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'The game shouldn't be a lottery'
Geoff Boycott on the right balance for pitches, Yorkshire's relegation, and the continuing scrutiny of technology in cricket (20:44)
Producer: Siddhartha Talya
September 15, 2011
Related Links » News: 'Tracking mistake' on Hughes lbw | Galle dustbowl rated 'poor' by ICC | Virtual Eye chief says the goal should be to remove all doubt In Focus: Pitches | Technology in cricket Players/Officials: Geoff Boycott Series/Tournaments: India tour of England | County Championship Division One | England Domestic Season | Australia tour of South Africa Teams: Australia | India | South Africa | Sri Lanka | West Indies | Yorkshire
'The game shouldn't be a lottery'September 15, 2011
Siddhartha Talya: Hello and welcome once again to Bowl at Boycs. I'm Siddhartha Talya and joining me as always is Geoffrey Boycott.
Morning, Geoffrey. The England-India one-day series is about to end. Although India have lost the series, do you see an encouraging signs for them from the matches so far?
Geoffrey Boycott: Yes. I'm glad you talked about the encouraging signs because it's easy to talk about the nature of their poor performances and losses. We've done all that. The most encouraging signs for me are the young batsmen. Quite honestly, I've been surprised by the quality. Take, for example, Virat Kohli, who I knew was good, but had a poor series in the West Indies and didn't get picked for the Test series in England. He's talented and I'm glad to see him playing well. Suresh Raina - who, in Tests, is pretty poor against the short ball - is brilliant in one-day cricket; absolutely, unbelievably brilliant. He is a fantastic batsman. They throw themselves about in the field. Then there's the lad who broke his finger, is it Rohit Sharma? When you get him back as well, you've got some young kids there. Even Ravindra Jadeja, who came in late, batted well and bowled and he's one you should persevere with.
So you have about five young players there. You intersperse them with a couple of older ones when they're fit - Yuvraj Singh, probably Sachin Tendulkar for a bit longer - and there's no problem with the batting, but it's the bowling. We'll not go into that for the moment but the encouraging signs are the batsmen.
ST: Let's move on to our questions now and the first one comes from Samit in India. He asks: What do you make of the ICC's threat of corrective action against the Sri Lankan board for the pitch used in the Galle Test, which it rated as 'poor'. Yes, it was a low-scoring contest, but an interesting one where batsmen were tested with the ball turning big from day one. As long as it isn't dangerous, what's the harm in having pitches that produce such low-scoring games. Isn't it better than having a run-fest that ends in a draw?
GB: Absolutely Samit. You're right there. There's nothing wrong at all and there's nothing in the rules of cricket - or the laws of the game, held by the MCC - that says you have produce a pitch that helps the batsmen. I agree with you that we want a competition; competitiveness between bat and ball with probably 60 to 65% in the batsmen's favour because we want to see some runs being scored.
But there is a difference between bowler-friendly pitches and downright bad pitches so that batting is a lottery. Cricket is about skill and character. But if we have matches without skill, the whole game is a lottery. I don't think any of us want that, certainly none of us who love the game. We want people who have skilful ability with the ball and the bat to prevail most of the time.
I didn't see the Galle Test but the question for the people who are judging it is: Was the pitch poor because the ball turned or was it poor because it turned, kept low, jumped at you? If it keeps low, jumps as well as turns, then sorry, it's very difficult to play, nearly impossible. You need a lot of luck to play on that kind of pitch. If it just turns, it's just like a swing bowler, seaming it or swinging it. So, I accept part of your comment, but you don't want it to be a lottery. It shouldn't be so bad that the ball shoots along the deck or jumps at you and breaks fingers and hurts people.
The other thing about the ICC is this: If they're making statements - whether they are threats or statements, call it what you want - of corrective action because of the bad pitch, that statement doesn't mean much if the ICC doesn't back it up with action. If the ICC says that there is a threat of doing something, and then they do nothing, it makes them look weak. England are due to play there in late March against Sri Lanka. I hope it's better than it was against the Australians. I saw the batting collapse by Sri Lanka in a couple of the highlights - I didn't see the whole match - and it didn't look great.
ST: Our next question from Shriram in the United States is a hypothetical one. He says: The South African side of 1970 that beat Australia 4-0 was a very good one, including the Pollock brothers, Barry Richards, Mike Procter and the likes. How do you think a full-strength South African side would have fared against Clive Lloyd's West Indians in the 70s and the 80s?
GB: I think the West Indian side would have won. Any team throughout history that's had two fast bowlers - sometimes one, certainly when you've had two -, they've been the aces in the park and have won Test matches. Just because, many years ago, without a helmet, there was a fear of getting hurt. Secondly, if you bowl fast and accurate - that's the key - and not just fast and wild but very fast and accurate, it's very difficult to score and the odds are on the bowlers getting you out fairly cheaply.
West Indies would have won because they had four - they were an exceptional four. Andy Roberts was playing at his best and he was a good, thinking bowler. When he retired, you had Malcolm Marshall, who I think was probably the best fast bowler there ever was. He could bowl genuinely fast, he could cut his pace and bowl fairly lively while swinging and cutting it, he had wickets all over the world, even on the flattest pitches in Asia. And Joel Garner, I don't think anybody's hit Garner. If they have, tell me about it and I'd love to hear. But I can't remember anybody in county or Test cricket who's whacked Garner around. He just polished off the tail-enders, it was a waste of time for them coming in. Then there was Colin Croft who was the nastiest so and so you ever had to face; he really liked to hurt people. And Michael Holding was absolutely, just a great bowler. A beautiful bowler with pace and accuracy. They make it so difficult for you to score.
I accept that the South Africans had Procter and Peter Pollock. I faced Procter in county cricket, the Rest of the World matches in 1970 and I also Pollock in 1964-65 - very good bowlers, excellent. But I'm sorry, West Indies…On top of the West Indian bowling, against whom you would struggle to get lots of runs, they had great batsmen. Viv Richards, Lloyd, Alvin Kallicharan, even Lawrence Rowe, you've got Gordon Greenidge and Desmond Haynes. In different periods, they always had some terrific batsmen, didn't they? If the pitches had turned, in a period in which Australia had Shane Warne, then you know, maybe it would have been different. He might bowl people out because instead of quick bowlers on slow pitches that turn, it's best to have a great spinner. But if it was a flat pitch, they would have blown people away.
ST: Well Geoffrey, we're almost through with the County Championship and related to that is a question from Steven in the United Kingdom. In your opinion, what were some of the highs and lows in the County Championship, and how disappointed are you with Yorkshire's performance?
GB: Well, the highs are bound to be Warwickshire coming forward and they have a number of youngish players as well. They're doing well and at this moment in time, they could possibly with the Championship. My pick at the start of the summer was Durham. I thought they had a result pitch, not a bad pitch as Samit mentioned earlier on, on which bowlers can get into it and the batsmen can score runs if they bat well. It does get you results, and therefore lots of points. They've got a good array of bowlers and batsmen and I thought they'd be in it. They were for a while and they're still in it, but they may not win it.
The biggest disappointment, I think, is Yorkshire. No doubt at all. They've been poor. They did exceptionally well last season, but this year there have been players who haven't performed. Ajmal Shehzad, who got straight into the England squad and played some one-day matches - his attitude hasn't been great, he's been poor in his bowling, wild and all over the place and was injured for a period. Adil Rashid, the legspinner - he's not made any strides this year, in fact I'd say he's gone backwards a bit. He's a lovely lad. Adam Lyth, the left-handed batsman, was the first in English cricket last year to a 1000 first-class runs. This year, he struggled with form and got dropped. Anthony McGrath, the senior batsman, missed some pre-season training, was a bit overweight, struggled to catch up with fitness and form and he's been very poor. Joe Sayers had a virus last year, started this season still not 100%. He's had some fluctuating performances but nothing special, he hasn't really done enough. Steven Patterson's a very good, steady seamer, he's had a side injury for quite a number of weeks.
And then, our best player is Tim Bresnan. He's been with England, he's not even on a central contract so we're paying him. At the beginning of the season, we were asked to rest him from our first three Championship matches and we're paying him! He's not even on central contract. So we rested him for three matches, he played one Championship game, got wickets and made the highest score; that shows you how good he is. Andrew Gale, the captain, has been in very good form. He broke his arm in the nets, the ball lifted and hit him and we lost our captain for the last few weeks of the season.
|"[Yorkshire] have a great tradition and history - probably produced more players for England than any other county. They have almost certainly won more Championships than any other county. So, it doesn't affect us financially but it certainly affects our pride, and it's very disappointing."|
The biggest highs, let's point them out: Jonny Bairstow got 1000 runs. He looks a fantastic cricketer. A wicketkeeper-batsman, a good fielder as well, he'll play for England shortly I'm pretty sure. He got into the Lions side, the full squad to Ireland as well but didn't get a game. Young Gary Ballance, he's only 21, he's a good cricketer, bats left-handed. Joe Root, a superb young opening batsman; I think he'll play for England in two-three years without a shadow of a doubt. He plays proper cricket, very much like me. And Ryan Sidebottom - the old boy who came from Notts. He was with us originally, went to Notts for a few years, played for England, came back, the left-arm seamer has been a great professional. He got 60-odd wickets. He's up there all the time, fit and ready to go. He's a real professional, just like his dad. Rich Pyrah, the allrounder, he's done alright. His seam bowling has come on, he's gained a little bit of pace but needs to work on his batting. Azeem Rafiq, the young Pakistani from Barnsely, he's very good and very young. An offspinner, he's got a strong character, he's mentally tough but got a bad hamstring injury and won't play until next year.
There's been a lot of injuries but also players who haven't performed so Yorkshire have been the biggest disappointment. They have been relegated to Division Two. They have a great tradition and history - probably produced more players for England than any other county. They have almost certainly won more championships than any other county. So it doesn't affect us financially but it certainly affects our pride, and it's very disappointing.
ST: Geoffrey's favourite question for the show comes from Arun in India and it concerns technology, which has been in the news recently. Arun says: We've seen technology used for DRS falter on occasion during the Test series in England and Sri Lanka. Hot Spot raised some eyebrows in England, Hawk-Eye has admitted to an error in Sri Lanka. Is this a worrying sign that mistakes are still happening or is this just a small blip on the way to getting it right?
GB: A small blip on the way to getting it right, I'd say. Getting it right? It is right. It has helped make more correct decisions than when we had umpires alone. When you get umpires, they're human beings, they do as good a job as they can, but they will make more mistakes than the technology.
Let's take Hot Spot. I don't think any of us believe that Hot Spot is fool-proof. Hawk-Eye, I think this is the first time I've seen it admit an error. It's usually been pretty accurate. If set up professionally and properly, it's been very good. It's helped some players correct decisions which might have gone the wrong way. I'm pretty happy about it. If that's one error that you can cite in the few years we've been using Hawk-Eye, then I wouldn't be worried about it. As I said, Hot Spot is different.
I'm pretty confident that Hawk-Eye is a really good help to umpires. It's a really good help to the public and the teams. I am sad that there's an error but it shows that you're not going to get anything in life that's perfect. Look at computers, they're so brilliant, everybody uses them. But they break down now and again, they get a virus now and again. There's nothing that's going to be perfect. Sorry about that Arun, it ain't going to happen.
Then you come to the other one, the Snickometer. It gives you an idea a lot of the time but it takes so long to set up. It takes four or five minutes to get an answer from it. We can't be stopping the game for four or five minutes. The TV will show it to you four or five minutes later after you've had another over and it'll give you an indication of whether somebody nicked it, but that's too long for the umpires and the game to prosper. We must move the game on.
ST: Geoffrey, there were a couple of instances involving Rahul Dravid during the tour of England when decisions were made in favour of the bowling team even when Hot Spot did not capture an edge. The third umpire seems to have taken a call based on his judgement that there was a deflection. Irrespective of whether the decision was right or wrong, doesn't that undermine the use of technology?
GB: I've just mentioned about Hot Spot. You've got to get it out of your minds that Hot Spot is infallible. Television uses it, umpires don't necessarily. Also, what you have to remember is that the third umpire is not supposed to change the on-field umpire's decision unless he has a high degree of confidence that the decision was wrong. Dave Richardson, the ICC's general manager of cricket, said this a few years ago.
Now what the third umpire has, that you the watcher on television don't, is the stump microphone. He can turn it right up and listen for sound, and if the sound of the stump mic gives him an indication that somebody nicked it, he can say to the on-field umpire that, in his judgement, there was a sound. That the bat's nowhere near the pad, it's not hitting the boot, it can only be the bat. So he can give him out on that but you can't hear it. You've got to get it out of your head that Hot Spot is fool-proof, it ain't. Simply not. And if it's a hot, sunny day, then it does affect Hot Spot.
The other time, Dravid walked. Let's be clear about that, he walked. Afterwards, it looked, after a lot of soul-searching and really looking at the pictures time and time again, that as his bat came down, it just touched his shoe-lace. But if he walked, what can you do? He didn't appeal against the decision, did he? The umpire gave him out, he went, so what can you do? It's not going to be perfect but you've got to get it out of your head that every player is right. They're not. Dravid is as straight and good a guy as you'll ever get.
The third umpire does have a stump mic. We can sometimes hear it. If the technology is set up properly, we in the commentary box, can hear the stump mic. But the third umpire has a much clearer sound than us because it's meant to go to him and not necessarily the television people. We just come in on the conversation a bit. So, there you have it. If he feels there is a sound, the bat is not near the pad or the foot, then with a high degree of confidence he can say whether the decision was right or wrong.
Get it out of your head that technology is going to make things perfect. It ain't. It was never intended that way. Also, people have forgotten it now - they think technology is supposed to define every decision. Technology, originally, was brought in to stop the howler. The really bad decision. When somebody is given out lbw by the umpire and it's a big mistake, he's got a thick inside edge onto the pad and it's so obvious that it's a howler, we wanted to stop that. Right? When I have seen people like Sourav Ganguly given out so many times with the ball pitching outside leg stump, absolutely knocking middle out halfway up, but that in the laws of the game is not out because it pitched outside leg stump.
Without the mat that Hawk-Eye gives you, umpires just have to rely on their judgement call. They are there in the middle, they see it's going to knock middle out, they give somebody out and with a bit of calm by the third umpire, we see the replay and a howler that is changed. That is what we want. These very fine decisions, it wasn't meant for that.
Since technology has come in, people have forgotten that when we didn't have technology, we all had had disputes and arguments and people criticising umpires for making a bad decision, for making human errors, it's been going on for time immemorial. There was a famous one when Don Bradman hit it to gully. Jack Ikin caught him and it was declared a bump ball. I spoke to Ikin before he died, he was an assistant manager to me on an Australian tour. He said, "I caught it clean Geoffrey, he didn't bump-ball it." But he made a hundred and plenty. It's been going on forever so get it out of your mind that technology is going to solve it all. It ain't. It was there to solve the howlers, not to get perfection. I wish it could but it's never going to happen. Certainly not in your lifetime or mine.
ST: Thanks a lot for that Geoffrey. That's all we have for today's show. Don't forget to 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 at ESPNcricinfo.
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