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'The ICC should follow FIFA's lead'

Geoff Boycott on how to deal with political interference in cricket boards, the decisions at the ICC conference, and Swann v Harbhajan (15:36)

Producer: Siddhartha Talya

July 8, 2011


'The ICC should follow FIFA's lead'

July 8, 2011

Kumar Sangakkara delivers the MCC Spirit of Cricket Cowdrey Lecture, Lord's, July 4, 2011
Kumar Sangakkara slammed the running of Sri Lankan cricket in the Cowdrey Lecture at the MCC © Matt Bright

Siddhartha Talya: Welcome to another show of Bowl at Boycs. I'm Siddhartha Talya and I'm joined, as always, by Geoffrey Boycott.

Morning, Geoffrey. It's been a very eventful week with a lot of important decisions taken at the ICC conference in Hong Kong, but I'd like to start with a question about Kumar Sangakkara's speech at the MCC yesterday. He had a lot of harsh words for the Sri Lankan cricket board. What do you make of what he had to say?

Geoffrey Boycott: First of all, he is not only a wonderful batsman, but he is a brave man as well to stand up and speak, because he would know that whatever he said at the Cowdrey lecture at the MCC would get listened to and heard all over the cricket world. And he's right in a way. There's been interference before and it's been going on for a long time, as we've seen with the Pakistan situation, Zimbabwe have also had it. We've seen what happens in Pakistan. If you stay in the team long enough you know you'll get a chance to be captain, get sacked and be fined. This interference by political bodies is not good cricket.

FIFA, the ruling body for football, has it right. Football, just remember, is 50 times bigger than cricket. More countries in the world play football than cricket by light years. Any country where there is government interference or intervention by any minister, president or prime minister, FIFA will tell them to butt out or otherwise it will ostracise that country and stop it from playing international matches under the FIFA umbrella. Now that's a big thing. If you get ostracised by FIFA, you can't play international matches, you won't get any funding, you won't get any help, and you will be put out as a pariah in the world of football.

We can do with that in cricket. We can do with the ICC being brave and strong enough to stand up and say: "Right, we're going to follow the lead of FIFA. We're not having any interference in cricket." That doesn't mean that cricket administrators who are ex-players or businessmen will get everything right. They won't. That's human nature. But at least they'll be making decisions that aren't interfered with by politicians, presidents and sports ministers. At least they'll be an independent body running it and answerable to the cricket people, not the government. It's a shame that maybe this has blown up now, and maybe someone will put it to the ICC and say, "Listen, let's go down this road like FIFA and cut out all political interference."

ST: Geoffrey, at the conference in Hong Kong the ICC took a decision, giving boards two-year deadlines to democratise. That's a step in the right direction, you reckon?

GB: Any step in the right direction is good, but the sooner the better. Unfortunately the ICC works quite slowly. It means well but it works very slowly. Most cricket lovers would like them to speed up a bit and get things done. The only answer is: politics has to stay out of cricket. Let the cricket people run it. If they make mistakes, they're answerable to all their various associations on cricket. But they are doing it for cricket reasons, and we need to get sports ministers, prime ministers, presidents and people in government out of it because they have a different agenda.

ST: Let's move on to the questions now and, unsurprisingly, the dominant theme for today's show is the ICC conference. Our first question comes from Abhishek in India, and he says: So we managed to get India to agree to the DRS, finally, and although the system has been made mandatory, it's not uniform, since the ball-tracking technology has been left optional. Shouldn't the ICC have been firmer and pressed for uniformity instead of making such a compromise?

GB: Yes, I do agree with you. But I am glad, and you should be glad, that the ICC have at last made DRS mandatory. That's a step in the right direction. I would have preferred that the ball-tracking was accepted by everyone, but when you've got so many people with different views it's difficult to get them all to agree. And although what they've decided is not perfect, it is a big improvement and it means the ICC are moving forward. I've just mentioned now that the ICC is not an organisation that moves quickly.

It's a frustration for all of us cricket lovers that the ICC is run by 10 countries, each of which has its own agenda. I've told you this before. It would be better if cricket is run by an independent body, not by the chairmen of the 10 major countries. Then you wouldn't have people pulling for their own situations or their own beliefs. It won't happen in my lifetime that there'll be an independent, neutral body. It's not going to happen because the 10 countries will never want to give up their power. You've always got to remember: turkeys don't vote for Christmas.

ST: Or next question deals with another subject that has been debated quite a bit - the Associates - and it comes from Liam in the United Kingdom. He says: The Associates will play the 2015 World Cup, marking a U-turn by the ICC, which had initially opted for a ten-team tournament with qualifiers. And now there'll just be 12 teams in the World Twenty20 next year. Shouldn't there have been more teams in the shorter format, given that's perhaps the best way to globalise cricket?

GB: Yes, I agree with you. My goodness, two questions and I agree with both. Twelve teams for the 2015 World Cup was about right, because the Netherlands and Ireland did exceptionally well at times. You want to keep giving them the opportunity to get better and play against the big sides. But Kenya and Canada were poor and were a huge disappointment. There were too many mismatches and when you have that it devalues the tournament, the 50-over World Cup. So 14 teams was never my idea of a good number. Zimbabwe and Bangladesh aren't that good anyway. I'd have two extra places so that teams like the Netherlands and Ireland can get them, but two less because you don't want the Kenyas and the Canadas yet - they're not up to it.

But the shorter number of overs, as in Twenty20, the better chance there is for teams like Kenya and Canada to do well and have a good match. You want young countries, when playing the big nations, to have a bit of magic, something special, so they win a couple of matches. You always have to remember this in cricket: the lesser overs there are, the more it becomes chancy. In fact, if you played a ten-over match, you would find that more minnows would beat the big guys, because there is a lot of risk involved with ten- and 20-over cricket. Most cricketers want to help the younger nations, give them that opportunity of challenging their ambitions, but never at the risk of hurting the game of cricket or a tournament. If you hurt a tournament with bad, unequal contestants, then it's bad for cricket in the long run.

"Politics has to stay out of cricket. Let the cricket people run it. If they make mistakes, they're answerable to all their various associations on cricket. But they are doing it for cricket reasons, and we need to get sports ministers, prime ministers, presidents and people in government out of it because they have a different agenda."

ST: We have a question from South Africa and it comes from Ross Done, and he says: AB de Villiers has been selected as ODI and Twenty20 captain for South Africa, and depending on Graeme Smith's form, his captaincy could even extend to Tests. He admits he hasn't had much captaincy experience, but says he wants to "lead by example, get runs and lead from the front". Is that enough? Isn't that his duty as a batsman anyway? Shouldn't captaincy be more about tactics and strategy, and especially in South Africa's case, empowering players to believe in themselves, as Shane Warne did?

GB: You're dead right, Ross. It's a very nice comment or quote by AB, but I would agree with you. I would like something more from my captain. Making runs is not enough, that's his job anyway. The captain has to lead to motivate 10 other guys in the team. Leading them, if you break it down, means understanding each individual, taking time out to study the guys in the team and know what makes each tick, so that he can get to each one in a different way. The captain has to make tactical decisions, he has to change the bowling, do the field placings. Making good decisions by a captain on the field means his team-mates will follow him with confidence and conviction. If he makes poor decisions, the guys will lose confidence very quickly. Sorry, no amount of runs is going to help him.

Leading by example? Yes, I do understand, a captain can set high standards. But "leading from the front", a quote like that, what the hell does it mean? I thought it came about when soldiers were jumping out of trenches in a war, with the captain saying, "Come on, men, follow me." That's leading from the front because he might be the first one to get shot. We're not jumping out of trenches, we're playing cricket. That phrase means nothing, they're just words. AB better learn quickly that the job of captaincy demands more than platitudes and nice words.

ST: There you go, Ross. The Test series between India and England gets underway on July 21 at Lord's and related to that is a question from Vijay Rajan in India. He asks: how crucial is Graeme Swann to England's fortunes in the Test series? Do you think, at this moment, that he's a better bowler than Harbhajan Singh?

GB: No, I don't think he's a better bowler than Harbhajan. But is Harbhajan better than him? I've always been a fan of Harbhajan, but Swann's doing very well for England. It's not just about whether one is better than the other. It's also about how well or how badly the opposition batsmen play each bowler.

They are different types. I would say Harbhajan is a more flighty bowler, gives it more air and bowls the doosra, which Swann doesn't. But Swann has a superb slider that gets a number of wickets, particularly the lbws against left-handers. He slides the ball in quicker and flatter, and it catches people out. Swann is a better bowler to left-handers than Harbhajan, but the only problem with that is, India may not have too many left-handers in their team. There's Gautam Gambhir, but Yuvraj Singh and Suresh Raina may or may not get into the team.

There's another thing about India's batsmen. They're brought up with spin from an early age. They're usually very good against spin, so you've got to take into consideration the type of pitch and situation. If either of the spinners is bowling after the quicks have got a few early wickets, it's easier to bowl then. But if you come on to bowl with the openers are still in or a team's 150 for 1, it's very difficult to bowl then, on a good pitch. It's not straightforward. Swann and Harbhajan are good bowlers. Swann is very important for England, but seamers usually have a big say in England, and it depends how the seamers of each side bowl.

ST: It's now time to move to the question that Geoffrey has picked as the best one for this show and it comes from Ronit in India, and it's got to do with a couple of interesting tweaks made to the rules of cricket. Ronit asks: in terms of purely cricketing rules, has something good come out of the ICC conference? I'd like to specifically ask you about the move to use new balls from both ends in ODIs, and taking the batting and bowling Powerplays between the 16th and 40th over. How do you think that would spice up the game?

GB: For a long time in 50-over cricket, there's been a feeling that after the first 10 or 15 overs, the game sets into a pattern. The bowling side gets men back on the boundary, they bowl bowlers who are not their best, batsmen knock it into the gaps, and it becomes a kind of stereotyped form of cricket. Most teams play the same.

AB de Villiers was named South Africa's limited-overs captain, Johannesbug, June 6, 2011
"Leading by example won't be enough [for AB de Villiers]" © Associated Press

The ICC are trying to - to use your words - spice up the game and make it interesting. So the Powerplays will have to be taken in those middle overs, and it's an attempt to make those middle overs different by allowing captains to be proactive. If a batting side is in a good position, it could attack the bowlers by forcing men to come into the inner ring. In the field the captains will be forced not just to sit back with men on the boundary; they'll have to think about what to do. "When do I take my Powerplay, when's the best time?" Nowadays, most of the time they're running on auto-pilot and you don't want that. You want there to be some interest. Spice up is a good word, but you want it to be interesting, changeable rather than going along automatically all the time.

The two-ball system has always been a good idea for me. I played the Australian triangular series - involving Australia, West Indies and England - right after the Packer series in 1979-80. West Indies had four quicks - Holding, Garner, Roberts and Croft - and Marshall as well. Australia had Lillee and Thomson and Hogg and Pascoe. We had Willis and Botham, and we played against all these quicks with a new ball at either end. It's not a new thing - it's going back to something that was tried long ago, and it worked very well for a number of years.

If you have a new ball at either end, each ball lasts only around 25 overs. As the ball gets scruffier and older, it's never going to get to a point that it does now when it grows so dark, scruffy and soft that they change it in the 35th over. That's been a bit of a farce. The whole point of cricket is, we start with a new ball and slowly and surely it gets a little old and gets a bit of its shine knocked off. This way, with the two new balls, by the time you get to the later overs, you're having a ball just over 20 overs old. That's what cricket's about.

To me, they are good points. I think two balls at either end, lasting 25 overs each, works perfectly. Powerplays between overs 16-40 is a good idea and worth trying. Whether it will work, we'll wait and see. But well done to the ICC for trying that.

ST: Well, there you go Ronit. That's all we have for today's show. Do send in your questions using our feedback form and we'll be back with Geoffrey on the day of the first Test between India and England on July 21. Until then, it's goodbye from all of us here at ESPNcricinfo.

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