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'Leadership changes shouldn't hurt Sri Lanka'

Geoff Boycott on the best-led teams in the World Cup, Yorkshire's chances in the County Championship, Australia's selection debate and how to improve one's game on the off side (17:35)

Producer: Siddhartha Talya

April 14, 2011


'Leadership changes shouldn't hurt Sri Lanka'

April 14, 2011

Kumar Sangakkara watches as MS Dhoni and Yuvraj Singh join in an embrace mid-pitch, World Cup 2011, Mumbai, April 2, 2011
'Tough times ahead for Sri Lanka? Shouldn't be' © Getty Images

Siddhartha Talya: Hello and welcome to Bowl at Boycs. I'm Siddhartha Talya and joining me as always in Geoffrey Boycott, who's back in the UK.

Morning Geoffrey, we are recording this close to a couple of weeks after the World Cup and there already is a lot of cricket underway. Bangladesh played Australia, the IPL has begun, so has the County Championship. Do you think it's all happened a little too quickly. Speaking from the perspective of a fan and an observer of the game, do you think we could have done with a longer break, particularly after such a major tournament?

Geoffrey Boycott: I think whenever you have something nice and good, as the World Cup was, you eventually need a break from it. It's like having your favourite dinner, you can't keep having it every night as it gets boring. I think most countries will be happy they're having a break. India is different. There are so many people there, more than a billion, that those who missed out on the World Cup can go watch the IPL. It's probably the only country in the world where you have a six-week IPL after the World Cup and it'll still be a success. But I'm happy I'm home. The weather has been brilliant, we've had sunshine, it's been like summer. I've been out in the garden, and am sleeping in my own bed and eating my own food so I'm pretty happy and relaxed about it.

ST: We move on to our questions now. The first one comes from Rajesh in India. It's to do with MS Dhoni, who led India to that famous win in the World Cup final. Rajesh asks: How much of an influence do you think Dhoni had on India's victory in the World Cup, and was India the best-led team in the tournament?

GB: Did he have an effect on the Indian team? Yes. I think he's had a brilliant effect over them for a couple of years. He is doing the hardest job in cricket, that of a wicketkeeper-batsman. And he's keeping as well as batting pretty well. He's the right sort of character for the Indian mentality. He doesn't shout and carry on. Other countries may need somebody who could lift the players by shouting here and there and being emotional like Shahid Afridi is for Pakistan. But with India, it is better to have this calm influence.

Also, we must not overstate it. Dhoni's done a good job but it's not just him. Remember, India have a very good team and an excellent batting unit. Certainly, in the final, his innings with Gautam Gambhir played a major influence in winning the match but we must not forget that throughout the tournament, Yuvraj Singh, Sachin Tendulkar and Virender Sehwag contributed. Zaheer Khan was brilliant, I thought Harbhajan Singh bowled well, even though some people weren't satisfied with him because he didn't take a bundle of wickets. He bowled at the death when it was very difficult, I thought he was tremendous. The fielding of the two young kids, Virat Kohli and Suresh Raina, lifted the Indian team. The fielding, otherwise, had been fairly modest, to put it nicely, but those two were superb and lifted everybody else. So don't overestimate Dhoni's efforts, but give him credit.

Was he the best captain in the World Cup? That's difficult. I'd say somebody on par was Daniel Vettori for New Zealand. He doesn't have as much talent to play with. Not to say they are a poor team but Vettori doesn't have the extra-special players that New Zealand had in the past, like Martin Crowe or Richard Hadlee. He got everything out of every player, he knew when to attack in a low-scoring game and when to defend. I thought he did brilliantly and captained very well. He's just retired from that because it does tire you out and wears you down after a while, having to look after ten other people and yourself. It's not that straightforward. But he did as good as anybody.

ST: Our next question comes from Charlie in the UK, and it's to do with Sri Lanka and some of the changes in their leadership following the defeat to India in the World Cup final. Kumar Sangakkara has stepped down as captain, so has Mahela Jayawardene from his vice-captaincy while the selection committee has resigned. Charlie would like to know if that was the right step to take, given that Sri Lanka had done pretty well in the World Cup, making it to the final. Angelo Mathews has been tipped as a future captain. What do you make of him, and are there tough times ahead for Sri Lanka?

GB: I don't think we should always read into resignations too much. As I just mentioned earlier, it is a tiring and time-consuming job to be captain and mentally exhaustive looking after others. You're trying to do a good job at the same time to a very high standard, like Jayawardene and Sangakkara, who to me is among the top three batsmen in the world. I think moderate or average players find it easier to captain because they don't spend much time batting and don't spend a lot of time bowling. They're very modest at both than better players so they've got more time to spend on mental energy and thinking about things for ten other people. But if you're a major bowler or a batsman out in the middle all the time, it really is tiring, mentally more than physically. And after a while, you need a break, and that's what you need to read into this with Sangakkara and Jayawardene.

Mathews is a decent allrounder. He is in a pretty good position to take on the captaincy for a while because after bowling, he doesn't bat until lower down the order so he can shower, get changed while the openers get out. He can lay down, rest his mind before he goes out to bat at No.7. So it's easier for him.

Tough times ahead? It shouldn't be. They've still got two very good openers, they've got Sangakkara and Jayawardene playing, they've got Slinga Malinga, who's an excellent bowler, they've got Mendis the spinner.

The only question would be: have the Sri Lankan selectors and coaches prepared a couple of young batsmen? That is the key. If they haven't done that, it might hurt them a little bit because when you go past those top four, I haven't seen much else that's special. So they need a couple of young players. They will be coming to England in May and June, the ball will swing and seam a little. There will be good pitches but they need to have been working with some of their Under-19 and Under-21 cricketers to get them prepared for Test cricket. Other than that, I don't think it should hurt them unless people are genuinely injured. If that happens, then it will hurt them because there will be gaps where the great players were. But the main names I've mentioned, they're all still there intact. I don't see a problem.

"You don't want to go to Bangladesh and start off your captaincy with losses. I don't think there's anything game by sending new guys to Bangladesh who are not familiar with the conditions and they lose."

ST: Next up we have a question about the County Championship, and it comes from Jonathan in the UK. He wants to know if you think Nottinghamshire can defend their title. Also, how do you rate Yorkshire's chances? They have Adil Rashid, Andrew Gale and Ryan Sidebottom. Good enough to clinch it, you reckon? Who's your pick?

GB: Certainly in the season, sometimes rain plays a part in whether you finish all your matches. Let's take Notts first, yes they've got a good squad. No reason why they shouldn't do well again but sometimes it's just a few points here and there. I think they'll do well again.

From Yorkshire's point of view, we have some good cricketers, all of whom have come through the academy at Yorkshire. We have a couple of problems. Jacques Rudolph, the batsman, is not coming back. He's made zillions of runs in all cricket. He's been playing a lot of cricket over both the summer and winter, where he plays in South Africa for the Titans whom he captains. He's got a wife who has a good job so he's having a bit of a break. That will help him mentally. But we'll miss his runs. We're promoting a number of young players, and they are talented, but it's maybe a year too soon so we'll see.

Our bowling is strong but then again when you get England-qualified players who are good, then you'll have to lose them to England and that's right too. But you do lose them. You prepare them and spend a lot of time and money on making them good players, and then when they become very good they go to England. So Ajmal Shehzad and Tim Bresnan, you can expect them to play with England quite a lot. Perhaps Stuart Broad, James Anderson and Steven Finn will play in the Tests but Bresnan will be around for England because he's a cover, a fourth seamer and somebody who can bat as well. Shehzad, the young fast bowler, is quite a firebrand, has fire in his belly, we'll lose him. We've got some youngsters - Oliver Hannan-Dalby and Moin Ashraf, the seam bowlers - but the runs is a slight problem. Rashid will get wickets, he got 11 in the match Yorkshire won just recently. We need turning pitches because we got another couple of spinners. There's David Wainwright, a left-arm spinner.

Durham, I fancy, will do well again. They won the Championship the year before last. There is a good chance they'll have Paul Collingwood for nearly all their matches. He's pulled out of Tests, there is a good chance he won't play the one-dayers. Maybe he'll pull out of those. They've also got Steve Harmison, who, for county cricket, is a very good bowler. What if Graham Onions is fit? Now he can bowl. They've got a good allrounder called Benn Stokes, he's very talented. They've got some good kids there as well. We'll be up there to, but if we make enough runs.

ST: We always receive a lot of questions related to technique and one such question comes from Sumukh in USA. He says: I'm a right-hand batsman playing junior league cricket. I'm having difficulty playing deliveries bowled on a good length on middle and even off stump, as I keep getting bowled or lbw trying to close the face to flick the ball into the leg side. I find it easier to use the pace of the ball and work it into the leg side and don't feel too confident playing on the off, particularly when the fielders are inside the circle. What do you suggest I do to improve my game on the off side?

GB: I've never been a great fan of bowling machines. I'm not anti them, but I would want to see the bowler running up and delivering the ball when I was practising. You get into a rhythm of watching his action, whether he gets close to the stumps or go wide of them. But in this instance, I think the bowling machine might be the best thing. You need to get a friend to feed the balls in and make sure he's going to send the balls to pitch in that corridor of uncertainty, around off stump or just outside. Then you've got to make yourself practice, defending or driving, front foot or back foot, with the full face of the bat towards mid-off. It has to be towards mid-off. You've got to make yourself do it. Practise that and it doesn't make you perfect, but perfect practice makes you perfect, and that's the idea so that you do it instinctively. Gary Player said that when he holed a bunker shot. Somebody said "you lucky so-and-so". He said "yes it's amazing. The more I practise, the luckier I get". And this is simply it now. You have to make yourself practise and show the full face of the bat to mid-off.

Michael Clarke caresses one through the off side, Bangladesh v Australia, 1st ODI, Mirpur, April 9, 2011
Australia's selectors have done the right thing with their squad selection for the Bangladesh tour © Associated Press

Now, why the hell would you want to close the face of the bat to balls on or outside off stump? Beats me. It is a recipe for disaster and I'm not surprised he's got disaster. I'm not surprised you get bowled or lbw. Nobody in their right mind would want to turn the ball from the off stump. So, work at it. It's the only way to get better.

ST: It's now time for the question that Geoffrey has picked as the best one for this show. It comes from Angus in Australia and it concerns the Australian team which has just won an ODI series against Bangladesh. Angus says: Apparently the Australian tour of Bangladesh is a start of a "new era", but with few new players and older players like Brad Haddin, Ricky Ponting, Brett Lee and Michael Hussey still in the side. Do you think the selectors have not got the message that the side needs change? Instead, he says, they've just retained the players who lost them the World Cup.

GB: Yes I thought long and hard about this, it's a very good question. It's four years to the next World Cup and it sounds a long time away, but it's not. Selectors of all countries need to start planning now. They might want to start with a new captain and identify players who might be around in four years time for the kind of conditions in Australia. It's no good thinking about conditions in India. That World Cup's gone.

With a new captain, Michael Clarke - that's a good move - and the winter coming, the Australian selectors have probably got it right. There's no cricket in Australia at the moment, it's their winter. It's probably a good idea for the new captain Clarke to go to Bangladesh, get his feet under the table with the captaincy and with the same older players playing for Australia. Just remember this: When you're playing in Bangladesh, the pitches are different with the slow turn. If you're playing with new players, they just might not be experienced enough to handle that. You don't want to go to Bangladesh and start off your captaincy with losses. I don't think there's anything game by sending new guys to Bangladesh who are not familiar with the conditions and they lose.

I don't think there is anything lost for Australia by waiting a few months. The new season starts in September-October in Australia. The ODIs there happen usually after all the Tests are done, around the end of January, in fact February this time. The first Test against India starts on Boxing Day, December 26, so if you're talking about getting four Tests in five weeks, you're looking at the end of January. That gives the selectors a chance to watch all types of cricket in their summer, identify the youngsters who they think are the next crop to go into the Test team and the ODIs.

When they've identified the two or three, there is no reason why they can't pick them in February against India and one other. That way, whoever they identify will step up to a higher plane of cricket. That's tough enough, hard enough. The experience, the nerves, but at least they'll be playing in conditions that they are familiar with. The grounds that the one-dayers will be played on will be grounds that these youngsters would have played on in state cricket. And that's enough to be stepping on with it; stepping up a gear without any change in pitches. So, in this instance, it is best to wait six months or so.

England are different. We start our summer towards the end of May. There's no reason why we can't start planning straightaway.

ST: Thanks a lot Geoffrey. That's all we have for today's show. 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 here at ESPNcricinfo.

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