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'Anderson is the biggest threat'

Geoff Boycott on why England have the edge against India, Sehwag's absence, and his favourite Tests as player and commentator (15:31)

Producer: Siddhartha Talya

July 21, 2011


'Anderson is the biggest threat'

July 21, 2011

James Anderson claimed Thilan Samaraweera for his third wicket, England v Sri Lanka, 1st Test, Cardiff, 2nd day, May 27 2011
"If the ball swings and moves off the seam, Anderson is not good; he is absolutely brilliant" © PA Photos

Siddhartha Talya: Hello and welcome to Bowl at Boycs. I'm speaking to Geoffrey Boycott on the eve of a momentous occasion. England and India will play the 2000th Test, at Lord's, and it will also be the 100th Test between the two teams. The No. 1 ranking is on the line - England can get to No. 1 if they win the series by a two-Test margin - and Sachin Tendulkar is on the verge of a 100th international ton. Geoffrey, it's been a massive build-up to this series. You must be excited.

Geoffrey Boycott: Everybody in England is excited. First of all, it's at the best place for cricket, the Mecca - Lord's. India is a big draw card; it'll be a full house.

Secondly, there is a lot of talk about Tendulkar. He is such an iconic batsman and a lovely lad, but he's never really done well at Lord's. He'd like to get his 100th international century at the Mecca of cricket, but it's going to be tough for him.

And thirdly, it's quite clear that England want the No.1 spot. No doubt about that. They want to beat India 2-0. They really do want to be the No. 1 team in the world. India are a tough side. But England have an advantage playing at home. They know the conditions better. So, yeah, it's going to be great.

ST: We'll begin today's show with a question about the Future Tours Programme [FTP], which was released by the ICC at its annual conference in Hong Kong last month. The question comes from Nitin in India. He says: The FTP has England, India and Australia playing the most Tests, with India due to play five Tests on each of their next two tours to England. Is India v England shaping up to be the next big thing in Test cricket?

GB: Everything at the moment, and in the future, is going to be driven increasingly by television revenue. There'll be more Tests between the big four - you've got to include South Africa. So there'll be India, England, Australia and South Africa. We'll find it increasingly in Tests, and probably ODIs as well, that there'll be two tiers. In Tests, particularly, it will develop because of the TV revenues and the quality of cricket.

If you look at it, Zimbabwe and Bangladesh are ordinary to poor. There's no money to be made playing in those countries or having them visit. West Indies and New Zealand - a lot of their players are focusing on Twenty20, so are the administrators. There's no money and they're struggling. Nobody wants to play in Pakistan because of terrorism and it's unsafe. Sri Lanka, as you heard, have no money. The money's disappeared, there's political unrest and trouble in the administration.

The teams are quite good and they've got pretty long histories, but it's the TV income [that will play a major role]. Is it right? No, it's not, because we're going to lose some of the other countries because they can't keep up with the revenues made through television when playing Tests.

ST: Since we're speaking on the eve of the 2000th Test, it's probably a good time to ask you this question. It comes from Sabeer in India. He wants to know which, according to you, is the best Test you've played in and the best Test you've commentated on?

GB: Hah! That's difficult, but I'll have a bash at it. Sydney, 1970: England weren't given much of a chance to win the Ashes - they rarely are when they go to Australia. "Raylings" [Ray Illingworth] was captain and we played on a great cricket pitch. It really was one of the best I've ever played on. There was pace, bounce, a little movement, and then it turned towards the end. We won a lowish-scoring game. John Snow bowled fantastically in the second innings and he picked up seven wickets to win the match. That was quite exciting and we went on to win another one in Sydney, the last Test, and won the Ashes 2-0.

I played a really exciting Test in Port-of-Spain in 1974. It was the fifth Test of the series. England were outplayed for the whole series until then. In four matches we were 0-1 down but should have been 0-3 down. Dennis Amiss saved us in one Test in Jamaica with a double-hundred. In Barbados, Tony Greig got a century, Lawrence Rowe got a triple. West Indies had some super names. Rohan Kanhai, Garry Sobers, Alvin Kallicharran (he made a big hundred in the first Test in Trinidad), Clive Lloyd.

We had been outplayed the whole damn series and we got to Trinidad, where it turned a bit, and won by 18 runs [26 runs]. Greig, at 6'8", had been bowling these swinging seamers and the West Indian batsmen were smashing them to all parts. So he actually had to turn to offcutters. At 6'8", and with a big high action, he started bowling these cutters. He tried bowling them on the flatter pitch in Barbados and didn't make much of an impression. But it turned in Trinidad. They had a lot of left-handers - [Roy] Fredericks, Kallicharran, Lloyd, Sobers. The bowler's rough was outside their off stump. So Greig, with his high action, got a bucketful of wickets, and from nowhere we actually won and it was quite an interesting Test. I quite enjoyed that.

As a commentator: I was working for a company called Talksport Radio in December 2000. It was Pakistan v England in Karachi. Both teams got roughly the same score, around 400. But England bowled out Pakistan cheaply in the second innings for 150-odd. Darren Gough, Ashley Giles and Craig White got wickets. Suddenly England needed 176 to win but what happened was dramatic and interesting.

Pakistan were under pressure, losing in their own country, and started slowing down the over rate. It was absolutely pathetic. People were dragging their feet, walking slow. I've seen people come from the pub drunk and walk quicker than them. They just did it deliberately; the umpires kept mentioning it to them and they took no notice. It got so dark that they should have come off but the umpires were so mad at their deliberate attempt to draw the match that they stayed on. The lights were on at various places in the stadium - they didn't have floodlights - and they kept playing, but you could hardly see the ball. The Pakistanis wanted to come off because they couldn't see the ball while fielding, but the umpires said "No, it's your fault", made them stay on and England won the match, with Graham Thorpe making an unbeaten half-century. I was one of the few people who said England would win as soon as they went out to bat. There were a number of people in our commentary box - Mark Nicholas, Chris Cowdrey - who thought otherwise. But Jack Bannister and I thought England would get these. I thought the umpires did a really good job for cricket, not because England won but because it was a deliberate act by the Pakistanis to slow down and it was against the spirit of the game. The umpires were brilliant. I really enjoyed that.

"If you've got very flat pitches here, Sehwag could be a big force. I think he'll be missed but I also think if the ball moves around, he would struggle. So his absence is not such a decisive point in this series. What is more important is that Gambhir and Tendulkar, two fine players, are underdone"

ST: Coming back to the England-India series, we have a question from Arnold in the UK. He wants to know: How different are Chris Tremlett and Graeme Swann from the last time they played India? Tremlett played them in 2007 and Swann bowled at India in 2008-09. Also, who in the England bowling line-up can be the most threatening to the Indian batsmen?

GB: Oh, not a shadow of a doubt. The one who is the most threatening [and can prevent India winning] is James Anderson. If the ball swings and moves off the seam, Anderson is not good, he is absolutely brilliant. He bowls some balls in English conditions that are absolutely magic and can bowl most people out - I daresay, anybody out.

You've got to remember: we play with the Duke ball. It's very different from the Kookaburra that doesn't have much seam. Our Duke ball has a raised seam. It's a better ball for English conditions and it moves. At the moment there's going to be rain around at Lord's. There's no doubt that we've been getting rain in England, and it's due certainly on the first day. After that it's going to get better. If India play England on flat pitches where it doesn't swing and seam much, I think they have a better chance of winning. But if it moves around - I know you've got Zaheer and Ishant, but Anderson and Co are better.

You talk about Tremlett. He's come on a ton. He's got a tall, high action. He bowled well against India at The Oval [in 2007], but it was hot and the pitch was flat. I don't think they're going to be flat here. At Trent Bridge the ball usually swings a bit. There has to be very hot sunshine for it to not swing. If you get a normal English day, it'll swing and do a bit. That helps England a little bit. Lord's has an 8'8" feet slope from cover to midwicket. The bowlers have something to work with. The Indian bowlers, too. But Anderson is the biggest danger.

Tremlett will hit them on the fingers. He gets bounce, he's done well, he's improved and his attitude is better. And Swann is a far better bowler [than when he started out]. His confidence is up, he gets many wickets, and he bowls well at left-handers. So don't pick many left-handers!

ST: It's time for a technical query and it comes from Amir in Pakistan. He wants to know: In the last couple of decades, which aspect of cricket - be it batting, bowling or fielding - has evolved the most, purely in terms of technique?

GB: Batting, especially in one-day cricket, has been a revelation. Almost every player is trying the reverse-sweep - there is no change of grip. You've then got people trying the reverse [switch]-hit, with a quick change of grip and stance. You've then got the scoop, which plenty of players are trying. These shots are improvisations being tried out by kids in the park, and even tailenders and lower-order batsmen. Some of them are brilliant at it, some are not, but they are all trying and having a go. That's what has changed.

We played a Twenty20 match - Yorkshire v Lancashire - a couple of week ago. We had a 20-year-old, Azeem Rafiq - born to Pakistani parents, has lived here and got a better Yorkshire accent than me. He won the game in the last over with two Dilshan scoops. Can you believe that? In the last over, he had the guts, the audacity and the skill to try it twice and win the damn match. This is symptomatic of kids all over the world. That's been the biggest change and revelation.

Graham Thorpe and Nasser Hussain celebrate in the Karachi gloom, Pakistan v England, Karachi, December 11, 2000
England's win in the Karachi darkness: Boycott's favourite Test as commentator © Getty Images

ST: We move on to the question that Geoffrey has picked as his favourite for this show, and it comes from Amit in USA. It concerns the absence of Virender Sehwag, who is set to miss at least the first two Tests against England. How big a blow is his absence for India, and could it prove decisive in the outcome?

GB: Look, let's be honest. He is a fantastic batsman. But I'm not sure it'll be [as big] a blow as people probably think. He murders people on pitches in the subcontinent, where the ball doesn't bounce too high. But in England, as I've mentioned, if the ball moves around and swings, it's not so easy to play quite as freely as Virender does. It's not impossible but it's not so easy as the ball is swinging and cutting off the seam. And you're going to get bounce; people like Tremlett are going to rap the batsmen on the fingers. You don't get that in India. The pitches are flat and the ball hardly bounces stump-high after the first few overs. In England it can be different.

If you've got very flat pitches here, he [Sehwag] could be a big force. I think he'll be missed, but I also think if the ball moves around, he would struggle. So it's [his absence] not such a decisive point in this series. What is more important is that Gambhir and Tendulkar, two fine players, are underdone; they've had one practice match. They didn't play in the West Indies. They are two of your major players and they haven't had much cricket. If they don't get runs at Lord's and the next Test match comes on them quick, you could find you are 0-1 down pretty quickly. I don't think it's such a big decision [factor] that Sehwag's not playing. Important, yes, but not huge.

ST: Geoffrey, you mentioned earlier that England probably have the advantage if the conditions are favourable for swing and seam bowling. If you were asked to take a punt ahead of the series, what would it be?

GB: I think England might win. They have to win by a two-Test margin to go to No. 1. Will they win the four-Test series? I fancy they have a good chance. That doesn't mean to say India might not win a match. But England have got to win by two. Not so sure about that. If I were to put my money on who will win the series, I'll put my money on England.

ST: Thanks a lot Geoffrey. That's a wrap on today's show. Do send in your questions using our feedback form and we'll have Geoffrey back with us in a couple of weeks to answer them. Until the next time, it's goodbye from all of us here at ESPNcricinfo.

Posted by   on (July 21, 2011, 16:27 GMT)

Ali_Eorse : ;) ;) Looks like the first of your predictions has failed. Strauss got only 22 in first innings at Lord test. Now if he has to score a double in second innings it means India will also have laid a massive score in their first innings and then only Strauss can get double. So You prediction of 4-0 also seems bleak. Hey BTW is 22 considered a double century in Bangladesh.

Posted by chapathishot on (July 21, 2011, 8:17 GMT)

@Ali_Eorse:Thank you for your honest comment.This is two full member sides playing and not minnow like Bangladesh.So no chances of a white wash.Watching Bangladesh loss regularly you might think that every series is a whitewash,it is not so,when quality sides are playing cricket.

Posted by Ali_Eorse on (July 21, 2011, 4:18 GMT)

Geof Boycott is the best. He knows the English has the best character. I am Canadian (originally from Bangladesh). I am confident that my prediction is 100% true/honest/objective. England will win in Lords and all tests. 4-0 is the final score. India will lose with an innings in each test. Sachin will not get his 100th 100. Strauss will score an unbeaten 200+ at Lords. Temlett will 5 in first innings and 6 in the 2nd. He will be the MOM (he will get Sachin bowl/lbw in both innings). I think this series will show that India is not yet #1. In my opinion, the best team today is England. No one is close to England. No one.

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