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'The game is worthless if people don't watch it'

Geoff Boycott on spectator fatigue, England's debacle in India, and the effectiveness of Shivnarine Chanderpaul (16:18)

Producer: Siddhartha Talya

October 27, 2011


'The game is worthless if people don't watch it'

October 27, 2011

The match was played against a backdrop of empty seats, India v England, 5th ODI, Eden Gardens, October 25 2011
When was the last time you saw such a poor turn-out at Eden Gardens for an ODI involving India? © Getty Images

Siddhartha Talya: Hello and welcome to Bowl at Boycs. I'm Siddhartha Talya, and it's my pleasure as always to be speaking to Geoffrey Boycott.

Good morning, Geoffrey. I need to start with England's whitewash in India. They have just been beaten 5-0. Where do you think it all went wrong for them, and did you foresee such a result at the start of the series?

Geoffrey Boycott: I was expecting India to win. I wasn't carried away by England's performance at home against India. I thought that rather than England being brilliant at home, India had too many players injured, out of form, and just lost the way in English conditions.

It's happened before when they have not played well in English conditions, but it's also happened that many teams find it very difficult to beat India in India. India, whatever cricket they play, be it Test matches or ODIs, are pretty tough to beat on their home surfaces - slow, turning pitches. If you're good at playing slow, turning spin, then that's okay, but a lot of players are being sucked into playing, in modern times, on flat, good batting pitches. With heavy bats, they had the ball a long way. When the ball doesn't turn, it makes them look brilliant. But when they play in India, where it's slow turn, it's a lot more difficult, and that's what England found.

What I did find quite unusual was that with England losing, they kept on playing the same team. If you're winning, don't change a winning side, but when you're losing, try something damn different. The only thing they tried different was when there was an injury to Kevin Pietersen - in the last match - they played Ian Bell. I would have played Bell all through the series. He's been playing unbelievably well for England. In Test cricket, he's averaged over 100 in the last year and a half. He's got a wide range of shots and should be the No.1 pick before the start than anybody else. I couldn't believe how they left him out. By the time they played the last match, I think he was out of form - he's been in India two bloody weeks and he hadn't had a knock in the middle.

India don't have to worry about anybody else. They have to worry about themselves. I thought India did great in India. They have got young, enthusiastic, fit young men diving around with lots of energy, and they'll get better.

I don't think we should get too carried away with the fact that they have won in their own country. It's the one thing that is a saving grace for England, having been beaten 5-0, and it's a thing you need to keep slightly uppermost in your mind, having won and been thrilled to bits with your performance - the pitches in the next World Cup will not be like in India.

India will be playing in Australia mainly, some in New Zealand, where you might get a couple that are slow and turn a little bit. But in Australia, we all know they'll be flat, hard, quicker, a little bouncier in some places like Perth and Brisbane maybe; there won't be slow turners like in India. So take the victory but bear in mind that the pitches in the 2015 World Cup will not be the same. But keep on doing what you have been doing - pick the young players, keep the enthusiasm and pick players who in three and a half years' time will be ready and hopefully have a good shot at winning the next World Cup.

ST: Our first question of the day comes from Vijay Rajan in India, and he asks: How often do we see a nice, flamboyant start to an innings, only to be disappointed by a batsman recklessly throwing it away after reaching 40 or 50? Players like Virat Kohli, Jesse Ryder and Ross Taylor are a few examples. What does it take to construct an innings and get a big score?

GB: Talent and an awareness of the situation. Great players are not satisfied with a 40 or 50. Some players are so happy not to have failed, to have got a few runs, their place is secure for the next match, so they are relaxed and start going for the big shots, they hit a couple and get out. The great players stay focused. And the key is to read the game, not your personal score. Great players are never satisfied with a 40 or 50. They know how to control a match; that is the key. Plus, they try not to give their wicket away, and that's the difference between the average players and the great players.

ST: Next up is a question from Khalid in Pakistan and it's about the ongoing series in the Middle East. Khalid says: Pakistan would have won that first Test against Sri Lanka had it not been for those dropped catches. They spilt six chances in Sri Lanka's second innings. It's not the first time this has happened. Why do you think this keeps continuing, and, just generally, would you recommend that teams have fielding coaches?

GB: Yes, it's a very good question. But I feel the fielding coach should start with the young players of Pakistan. Start with the kids who are 12-19, train and give them skills to work on for many years, so that by the time they get into the international squad, they should be the finished article. It's a bit late to be starting when they're in the first team, playing in Test matches. By the time they get to the top, playing international cricket, players should be doing drills, practising and sharpening their skills.

Or, put it another way: keep those skills at a higher level, but you shouldn't be having to learn fielding skills. That should have all been done in their teens. It's always possible for all of us to improve, provided you have quality coaching, quality teaching and quality practice. But organisation and professionalism has been at many times lacking throughout Pakistan cricket, hasn't it?

ST: Our next question comes from Jiten in India and it's an interesting one. I'm assuming that it's been prompted, in part, by the really low attendances that we saw in the last two ODIs between India and England, in Mumbai and Kolkata.

Jiten says: Geoffrey, is there such a thing as spectator or fan fatigue? Do you ever experience that as a commentator and a close follower of the game? For example, there are five international series taking place simultaneously right now. There was a time when series were more spaced out and people like me used to memorise the batting and bowling averages of individual players. That is no longer the case. Purely as an observer of the game, do you think there is way too much cricket happening?

GB: Another very good question. I believe if you get too much of anything it makes you blaze and turns you off. Take my mum. I loved her cooking me steak and kidney pie. If I had that on a Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, and she cooked it again on Thursday, by Friday I'd be fit to throw it at her. I'll be sick of it. The sameness turns everybody off, whatever it is.

The games are not special anymore. There are so many one-day games that if you ask me what the result was in the series between two teams a year ago, I'll think, "Oh Christ, how many series have I seen since then?" Either commentating or watching on TV, it's that many. They are not special anymore, they don't mean as much, the one-day games in particular. Too much, and as I say, you get sick of it.

"The game means nothing, it's worthless, if people don't come and watch it. If there are no bums on seats, you play to empty stadiums and television pays you a fortune, the game will be dead if you take it to that nth level."

Also, people only have so much money to spend. Look at the financial crisis in many parts of the world. It's a problem. Some people are losing their jobs, there's more tax than ever, because countries are in trouble. People just don't have unlimited finances to keep watching every bit of cricket that comes around. It's almost like a bus - if you miss one there'll be another in 10 minutes.

Many people love cricket; they love the IPL and Twenty20. But just look at the IPL: the viewing figures on TV and the crowds at the games were down this year. Why? Not because they got fed up with Twenty20, but just remember, they'd all been watching India win the World Cup just before that. How do you top winning the World Cup? Even the IPL cannot top that. No cricket can. In one-day cricket, that is the pinnacle. And it's a fact of life: you need time between matches to gain your enthusiasm and look forward to a special event.

Unfortunately, all over the world, television companies are queuing up to put cricket on. I've told you this before: administrators who run the game in all the countries are mainly interested in the TV money. Lack of crowds bothers them, but it isn't big in terms of the money coming in. TV is bidding all the time to pay more and more money for cricket. It fills nine and a half to 10 hours a day with shows before the match, after the match, lunch time, tea time, everything. So the administrators don't have to do anything to sell the game to the public. The TV companies just keep bidding more and more money for the rights and just sit back and wait for the money to pour in and so forth. It's a short-term policy that will hurt the game in the future. It will definitely hurt it and it is hurting it now.

You'll see it more and more as the years go on, as crowds stay away. Look at the Kolkata match. Kolkata was always full; 100,000 people and 10,000 queuing up outside to get in. There were empty seats all over the place. That tells you everything. And that was India playing at home - not Bangladesh v Kenya - against England, on a winning streak as well. Not good for cricket.

ST: How do you think this problem needs to be addressed, and speaking as a commentator and as someone who makes a living out of the game, do you get affected by this cricket overload?

GB: Yes. I love the game passionately. I should have been born in India. I love the game just like you people. I adore it. Even today, after years of playing, watching and commentating, I still love getting up in the morning and going to the cricket. I adore it. I'm lucky. Some people have to go to a job they hate, just to earn a living. I don't. I actually get paid for watching and doing something I absolutely love and adore, not just like.

But look at me. I'm sad I've not been in India, watching the cricket and commentating. But, in a way, I needed a breather. England have got three Tests in January against Pakistan in the UAE, they have another two Tests against Sri Lanka in March and April, four one-dayers in the UAE and three Twenty20s. That's a lot of cricket. And then there was this thrust in - six matches in India. I just thought you have to take a break now and again, take a back seat.

I love doing it all but if you did everything, you'd get sick of it. I don't want to get to a point where I'm doing cricket and it's just another day. I like going to the cricket, getting up in the morning and looking forward to it. I still retain that enjoyment, enthusiasm and thrill to be going to the cricket wherever I am in the world. And I want to retain that till the day I die. I don't want to be chasing my tail all over the world for money, just to see every damn match. I've never commentated on the IPL. I love the IPL, it's fine. But there is that much cricket.

Shivnarine Chanderpaul was solid as ever, West Indies v India, 3rd Test, Dominica, 5th day, July 10, 2011
Ugly but effective © AFP

It's the administrators. They just know, if they put cricket on, television companies are queuing up for it. You've got ESPN, Nimbus, Sony, Zee, they're all queuing up for cricket in India. So it's a bidding war. You've got a product that's easy to sell. You just sit there and say, "Which of you is going to pay me the most money? Go on, bid." It's easy. You and I could sell it. You don't have to be a cricket administrator. My mum and daughter could do it.

They [administrators] are in a situation where cricket is desperately needed by TV to fill its screens, and they're [TV companies] paying the money. Unfortunately they're forgetting about the public. The game means nothing, it's worthless, if people don't come and watch it. If there are no bums on seats, you play to empty stadiums and television pays you a fortune, the game will be dead if you take it to that nth level. That's the way we're going in 50 years' time. We're just going to overkill the golden egg, which is one-day cricket. We're just overkilling it now, have been for a few years.

ST: Geoffrey's favourite question of the show comes from Suresh in India. Suresh wants to know: What is it about Shivnarine Chanderpaul that's made him so successful? He is West Indies' senior-most cricketer, has an unusual technique, to say the least, but is highly effective in both Tests and ODIs. I must admit he's not the most attractive batsman around in terms of his strokeplay but what do you think has made him tick for so long?

GB: He's dead right. He's an ugly duckling - I don't mean personally; he's a lovely lad, I like him. But his batting, it is ugly. When he stands at the crease, he's looking at midwicket, isn't he? And then as the bowler bowls, he turns around quickly to a more normal stance.

I saw him play his first match in Guyana, and Andy Roberts was a selector then. I asked him, "What's this kid like?" He said, "He's like you, Geoffrey. He just loves batting". And I said, "He'll do all right then." That's what he does. He loves batting. He does not like getting out. That's very important for you youngsters. He has concentration, good defence and desire.

Why do I say good defence? It's because if you stay in, you will make runs. Just remember this: a few flashy shots and then you're in the pavilion watching somebody else bat. You have to have a good defence to be able to play shots. If you watch Shiv, he has a good defence: stays in and he only blossoms later when he's got a few runs on the board. He's not pretty, I accept that, but he is effective. It's not how you make runs, it's how many runs you make. That is the key for any batsman. Same for bowlers - how many wickets you take. It's not having the most perfect action or the most perfect shot-playing, looking good but only making 20. I'll take the guy who looks ugly and makes me a lot of runs. He's had a fine career, done well and is now coming to the end of it - I accept that, and it happens to all of us. But he's been a credit to himself and West Indies cricket.

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 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.

Posted by Sanjeev_Talwani on (October 28, 2011, 18:08 GMT)

Does that mean test cricket is the most "worthless" form of the game?

Posted by Lord.emsworth on (October 27, 2011, 16:11 GMT)

The last 2 India/England ODI's wern't important, the Indians had already won, hence I assume the poor crowd. Having said that poor attendance at Test matches has definitely something to do with Test cricket being on its last legs now. Few have time to watch 5 days of test cricket boring or not.... Not in this fastmoving, bustling technical world of today. (Exception.. Ashes series) In the 1st Test match SL vs Pakistan that was played a few days back there were around 15 to 20 persons in the first few hours watching...It will hurt Geoffrey & the other Purists but 20/20 or even 10/10 is the future. Cricket, like its creators, is in a state of evolution. The dinosaurs will be wiped out I'm afraid.

Posted by Srijay on (October 27, 2011, 12:08 GMT)

Not only has England has not won World cup three times in England, lost in South Africa, West Indies, India and also in Australia. It is unbelievable that England will win Worldcup 4 years from now and that too in Australia. Whereas India has won in England, was runner up in South Africa and has also won in Australia in World Series and has also won the last ODI series against Australia.

Posted by   on (October 27, 2011, 6:22 GMT)

Come on Geoffrey i dont understand, england has never won a worldcup, there is no point in telling they are very good :) how lame excuse...

Comments have now been closed for this article

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