'It hurts to see Tendulkar struggle'
Siddhartha Talya: Hello and welcome to another show of Bowl at Boycs. I'm Siddhartha Talya and speaking to me today from back home in Jersey is Geoffrey Boycott. A satisfactory tour of India for you, Geoffrey, would you say?
Geoffrey Boycott: More than satisfactory. I thought India would actually do a lot better than they did because history shows they are pretty tough to beat in their own country. And with England's past performances in the UAE against Pakistan, I thought it looked like - even with a moderate Indian side - an Indian win but we're all surprised. Very pleasantly as Englishmen.
ST: The big news here in India is that Sachin Tendulkar has announced his retirement from ODI cricket. Related to that is our first question of the day. It comes from Jatin in India. He wants to know: Was Tendulkar's retirement from ODIs the right call in your opinion? It'll help him focus on one format, which is Test cricket, and is that where you think India needs him more?
GB: I'm not sure it's about what India needs most, I think it's about what's best for Sachin. At this stage of his career, he's done well for himself and he's done well for his country. I think he has to do what's best for him because if he plays better, whatever format of cricket, it's going to help the team he plays for, which is India. That's the most important thing.
He hasn't played in the T20s for India for a while. ODI cricket, today, in the modern game, has become so physically demanding on the player's body, even 50 overs. As much as we all love Sachin, me included, he's never been an outstanding athlete in the field. He's never let anybody down, he's been competent, but nobody could ever call him a top outfielder. So, as he gets older, like all of us, me included, he just can't run as fast as a youngster, he can't dive around. Not that he was a great diver but when you do dive around in the modern day - as you are expected to; it's a modern phenomenon - he's going to hurt himself a bit more. As you get older, you're going to fall the wrong way, your body hurts more, it bruises easier - it's nature taking over.
It's very sad, it's a fact of life, that more of us, as we get older, we have to accept we just can't do what we used to do. There's no fun in accepting that, there's no fun in believing it. There's no fun in having to say it gets easier, because it doesn't get easier. It can't. So for him, it's tough, is one-day [cricket]. As wonderful as he's been, we can't live on the memories. He's 39, and so I think giving up is very responsible and sensible.
He can now focus on staying fit, playing as much zonal cricket as he can - and that's important, trying to get some runs in that, which shouldn't be too difficult. You know [in domestic cricket] they're not as good as him. Even now, when he's past his zenith, he's still better than them. And he needs form. Form means runs, runs means confidence, and then he can play against Australia in March. He desperately needs some runs against Australia in the Test matches in March, because I don't think any of us want to see him embarrass himself with more failures after failure. If he doesn't get runs against Australia, I'm reasonably confident that he'll see the light and call his own retirement. But you cross your fingers and hope he can get some.
He obviously still loves the game. I played county cricket till I was 46 and Test cricket till I was 41 and a half. So it is possible. But in the end, your past performances only count for so much. In the end, we all have to get runs or wickets. It's a runs and wickets-orientated game. You can only go so far living on past performances.
ST: Do you think he had a transformative role to play in ODI cricket? He has played more than 400 matches, has a very impressive average, has broken all kinds of records. What's Tendulkar's greatest legacy with relation to ODIs?
GB: Longevity more than anything. There have been other outstanding one-day cricketers, like there have been outstanding Test players. But it's the longevity, and playing in all countries and playing well. That's it. It's easy to get sucked into believing, when he's playing in the current day and doing well, that they're the best player ever. Hang on. That's being disrespectful to all the eras of cricket and all the players who've gone before. Sachin will be up there with the greatest in Test cricket and one-day cricket, but let's not forget there have been other players. So it's his longevity and playing exceptionally well all over the world.
ST: England managed to square the T20 series here, with Eoin Morgan, their stand-in captain, playing a very significant role in that game at the Wankhede, where he hit the last ball for a six. We have a question from Edwin in the UK about him. He asks: Would you say Eoin Morgan is a gifted limited-overs batsman for the innovativeness and audacity he brings to his batting? And is there a technical reason why he hasn't really made it yet in Test matches?
GB: I would agree with you. He is innovative, audacious, an exceptionally good one-day cricketer. But, look, let's get real and let's be honest. T20 cricket is exciting, it's fun, it's all the action packed into three hours. It's wonderful, quickfire entertainment, but really, it's not cricket's best form. And because the batsmen have to try and hit every ball for a boundary, all the players deep down know they have a good excuse for getting out. So there's a psychological thing there where you know nobody's going to blame you that much if you're trying to hit the ball out of the park, there are only 20 overs and you've all got a hit. So there's that excuse at the back of your mind.
In Test cricket, there are no excuses. There's a lot of time to play yourself in, go at your own pace, play your own style, do your own thing. Bouncers can be bowled at you in Test match cricket, so courage and technique are involved in playing the short-pitched ball. It comes into it more and more. Bouncers in one-day cricket, they give you a wide for. There's more technique, there's more concentration, more patience required to put together a big innings in Test cricket as opposed to a few big hits in one-day cricket. Now I'm not saying T20 cricket doesn't have some skill involved, but not as much as Test matches. And it doesn't have the same amount of character involved to do well in Test matches.
T20 is a batsman's game. The bowlers, a lot of the time, are cannon fodder, they just run up and people are going to smack it out of the park. Morgan is one of those players, and there are a few around the world, who are exceptional against many bowlers in T20. And he is very good in ODIs. But in Test matches he's been dodgy around off stump, that's the problem. He appears to open the face. It's not convincing that he knows where his off stump is. And that's the most vulnerable area in Test match cricket.
They bowl on off stump, you have to know what to leave and what to play. When they are bowling it really quick in Test match cricket, you've actually got to make six decisions in about a third of a second. You've got to decide, "Shall I play it, shall I leave it, shall I play forward, shall I play back, shall I block it, or shall I hit it for runs." So there are six things you have to do in a third of a second, and you have to get it right technically and you better be matched with the mental toughness to do that.
He's failed at times at pressure moments when he's had chances in Test cricket. He particularly looks vulnerable around off stump - it's just a fact of life. I see it, I've called it. He's had chances and he's not come up with the goods when it matters. Sadly for him, and he won't like it, Jonny Bairstow and Joe Root have got slightly ahead of him and they'll continue to move away from him in Test matches. That's my opinion. I believe they will because they've got more mental toughness about them; they've got better technique.
He will be better than them in T20. I don't think there is any doubt in my mind that he is the better of the three in T20. He is a terrific player in T20. When there is less pressure to fail, technique around off stump and against quick bowlers is not exposed.
ST: Coming now to Geoffrey's favourite question for this show. It's from Alan in the UK. Alan wants to know: Geoffrey, if you had to recap 2012 and pick out two highs and lows, what would they be?
GB: I can only tell you what I've seen in 12 months. I see all the England players, all the England matches. I don't see every single Test match in the world. I can only tell you of what I've seen.
Michael Clarke's performance, two [three] double-hundreds, is unbelievably fantastic.
But I have to tell you, because I watch England, the worst low this year was in Abu Dhabi, the fourth innings, England v Pakistan in a Test match. We finally played Monty Panesar with Swann and they bowled beautifully to get us into a position where we needed 144 to win. The ball was turning but it wasn't jumping or anything and it wasn't turning alarmingly, but it was turning. And we were all out for 72. The left-arm spinner took 6 for 25, we couldn't even play a left-arm spinner just bowling normal, turning, spin balls.
And when it came to Ajmal, 3 for 22, they couldn't pick him, they hadn't a clue, they had more a chance of picking a nose than picking Ajmal. And he was the one who terrified them, because they didn't know what the hell he was bowling. And when they played the left-arm spinner, they made a pathetic mess of it. They were playing with the pads, playing across the line to the leg side, against the spin, they were sweeping off the stumps because they couldn't pick the ball. They didn't know which way to hit Ajmal and they were trying all sorts against the left-arm spinner.
ST: Abdur Rehman was the left-arm spinner.
GB: Abdur Rehman, that's him. He was unbelievable. Watching it, it was like in slow motion, like watching a terror movie. You thought, "Somebody's going to get a 30 or 40 and we're going to get home."
That was the low point because, remember, they were the best side in the world, supposedly No. 1 in the world. They lost all three Test matches and they deserved to lose all three. But the spinners didn't. The spinners did well. And the England batsmen let England down in all three Tests so badly that, when we think of that, us English people, we think [about] coming to India, we think, "It's going to turn, we're going to struggle here with the bat and it's not Monty and Swann we're worried about, and Jimmy Anderson, and we know they'll do well. But the batting…" And so we were surprised in India and we were surprised in Abu Dhabi when they played so awful.
One of the highs, I'd have to say Kevin Pietersen scored a brilliant 149 at Leeds in the first innings this year against South Africa. And the reason for that was the way he constructed his innings. He started the innings in a steady, compact, common-sense, sensible way, and he was playing against the best seam bowling attack in the world, with Dale Steyn, Morne Morkel, Vernon Philander, and Kallis to back them up. No question, Steyn is the No. 1 bowler in the world.
You could tell it was going to be spicy and tasty because there was always going to be something, there's going to be an edge when KP plays South Africa. Remember, South Africa let him go. They said he couldn't bat and he couldn't bowl. That's going to stick with you all your life. That's going to rankle deep down, isn't it? So you knew there was going to be a bit of a spiciness there, a keen edge to the contest between him and the South African bowlers. So in the second Test at Leeds, he played with a real mental carefulness. But then suddenly, when he got into about the 80s, he suddenly went berserk. He just decided to attack them, and he just went after them to dominate them and played a fantastic innings, just put them in their place as if they were medium-pacers. I have seen a lot of his innings and the only sadness is that we weren't able to win the match. It's always more special if you get a hundred and you win, or when you even save the match rather than you just get a hundred. But it was pretty good, it was a real high.
The second most-important high for me… I am a great believer in skill and character at cricket, all ball games. I think character is so important. There is a young man called Jonny Bairstow who I've been close to. His father was a good friend of mine and he went and took his own life when the kids were young. He has a sister, does Jonny. So I've helped with his mother, my wife has, we've been very close to the family as they've grown up. We've seen him grow and he's a wonderful cricketer. And he played the summer in the Test matches against West Indies. Through the summer he had a torrid time against Kemar Roach. Roach gave him a real working over, very much so in the Test matches before we get to the one I'm going to talk about.
He had a tough time with the bouncers. Roach hit him on the arm. He wasn't looking at the ball, he was getting himself in a little bit of a mess, and he knew he had to do something about it. He lost his Test place when South Africa came. England picked Bopara. And then at Leeds, they picked James Taylor in place of him, in the Test match where Kevin got this wonderful 149. But at Leeds, you remember, there was all the fuss about Kevin's texts and so forth, so Kevin was dropped for Lord's and just luckily, the Pietersen affair gave Bairstow another chance.
But there was going to be a huge personal battle for him. You had the best bowlers in the world, with Steyn, Morkel and Philander coming at him. You were going to get the short stuff, and rightly so. Everybody knew you're going to get more of it - the crowd knew, he knew. There's never a place to hide against fast bowlers when they've seen a chink in your armoury. And they came at him strong, and the time when he went in to bat, England were 54 for 4. They were chasing 309, they were in big trouble, they had two young kids playing, Taylor and Bairstow, no KP, and playing the best seam-bowling side in the world (and Lord's is a great place to bowl seam). He was up against it personally, and the team was in trouble. And he played out of his skin. He played unbelievable.
Roach had got him for 16 and 4 and 18 and made a mess of his technique, but that day, he ducked, weaved, looked at the ball, looked a different quality player. And he went on to make 95 and he batted even better in the second innings: he got 54, when England tried to chase down a total and didn't make it - they actually lost the game by 51 runs.
I have a personal interest, I admit that, from seeing the young man grow up in adversity, with his father doing an unfortunate, silly thing. But the kid can play. He's got a lot to learn about playing in India on slow, turning pitches, but he's not the only one that has to learn playing in India. But he played fantastic that day [at Lord's], and that, for me, was a great high, to see a young player in real difficulty against the quicks, and I mean real difficulty… to have the character, skill, the temperament, against the best seamers in the world, your team's in trouble and you personally are in trouble. And you've got to get out of it, and he did. That, for me, was the second high moment of the year.
And just to finish with, I have to say this because you asked me about two lows. My second low I haven't given you and I have saved it till last. It's about Sachin Tendulkar. I had a great sadness and disappointment watching one of the greatest players of the world of cricket struggle and be a shadow of the iconic batsman he was. To me, Brian Lara and Sachin Tendulkar, two very different styles and two very special talents, have strolled the world of cricket in the last 20 years. They've been very special, they've achieved many things and been way above other batsmen. Way above many of us other batsmen could even dream about. And he was making mistakes against England that he didn't make before.
Now we the public, that's you, me, those that love him, we haven't been used to seeing him fail time after time. We've occasionally seen a slight dip in form, everybody's career has that, but then we've seen him return with gorgeous, crafted centuries.
He is a lovely man. We've known him since he was a lovely boy. He's always had time for me. I don't bother him much but if I ever see him, he'll chat to me. He'll always come and say hello and we'll chat about things a little, as if I've never been away. If I ask him for anything, he always obliges. I care about him very deeply, like many of you. And his legacy to cricket will be very special. When you care about someone and you can see them struggling, you worry, you hurt for them. Not unlike many other people. I don't want to see him embarrassed, I don't want him to embarrass himself. So my New Year's resolution is: Sachin will play zonal cricket, he'll make some runs, he'll get into form, get some confidence and come back and make runs against Australia. I hope so.
ST: Let's hope for the best. That brings us to the end of the last Bowl at Boycs show for 2012. Grand plans for the holidays coming up, Geoffrey?
GB: No, just to be home and rest after being in India. Then, on the 8th of January I've got a special due in Sheffield, Yorkshire, as President of Yorkshire. We are going to celebrate our 150th anniversary. On the 8th of January, 150 years ago, in 1863, Yorkshire cricket was formed by some Sheffield people - not Leeds - at the Adelphi Hotel. That was knocked down some years ago and a snooker hall was built. So we're having a function in the snooker place to celebrate that great event 150 years ago. As the president, I shall be there, I should be there, I am going to be there and it's right I should be there to celebrate this occasion. Then I'm going to South Africa for a month's holiday.
ST: Wish you and all Yorkshiremen many congratulations for that special occasion. Thanks to our listeners for tuning in. Please don't forget to send us your questions using our feedback form and we'll join Geoffrey Boycott in the New Year. So, Merry Christmas, Happy New Year, happy holidays. Goodbye Geoffrey.