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'New Zealand will struggle for a while'

Geoff Boycott on Pietersen's lack of confidence, Clarke's potential as captain, and whether comparing cricketers across eras is fair (14:46)

October 28, 2010

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Bowl at Boycs

'New Zealand will struggle for a while'

October 28, 2010

Michael Clarke checks his mobile phone during a break from training, Mohali, September 30, 2010
"I like Clarke as a batsman but he doesn't step out and say he's going to be 'Wow'." © Getty Images

Akhila Ranganna: Hello and welcome to Bowl at Boycs. I'm Akhila Ranganna and joining me, as always, is Geoffrey Boycott, all set to answer the questions that have come in for him. First up we have a question that has been sent in by Rahul from Nepal and Mark Jones from Ireland, and it has to do with the ICC's recent proposal to limit the number of teams in the 2015 World Cup. Both say cricket is keenly followed in their respective countries and are very disappointed with the proposal. They feel teams like Afghanistan, Ireland and Nepal may now never play the World Cup, and consequently Tests as well. What do you think of the ICC's suggestion? Is it somewhat demotivating?

Geoffrey Boycott: I agree with them, I think it's a poor idea. The lesser teams need something to aim for. They need ambition, they need a goal. And the ICC, at the stroke of a pen, have taken that away.

I do also believe that the ICC needed to limit the number of games and the length of the World Cup, which is far too long. Once it goes on for too long, people get fed up with it. I would have included two minnows but I would have found a formula to reduce the matches and the length of the tournament. Surely that's simple.

It's better for the minnows to play the top teams in ODI cricket than Tests, because they can't match them. Look at the success story of Afghanistan, who came to Jersey three years ago, where they won the World Cricket League Division Five, went to Tanzania for Division Four and won, went to South America and won, lost to Canada in the final of Division Two and went to the Caribbean for the World Twenty20.

Sadly, however, we shouldn't be surprised, because the ICC doesn't listen to too many ex-players. It has a body of players helping it and they take no notice.

AR: Up next is a question from Dattatreya, who's written in from Singapore. He wants to know what you think of Michael Clarke being the next full-time captain of Australia. He says Clarke has been earmarked and groomed for the job for some time and he has a lot going in his favour, but there are concerns over whether he has the depth of character and toughness to lead one of the best sports teams we have seen in recent times. Is he ready for it, or is he going to get the job simply because there is no one else better than him?

GB: Personally I think it's a mistake to talk about the vice-captain or an assistant to the manager who is going to get the job. It's a very bad mistake.

Clarke may get the job because selectors think there is no one else and/or they think he's good for the job, but personally I've never believed in grooming young players or the next player for captaincy. For me, you have it or you don't. I also believe that a lot of vice-captains have been good at being second-in-command but not at being captain. They don't necessarily step up to the plate to make good captains - they just don't.

Look at Marcus Trescothick. He was vice-captain to Nasser Hussain. He didn't step up. Michael Vaughan got the job. England made the right choice - Vaughan was excellent at it.

Why don't you just focus on the guy who is captain? When a captain goes, somebody will come out and say "Pick me, I'm the right man for the job." I also believe that when you're talking about grooming somebody, it takes the focus of attention away from the team. You talk about the incumbent captain, Ricky Ponting, and then the guy who will take over from him, and it's a story that keeps on running and the team can do without it.

AR: Just as a follow-up to what you've said, do you personally think Clarke has it in him to be captain? And given Australia's performance in India, there have been calls for Ponting to step down and focus on his batting. Do you subscribe to that view?

GB: No. Ponting is still a good batsman. Let's get it right. He's getting older and is not quite as good as he was. That's nature, there's nothing you can do about that. But as you get older and you're reflexes, maybe, slow down a little bit, what you do then is live on your experience, knowledge and maturity - call on all that to make up for a little loss in reflexes.

Maybe after the Ashes he and the selectors will reassess his position, but that will depend on how well or how poorly he's done against England in that series. People focus too much on age, whether it's a job in television or playing sport. What matters is, can you do the job, get wickets and score runs? Ponting is a good player now, maybe not quite as good but certainly as good as some of them in the team.

I think Clarke will be the next captain because I don't see much else. Maybe somebody will come on the scene. He doesn't thrill me. I like Clarke as a batsman but he doesn't step out and say he's going to be 'Wow'.

 
 
"Pietersen's first couple of Test innings in the Ashes are so vital. If he makes runs the whole dressing room will rise, his confidence will be up and he'll be ready to take on the world. But if he fails, it will dispirit him and he could have a deflationary influence on the dressing room
 

AR: From Australia, we move on to a question concerning New Zealand. It's from Brij, writing in from Bangladesh. He wants to know what went wrong with New Zealand in Bangladesh and what is the way out for them from this crisis, having lost 0-4 in the ODI series. Brij wonders if they should bring back experienced players like James Franklin or Jamie How prior to the World Cup.

GB: First of all, you have to face facts. New Zealand is a small nation, about five million people living in the most beautiful country. I admire them immensely. Of all the countries, they have punched way above their weight, what they were supposed to, with only so many people. They've so often produced such wonderful teams and cricketers - like Richard Hadlee, Martin Crowe and lots of others.

What you've also got to remember is that you have spinning, slow pitches in Bangladesh. Bangladesh are no mean performers in their own country, they're comfortable on their own pitches. They've done quite well there. It's when they go abroad and the pitches are different that they are found wanting.

At this moment New Zealand have a lack of quality compared to other periods in their history. They'll be back at some stage but I wouldn't get my knickers in a twist over a loss in Bangladesh, with new young players and a period where they don't seem to have many good players. New Zealand are going to struggle for a while. It'll change.

AR: New Zealand are touring India for a Test and ODI series starting next month. How do you see them shaping up for that series?

GB: They'll struggle; they are bound to. What's important, however, is: will India play their full side? If they do, and they're fit, New Zealand will struggle. India are a tough lot. They beat Australia and they're a handful for England, South Africa or anybody. They are a tough team at home. Sport sometimes throws up funny results. If it didn't, we wouldn't turn up to play. But you would say, looking at them, it should be a piece of cake for India.

AR: Our next question concerns the Ashes. Specifically Kevin Pietersen. It's from Marshall in Sussex. He says Pietersen is in the news again with his disappointing returns in South Africa, where he's playing first-class cricket in preparation for the Ashes. He goes on to say that former Australia coach John Buchanan suggested that Pietersen could be a potentially divisive influence [in the England team], though this was rubbished by Andrew Strauss. Ponting has gone on to say that one of the problem areas for England could be Pietersen's form. How grave is the problem?


Brian Lara has a chat with Garry Sobers in the nets, Kingston, March 9, 2004
"Lara and Sobers need to be judged in the era they played" © Getty Images

GB: Ponting's comment is more accurate. KP's form is a problem. His lack of runs affects his confidence, as it does all of us. When you lack confidence, it eats away at your mental attitude. KP has always been full of himself, full of confidence to the point of arrogance. Nothing wrong with that. A lot of great players have had this kind of confidence and belief in themselves. Having that belief has helped him attack the bowling, feel superior, and helped him be positive with his thoughts and his play. That has been his strength. It's part of his make-up. For quite a while now, that's been missing. Ever since he came back from that knee injury, he's not been the same. Hence he looks a shadow of his best form.

Pietersen's first couple of Test innings [in the Ashes] are so vital. If he makes runs the whole dressing room will rise, his confidence will be up and he'll be ready to take on the world. But if he fails, it will dispirit him and he could have a deflationary influence on the dressing room. It'll be quite interesting to watch what happens. He's not in the best frame of mind and there's no point in hiding it.

Buchanan, I think, is talking rubbish. I don't see Pietersen as a divisive influence. In all eras, when you have teams, in all countries, there are certain individuals who are characters and are different from the others. Pietersen is different. I've never known or heard of Kevin doing anything against the team's policy or interest, and when he plays well, he's a big asset to the team. But he's definitely his own man. What's wrong with that? People go for a drink; he doesn't. Maybe he goes home, like I used to. When he's actually in the dressing room, with the players, ready to play for England, I've always heard of him being up for the challenge and up for the team ethos.

AR: It's time for the question that Geoffrey has picked as the most interesting one for the fortnight. It's from Ishant Bhattacharya, who has written in from India. He wants to know if you think a rating in a recent survey in an Australian newspaper, which says Sachin Tendulkar is the best ever, above Don Bradman, is something you agree with.

GB: No, I don't, don't be silly. There were no ODIs when Bradman played. So when we look at all of Tendulkar's fantastic achievements in ODI cricket, we need to remember people like Jack Hobbs, WG Grace, Victor Trumper didn't play the same format. You can't level that at someone like Bradman. He didn't play any, so we can only judge him on Test matches.

For me, in the last 25-30 years, Tendulkar and Brian Lara have been the best batsmen since Garry Sobers and Viv Richards. Tendulkar and Lara have been way above the rest and there have been some fine players like VVS Laxman, Rahul Dravid, Jacques Kallis...

Sobers played 93 Tests and one ODI and Richards played 187 ODIs and 121 Tests. So do we rate him better than Sobers because he didn't play many ODIs? That's nonsense. You have to judge them in the era they played, how much cricket was around etc. Was Richards better than Sobers? Not for me. Garry's the best batsman I've seen in my career. But there are many West Indians who have seen him who will tell you that Richards and Sobers aren't the two best West Indian batsmen. They'll tell you it was George Headley - "the black Bradman" - from Jamaica, who played only 22 Tests and no ODIs.

So what do we do? We're also coloured by what we see, by the present time. It's very easy to forget people who played years ago, whom we never saw. I never saw Bradman bat but I have read loads of books about him. You shouldn't rate players purely on the amount of Tests or ODIs they've played or whether you saw them recently or not. People ought to stop writing such rubbish. Maybe they do it to get people like Ishant to write to me and ask me for my opinion. You wonder that's why they do it in newspapers.

AR: Thanks so much for your views. That just about does it on this show. You can send your questions in to Geoffrey Boycott using our feedback form and he'll be back in a fortnight's time to answer them. Until then, it's goodbye.


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