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'Best modern-day captain? Michael Vaughan'

Geoffrey Boycott on the art of captaincy and the need for day-night Tests (09:58)

November 29, 2007


Bowl at Boycs

'Best modern-day captain? Michael Vaughan'

November 29, 2007

'Captaincy for me is about knowledge and about understanding the game and your players, and getting them to do what you want. But it is also about intuition' © Getty Images

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Akhila Ranganna: Hello and welcome to Bowl at Boycs, the show where all your cricket queries are answered by none other than Geoffrey Boycott. How have you been doing, Geoffrey?

Geoffrey Boycott: Very good, thank you. The weather down here has been either very hot or it has been raining.

AR: Lots of Test cricket action happening at the moment. Sri Lanka and New Zealand have lost quite badly in their Test series, but India have beaten arch-rivals Pakistan in the first Test played in Delhi. Have you been following any of the action, and were there any performances that stood out for you?

GB: Yes, I have been keeping track of those games and I am very pleased for Anil Kumble, India's new Test captain. I thought he would get the job. He's a pretty sound guy with a good cricket brain and he's also a very good performer. I didn't think that Sachin Tendulkar - although there was pressure on him - would take the job.

AR: You've spoken about Kumble's captaincy and the first question that we have is related to captaincy.

Shoaib Malik's captaincy in the first Test against India has come under fire. Rizwan and Shazad write in with similar queries, and they want to know: what should be the criteria for choosing the captain of a team? And in your opinion, who are the three best captains in modern-day cricket?

GB: Well, I couldn't pick three. Michael Vaughan is the best captain for me, without a shadow of a doubt. [Ricky] Ponting always looks good, but then he has a pretty easy job because he's had the world champions to captain. They [the Australian team] are so talented that whether it is one-day cricket or Test cricket - irrespective of whosoever is the captain - Australia would do well. Ponting is fairly sound at the job, but he was found wanting in England in 2005, when he couldn't get the better of England, and Vaughan out-captained him.

Captaincy for me is about knowledge and about understanding the game and your players and getting them to do what you want. But it is also about intuition. Sometimes you just have to have a feel for things. Almost anybody in the team can make 80% or more of the decisions that you make as a captain. But in the other times [the remaining 20%], it's about having a feel for the game and nothing else. I think Anil Kumble will do pretty well.

AR: There you have it: the feel for the game is critical. The next question that we have for you comes in from Michael. He thinks that most, if not all, international batsmen have a batting plan. He wants to know: what you would consider to be a good batting plan? What plan did you have yourself when you went out there into the middle?

GB: Well, first of all, Michael, I don't think every player has a batting plan. If you see some of the shots that they play, you would think that they haven't got a brain in their head. Some of the shots that Pakistan played in the second innings in Delhi against India weren't smart. They got themselves in a very good position and then there was some very poor shot selection.

From my own point of view, what I would do as an opening batsman - which was very important because you would then have a fair idea of what you were going to face, first up - was study the pitch and try and get the feel of it.

In the old days, if you were playing at Brisbane, or Perth or even the old Kingston pitch in Jamaica, they were very quick and bouncy, so you were looking to play back, not forward. If you are playing in the subcontinent, the pitches are flat, the bounce is barely stump-high. So certainly, after a couple of days, you don't want to get caught on the back foot - unless the ball is very short - as otherwise the ball will die on you; you would look to get forward.

Just give some thought to the pitch that you are going to play on.

There is a dearth of quality bowling. There are a lot of decent bowlers around but when it comes to the true, really high-quality bowlers, you don't have enough to count on one hand

There are three lengths in cricket - the full length that you play forward to, the short-of-a-length that you play back to, and then there is the in-between length. It's playing the in-between length that depends a lot on the surface that you are playing on. If it's a bouncy surface, play back to the in-between length, else you will get one straight in your Adam's apple. If it's a pitch that has low bounce they you need to get forward so that the ball doesn't die on you.

You also need to study the bowlers and think about the areas that you feel are good areas to score off them. You also need to think about those areas which are awkward to play, where you could get out playing. You need to do a bit of homework in the head.

But you also have to be aware that you can't plan it totally. Even if you have studied the bowlers, you have to be able to adapt. That is the keyword. You need to adapt to the situation very quickly.

AR: Adaptability is the keyword, says Geoffrey Boycott.

We now move from batting to bowling, and Dattatreya writes in saying that we have seen many great bowlers in the past operate in partnerships: Wasim Akram and Waqar Younis, Dennis Lillee and Jeff Thomson, Glenn McGrath and Shane Warne, and [Muttiah] Muralitharan and Chaminda Vaas to some extent, However, in recent times we do not see too many such sustained partnerships coming through. Why is that?

GB: I think, plainly, because there is a dearth of quality bowling. There are a lot of decent bowlers around, but when it comes to the true, really high-quality bowlers, you don't have enough to count on one hand.

AR: Jeremy writes in with a question on something that's been in the news of late. Cricketers seem to be having a lot of problems with selectors: Marvan Atapattu and Andre Adams have publicly criticised their selectors. The BCCI has issued a seven-point diktat, imposing a gag order on its selectors. What do you think seems to be going wrong with the selectors? Are their priorities getting mixed up?

GB: I think it's two things. One, a lot of the people who are appointed selectors are political appointments. For a long time in India you have had a situation where you had to have one selector from the north, one from the south, one from the east and one from the west, and a lot of people felt that they looked after players from their own zonal areas. But that's not a smart way to pick an international side. That has been going on and still goes on, even today.

The other thing is that some of the best players who could help with the national side are not allowed to be involved in the official sector - whether it's selection or administration at the top - if they have jobs, like working in the media. We have a rule in England - you cannot sit on any major committee if you earn a professional living from the media. As much as I want to help England, I cannot. You're not allowed any influential position. So what you get [in the committees] are the second-raters - the people who are not good enough to do television, radio and newspapers. Also, the people who have good businesses don't want to get involved, and so what you then get is the third lot.

AR: John writes in saying that Stuart MacGill didn't have a great series against Sri Lanka - he struggled with injury and rhythm. He is now in a race against time to get fit for the Boxing Day Test against India. Do you think he's past his prime? Should Australia now look beyond him?

GB: They [Australia] cannot look beyond him. They don't have too much. The problem is there is a big dearth of spinners in the world, just like there is in Australia since Warne retired; and that's why there is a race to get MacGill fit - because they do not have anybody else.

AR: The next question that we have is related to the England-Sri Lanka series that's about to start. Ruchira says that though England had a very good one-day series in Sri Lanka earlier this year, do you think they can challenge Sri Lanka in the Test arena?

Geoffrey Boycott: "If you do not know what the hell is coming out of his [Muralitharan's] hand, then you will have a problem scoring runs" © AFP

GB: Well they can challenge Sri Lanka - any team can. In a two-horse race you can never be sure. But [beating] Sri Lanka at home is tough.

I think batting will be key for England. If they cannot put runs on the board, then there's nothing for the bowlers to bowl at. So England have to bat really well, and there's a big question mark over their batting.

Secondly, anytime [a team] plays Sri Lanka, they have to play Murali and [Chaminda] Vaas. You have to be able to read Murali, in particular, or find a method to play him, because he will bowl 40% of the overs if he is fit. If you do not know what the hell is coming out of his hand, then you will have a problem scoring runs. Vaas is an old campaigner; though he's getting to the end of his career, he is a smart bowler. He will bowl wicket-to-wicket on low-ish surfaces and he is a big threat with the new ball, especially with his tendency to effect lbw decisions.

I also think two warm-up matches are not enough. That is the modern way of doing it - four or five days of nets and two matches. But if you don't get runs in the two games, then you're struggling. I'd want at least three warm-up games - that is my opinion but I'm old-fashioned.

AR: The final question on today's show is the one that you have picked as the best one that came in and it is from Karthikeyan. He wants to know: what can be done to bring crowds back to Test cricket? He had gone for the India-Pakistan Test in Delhi and the stands were only half-full. Even in Australia, during the Sri Lanka-series, crowd presence was meagre. What do you think the ICC should be doing to correct this?

GB: Well, I don't think we should wait for the ICC. I think the national boards of all the countries should take responsibility. The pace of life has changed. [Earlier] an India-Pakistan Test would be sold out twice over and you would not be able to get a seat. But people today have jobs and they do not want a Test match to last five days.

First of all, I would recommend four-day Tests. I would try to increase the over-rate, because people want to pack more into life, and I would play day-night Tests. Kerry Packer tried it in 1977-78 and '78-79. He had a few Tests that were played at night and they got good crowds. I think it is time the administrators did something about this.

India is one of the places to try it [day-night Tests] because their board is forward-looking. It can do whatever it wants: it is wealthy and powerful and it can get crowds in at night. I think they should start playing Tests from 2pm till 10pm.

AR: Well, Karthikeyan, hope you've got your answer.

Don't forget to send in your questions using the form below. Geoffrey will be answering them right here on Cricinfo Talk in a fortnight. Until then it's me, Akhila Ranganna, signing off.

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