order batsmen, we couldn't have him. Apparently he's got to play for his club in South Africa so they wouldn't release him for that. Jonny Bairstow, he's an explosive player in one-day matches in the middle order, he's got an injury and had to go home and have some medical treatment to be ready for the tour of India. We lose three players there. The, Tim Bresnan, he has a slight injury and is rested and is an England player. But the three major ones - Bairstow and Miller in the middle order, and Starc to bowl… if we'd had everybody fit, we could have gone close.
I think we were as good as some of the other teams I've seen. I see one or two of the Indian teams who've looked pretty good with their international players, world-class Indian players in Tests and ODIs, but quite a few of the other players were, I'd say, very ordinary, just good league players. That's how the IPL runs: four overseas players, you can have as many as you want on your book but only use four of them. But some of the local Indian players are not very special; some of the international players are. So there's a big gap between the very best and the locals.
I think if Yorkshire had everybody, they could have gone close. It's hard for some sides who've got a player, who they use in their [respective] competitions, but when it comes to the Champions League, he plays for another one. It's difficult for some sides.
ST: We'll start today's show with a question on women's cricket. It comes from Owen in the UK. He wants to know: What's your take on women's cricket? Do you enjoy it? Do you ever think we'll get to a stage where it's a fully professional sport and what needs to be done to generate more interest or more revenue in order to reach that stage?
GB: I do enjoy watching our England [women's] team play. I've met one or two of the players and so it gives you an interest. But will we ever get to a stage where it is fully professional? The women's game? Ever is a long time, but I don't think it'll happen in my lifetime. I'm pretty sure it won't. But it might at some time, down in the future.
The England ladies, at the moment, [also] have to get jobs outside the game, although in the last few years a few girls have got coaching and teaching opportunities from the English cricket authorities and the Chance to Shine initiative. So it's helped them get a reasonable job and still get time off to practise and play.
I think everybody realises it's not easy to generate revenue or sponsorship for anything in this bad financial world climate. On top of that, you see that women in most sports find it difficult to compete for finance against the men. For example, you take women's golf, which is very talented, but there are less tournaments for women, there is much less money available for sponsorship, it does not attract the same amount of revenue or sponsorship from television, or even public attendance, as men's tournaments do. Why? I don't know, you work that out. I've not seen any market research on it, but maybe the higher percentage of watchers or the paying public are men. We seem to live in a male society. That's not necessarily right. It's not me saying it's good but I'm just stating an obvious fact.
Personally I'd sooner watch the women play golf than the men. I play golf, but we as amateur male golfers can learn a lot more from swinging the clubs at a slower rate and a slower tempo, just like the girls. That's because we amateur men cannot swing the club as fast as the professional men. Not with accuracy and control. But we should try and emulate the girls. I like looking at Paula Creamer a lot better than any of the men. She's just fantastic to me, she's my favourite. And so with the girls' game, they look good, they play well - but is it just because it's a male society?
ST: Well, Geoffrey, what we've been seeing over the last few years is that the women's World Twenty20, for instance, takes place simultaneously with the men's tournament, which is an initiative to boost visibility for women's cricket and get it more TV time. So that's one way to promote the women's sport and getting more TV audiences.
GB: That's true. In golf they've talked about how can we get more tournaments for women and more money involved. Maybe we could play the women's tournament straight after the men's, or before the men's on the same course. They've talked about it, because then they'd have all the advertising, the television [set-ups] would be there and so forth. But there must be other factors because they haven't done it.
I think there are things you can do, small things, but the question is the same: will they ever get to be fully professional? Will they ever get to generate the interest and revenue to reach that stage? And I can't see that in the next 15 years. After that, I don't know, things could change, but this economic situation in the world is not going to go away for a few years.
There are too many countries in a mess. Too many people, individually and countries, have spent more money than they actually earn. It seems to be a common denominator in the world that people have been spending on credit, with credit cards etc, which is money they don't have. So the world's in a bad situation. Countries you thought should be okay, like Spain, are in a mess. Look at England, how tough it is. The government has put so many rules now to stop people from spending. We're just stagnating, nobody dare do anything. Nobody's buying houses, nobody's selling houses, nobody knows they've got a bloody job next week. I don't see how that's going to help the women's cricket game make more money in the foreseeable future, I just don't see that.
ST: Our next question is from Abdul in Pakistan and it's about a player who is lovingly referred to by his countrymen as "Boom Boom". Shahid Afridi has transformed himself from a batsman who bowls to, now, predominantly a bowler who can bat. How and why has this transformation come about? Do you think he has neglected his batting, and have Pakistan lost out, in a way, since his batting has been in decline?
GB: It's a very good question. Pakistan have lost out with his batting deteriorating so badly. And he's one of my favourite cricketers. I love meeting him, not just watching him play. He's full of fun, he's talented, but his batting is so bad now, it's embarrassing. He can't think, he can't judge the length, and he's just a swiper of the ball. It's appalling to watch him bat. He bats like a tailender, and a bad one at that. It must be frustrating as hell, exasperating, annoying, to all his supporters, his friends, his captain - his captain must do his head in, trying to look after him. Everybody must be asking like you: how can all that talent in one man disappear? How can he lose it so badly?
|"I've not seen any market research on it, but maybe the higher percentage of watchers or the paying public are men. We seem to live in a male society. That's not necessarily right. It's not me saying it's good but I'm just stating an obvious fact"|
I don't know totally but I'll take a guess. In the early days when he was playing and batting well, he tended to believe his own publicity. People wanted him to hit big sixes, he expected to hit big sixes, everybody was raving for him, and he kept trying to oblige. And I think his ego got the better of him. He is a fantastic bowler, let me tell you. He is hard to pick. I thought he was a sensational captain when he did the job. So, whatever his faults, he still has some talent as a bowler. And I still love him. But it is totally exasperating and somebody needs to get hold of him. Whether it's too late, I don't know. But he's wasted an enormous talent at batting.
ST: Coming to Geoffrey's favourite question for this show, it's a long but interesting one from Ritesh in Germany. He says: From sheer statistics, Jacques Kallis is right up there with Garry Sobers. But statistics never tell the whole story, do they? Watching Shane Watson in the World Twenty20 made me realise something: he was a force while batting as well as bowling, opponents had to plan for both of his attributes.
Kallis was never in the same category - he will always be one of the classiest or best batsmen, with a good bowling arm. I was wondering if Sobers in Test matches was like Watson in T20s. Did opponents have to make plans for both Sobers' batting and bowling? Was he the go-to man in both these departments? I would love to have your views on this.
GB: It's a good question, a long question. But look, you are getting a bit mixed up with two different forms of cricket. Watson is a better T20 cricketer, but we didn't have T20 cricket when I and Sobers played, we had 40 overs. But in Test cricket, for me, there's no contest. Kallis has been outstanding. In modern-day cricket, he is the best since Imran Khan, Ian Botham, Kapil Dev and Richard Hadlee. He's by far the best allrounder, look at the figures or just watch him play. I make no apologies for saying that Kallis is a fantastic Test cricketer. Watson can't even touch him in Test cricket. I respect him, I know he's a good cricketer, but he can't touch Kallis in Test cricket. Kallis is not that special in T20, and Watson can be very, very good.
If you want to talk about Sobers, he was the best batsman I played with or against. We did try to plan for him. Occasionally it worked. But whenever you plan against a quality or great player or one of the best, your plans won't work all the time. They can't, that's why they are great [players]. They can think too, they have a special talent, they can work things out for themselves, they aren't stupid. They're not like Afridi, who we talked about. These guys are very talented, they're bright. They've got good minds. You might get them out with one plan, but they're not going to get sucked in twice.
Early on, when I played against Sobers, we did plan about him. He tended to stay back. By that I mean he doesn't come pushing forward. He'd stay back and come forward when it was pitched up, and he liked to go for the off-drive. And we used to try to bowl very straight and keep it tight, and don't give him anything to drive on the off side. And then when you've kept it tight for a bit, slip went wide, enticing him to drive, and when he'd go for it, he wouldn't get his feet moving quite to the pitch of the ball and he'd nick it. That happened occasionally. Then, other times, it would whistle to the boundary like lightning. Then he'd go on and make a big score. No need to plan for him about hooking, because he's the best hooker I've seen. He'd get on the back foot. He could hit it down, he saw it early. I can't remember him ever getting out hooking. He was a selective hooker, he would duck sometimes, not hit every ball.
Now Sobers with the new ball bowled pretty sharp with very dangerous banana inswing, and then he'd move one across you. But he was quite sharp. He wasn't military medium, he wasn't express pace like Michael Holding, [Colin] Croft and [Malcolm] Marshall. But he was sharp, let me tell you. He had this enormous amount of swing. If you were getting on the front foot too often to try to negate the swing, he had a pretty good bouncer that would keep you honest. He was lethal with the new ball.
Sobers' left-arm orthodox… well, it was okay. It was tight, quickish, a more defensive type of left-arm spin. He wasn't really a big attacking bowler, and that was the type of bowler he came in to Test cricket as, when he batted No. 8 [No. 9], in his first Test match for West Indies. He was a left-arm spinner. Then, if you think about his chinaman and googly stuff, it would bamboozle tailenders, lesser cricketers, because he'd spin it a lot. But I always thought that was a luxury part of his armoury. It was luxury bowling. He gave an odd, easy ball to hit, if you could pick him, and that's the key with all these spinners who are wristspinners. You've got to be able to pick them.
Sobers' bowling statistics are pretty good, but they are not extra special because it's impossible to separate all the figures of his bowling into the three categories of his bowling. If you looked at the fast, left-arm swing bowling, I think he was fantastic and deadly. But if you could separate them and find the luxury chinaman and luxury bowler, I don't think you'd see great figures. So you put them all together and nobody's been able to separate those bowling figures, but you'd see the difference. The seam and swing, he was pretty, pretty, good.
You know, he didn't bowl seam and swing until he went to Australia to play club cricket and play for South Australia in their Sheffield Shield, as it was then. He just picked up the ball, started bowling at the nets, played club cricket a bit and suddenly found that he had this lovely, live, natural body action that swung the ball. He was just a natural. He really was a natural.
He's a good man, a nice man, good guy. I'm privileged to have played against him and seen some of his best cricket with bat and ball. I played against him for England against West Indies, I played with him a lot for Yorkshire v Nottinghamshire, when he went there as the overseas professional. I love him as a fantastic guy, and he's the best cricketer I've ever seen and the best batsman.
ST: The best batsman you've ever seen, Geoffrey?
GB: Yes. Without a shadow of a doubt. No hesitation. I know what you're going to say - Sachin Tendulkar, Brian Lara, Vivian Richards, all fantastic and great. If I had to pick one, I'd pick [Sobers]. He had strong determination, ambition. He wasn't flighty. He didn't give you a chance. If he got in, he was a killer. He didn't give you a chance at all. And he could bat on all kinds of pitches. He really was a fantastic batsman.
ST: There you are. Thanks a lot for that, Geoffrey. That brings us to the end of this show.
Please don't forget to send us your questions using our feedback form, and we'll have Geoffrey back in two weeks' time, from a different location as we're told. Thanks for tuning in, and we'll catch up with you again soon.
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.
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