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'Twenty20 is cricket's answer to baseball'

Geoff Boycott on what helps a player succeed in all formats, and his contemporaries Barrington and Pataudi (18:07)

Producer: Siddhartha Talya

September 30, 2011

Transcript

'Twenty20 is cricket's answer to baseball'

September 30, 2011

Ken Barrington plays a pull shot during practice, The Oval, April 26, 1967
"Ken Barrington was a fantastic cricketer but there were few other England batsmen who were better than him" © Getty Images

Siddhartha Talya: Hello and welcome to another episode of Bowl at Boycs. I'm Siddhartha Talya and I'm glad to be joined by Geoffrey Boycott, who's speaking from Bermuda.

Morning, Geoffrey. Taking a break after a long English summer?

Geoffrey Boycott: I had been to Bermuda about four or five times in the '60s and the '70s. It's a beautiful island. I'm here this time with the MCC. They have brought a cricket team to Bermuda for two weeks, playing various matches. One of the MCC's passions is to spread cricket throughout the world, to help cricket. As a private cricket club, it has its own money, it has the Lord's cricket ground…

Bermuda cricket has gone downhill a bit since the '60s and the '70s. In 2007, they were in the World Cup, and now they are in the third division. So they've gone downhill, and the MCC thought they should come along and try to rejuvenate it a bit, try and find out why they've gone downhill and how we can help them to improve and go forward. I'm here as their ambassador and am enjoying it. Lovely blue skies, gorgeous scenery, it's absolutely stunning. It has little coves and inlets, and boats playing around. Gorgeous.

ST: Let's begin the show with a technical question, and it comes from Satya Krishnamurthy in India. Satya says: My young son is a promising left-arm fast bowler and a batsman. He is now considering developing left-arm spin rather than fast bowling because of the fitness levels needed for a fast-bowling allrounder. His natural action is bowling the left-arm chinaman, instead of the orthodox spin. Any advice on which would be better in terms of effectiveness as a spinner in the long run?

GB: First of all, I would've liked to have known how old he is. If he's quite young, I would say to him, "Do both, do everything." It's a bit soon to be saying what would be the best for him to develop. Remember, Garfield Sobers could do all sorts of things. He was picked at 17 as a left-arm spinner and he batted down at No. 9. Later on, he developed seam bowling and his wrist-spin chinaman bowling, and became the greatest batsman of his era. So if he's fairly young, I don't think he should decide too quickly. He should try everything, do everything, enjoy everything. As he gets older, then someone who sees him in his early teens could then think about which is the one he does best. I don't think he needs to make the decision yet.

In India it is notoriously difficult for seamers and anybody who wants to bowl fast. The pitches are the things that matter. They are unhelpful to fast bowlers. They're dry, grassless, have no bounce, and there's hardly any movement after the new ball. So kids growing up, like this youngster, find it heartbreaking to try and bowl fast. Not because they aren't any good at it but because there's little or no benefit from the pitches in India. That's what holds India back from producing very good fast bowlers. Not the kids, not the way they grow up, not their actions or the food they eat. For the last 50 years, India have had only two really good fast bowlers who've lasted for a while - that's Kapil Dev, the great bowler, and Javagal Srinath. In between, you've had seamers who've come along and bowled maybe two or three years, given up and faded away. That's the problem for youngsters. This youngster might be special, he might be the one that's going to go on, but I don't think he should make that decision now. I really think he should wait.

ST: Geoffrey, if someone older than Mr Krishnamurthy's son had to choose between left-arm chinaman and left-arm orthodox, what would be the more effective option?

GB: It depends how good they are. There's been hardly anybody in international cricket who's bowled chinaman and actually had a long career. You've got to bear that in mind. Is this kid going to be exceptional and become like Shane Warne? Nobody bowled like Warne until he came along. Nobody bowled like Murali - topspinners, offspinners, the doosra, with enormous spin. Occasionally somebody like that comes along and changes the course of the game. Is this kid going to be that good? If he isn't, then orthodox spin is better, because if you don't drop the chinaman, you'll be expensive and people are going to pick you. The other thing I'll say is: try and bat as well. These days, if you're an allrounder and you do two things, you have a better chance of being picked in the team, so try and improve your batting as well.

ST: Next up is a question from Ameya in India. He says: I'd like to ask you about two cricketers who were contemporaries. One of them had a distinguished record but was never on the lips of most who talk about great batsmen. Ken Barrington averaged 58 and scored 20 centuries. Could you give us an insight into his style of play and what made him tick?

The other is the Lancastrian seamer Ken Higgs. Fifteen Tests with 71 wickets at 20.74 - those are pretty impressive figures, but what happened to him?

GB: Ken Barrington's greatest asset was his concentration, determination… He had a very sound defence and he was always up for the challenge, whatever it was.

Now, how do we understand the term "great"? Figures are important. There's never been a great cricketer, batsman, bowler, or wicketkeeper, without great figures. You need figures. But they don't tell the whole story. When it comes to people talking about great batsman - not just great figures - I'll try and explain it how I think: it's about winning and saving matches. It's about the impact a batsman and bowler has in the matches he plays in. That is vital.

Ken was a fantastic cricketer, and I played with him. But one example. There was a 1964 Test at Old Trafford, England v Australia, a five-day high-scoring draw. Bob Simpson made 311 for Australia. I didn't get a bat until just before lunch on the third day. Can you believe it? I kept on fielding all that time. When we batted, Ted Dexter made 170 and Ken made 250. Terrific performances, but in terms of winning or losing the match, it was just a long first-innings draw. Those sort of figures help your averages but they don't do anything about winning the match. People respect him, admire Ken. He was a wonderful player of spinners, lovely sweeper of the ball, hit it hard. But it's about winning and saving matches. If you make a lot of runs - like that 250, it's a terrific score, but it doesn't have an effect on the result of the game.

I can personally think about other cricketers I've read about and seen who've played for England and were better. There was Jack Hobbs, probably the greatest all-round batsman of all for England. Herbert Sutcliffe, his partner. There was WG Grace. Here's one about figures. Grace's Test average is only in the early 30s. So people will ask, "How can you put him as one of the greats?" It's because in the era he played in - the 1890s and 1900s - he played on terrible pitches that had stones on them, and his figures of 30 were twice as much as most batsmen of that era. That's why he was revered so much. He was the first man to get a hundred hundreds. Nobody else [in his time] got near that mark. Then there were [Wally] Hammond and [Len] Hutton and [Denis] Compton and [Ted] Dexter.

Ken was a fantastic cricketer, but if you ask me if a few were better, you're right, there are a lot of people who would say there were a few other England batsmen who were a bit better.

Now Ken Higgs. I roomed with Higgs a lot. I loved him. He was a great professional with a big heart. He bowled in all kinds of conditions, whatever the heat, whatever the flatness of the pitch. He was lively fast-medium, but hit the deck hard. You could feel the ball hitting the bat really onto the splice. He whacked it into the bat. He bowled outswing with the new ball, and his stock ball then was the nip-back one.

 
 
"Grace's Test average is only in the early 30s. So people will ask, 'How can you put him as one of the greats?' It's because in the era he played in - the 1890s and 1900s - he played on terrible pitches that had stones on them, and his figures of 30 were twice as much as most batsmen of that era. That's why he was revered so much"
 

You've got to remember that in the early '60s, when he played, we didn't play as many Test matches as today. We actually had blank winters. We had winters where we didn't play at all. Amazing, isn't it? He started playing in 1965-66, on the tour to Australia, where we played five Tests. In 1966-67, we didn't go anywhere. Purely winter off. And we then went to West Indies in 1968 for five Tests and he got superseded a little bit by John Snow. Today they play more Test matches. We have seven in the English summer, not five. Many times when we go on tour, we play seven in the winter. So Higgs had just a few years and other people came along in those few years. We didn't play as many Test matches. But he was a very good pro. He lives in Blackpool, Lancashire.

ST: We move on to a question from Arun in India. Arun says: We saw Suresh Raina struggle in the Test matches in England, while someone like Jacques Kallis has been very consistent in the IPL. Do you think Test batsmen can adapt better to the demands of Twenty20 cricket than the other way around?

GB: Yes, I think it's a good question. I agree with him. When you start with three or four-day cricket, as we had in England with championship cricket, [which goes] on for three days… but three-, four- and five-day cricket helps develop a rounded technique for batsmen of defence and attack: the ability to play fast, short balls; to duck and weave at the bouncer; to play the turning ball, and play it defensively when it's turning a lot or score off it. It's the same for bowlers too.

Twenty20 cricket is cricket's answer to baseball. You really stand there and you're trying to hit a home run. If you're trying to hit a boundary, in between the big shots you're trying to get ones and twos. Just like in baseball - you bunt it so that somebody can get on first base or second base. It's very much like baseball. Now bowling is the same. If you bowl in Twenty20 cricket, it's mainly defensive. You're looking for yorkers, slower balls and all kinds of deliveries to prevent the guy from hitting home runs. A pitcher in baseball uses his guile and skill to prevent the batter from hitting him out of the park. So it's just the same. He's trying to be defensive.

Test-match bowling is different. It puts the emphasis on getting wickets. Yes, you don't want them to score too many runs an over, but you want to get wickets. So there is a very positive, attacking element. Therein lies the huge difference between three-, four- and five-day cricket and Twenty20 cricket.

You definitely need skill in both forms of the game, but when you have lesser overs, you don't need as much skill, and there is more luck involved. If you played a ten-over match, you will find that there's more luck and less skill. And so it goes on.

You should treat Twenty20 as fun. The question he asks, I agree with him. It's better to have a rounded game first before you develop one-day cricket. Suresh Raina is a wonderful one-day cricketer, absolutely fantastic. But against the short ball in Test cricket… I mean, it's pathetic, really.

ST: Geoffrey's favourite question for this show comes from Nirav in the United States. It's about Mansur Ali Khan Pataudi, the former India captain, who passed away recently due to a lung infection. Nirav says: Geoffrey, you played against Pataudi when India toured England in 1967. What are your memories of him?


Nawab of Pataudi Jnr - Mansur Ali Khan - batting for Oxford against Surrey in 1961
"I think the Nawab did brilliant… but I don't think he only had one eye" © Getty Images

GB: Yes, his passing is very sad. I have met him and his wife. She was a famous film star. I played against him in 1967 at Headingley, in Leeds, my home ground. He got a fantastic hundred in the second innings, batted beautifully, when India were up against it. We made a big score in the first innings and he made a hundred. Looked a really good player.

I will say this, though. I don't think he only had one eye. I don't think it's possible to bat with one eye. I think he had damaged vision in his right eye. If you ask somebody who is a specialist, who knows about eye problems, they'll say that you can't bat with one eye. It's impossible. Anybody who has professional knowledge will tell you that you need dual vision. You need both eyes to focus, because you need depth of vision. It's like when you put your finger in front of you and you want to touch something. If you're not sure of the depth, you're trying to touch it before or after. Knowing exactly the distance - that is depth. I believe he did marvellously well with a damaged eye; I don't think it was one eye.

The reason I say that - here's an example. Remember Colin Milburn? The huge, fat lad who played for England? A wonderful batsman. He played for Northamptonshire. I opened the batting with him, played with him. He was a very good player, he really was. He hooked well, pulled well, was full of fun and laughed easily. He used to sing in the team meetings. He used to do Tom Jones, "The Green Green Grass of Home". I can picture him now.

He had a very bad car accident and lost the use of his right eye. He tried for quite a while to bat again with one eye and he couldn't do it. He couldn't. It was demoralising. It was heartbreaking watching him try. In the end, it just got to him. He had to retire because he couldn't get his batting back with one eye. He used to come on tours when England were playing, bringing people, and he was a great host with people on tour. But he just faded away. The damaged vision in that eye was really so bad that he had no vision; he had no depth of vision. It just ate away at him and one day he just died. Very, very sad.

I think the Nawab did brilliant in his career, even with a damaged vision, and he was a very skilful batsman.

ST: Thanks 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 we'll have Geoffrey 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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