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'Neither India nor Australia are all that good'
Geoff Boycott on a tough series to predict, Sehwag's world record, and the growing trend of outright results in Tests (18:00)
Producer: Siddhartha Talya
December 23, 2011
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'Neither India nor Australia are all that good'December 23, 2011
Siddhartha Talya: Hello and welcome to Bowl at Boycs. I'm Siddhartha Talya and joining me again from South Africa is Geoffrey Boycott. How are you doing, Geoffrey? Gearing up for the holiday season?
Geoffrey Boycott: Yes, it's nice and quiet here at the golf estate. No builders allowed for three weeks at Christmas, so they stopped working last week and they can't start again until the second week in January. It's nice and quiet. Lovely holiday time and lovely weather too.
ST: Let's get to our questions now. The first one comes from Chaitanya in the United States and it's about a world record set by Virender Sehwag very recently. He became only the second batsman to score a double-century in a 50-over international, and he went past the record set by Sachin Tendulkar.
Chaitanya wants to know: Was Sehwag the best candidate to overtake Tendulkar, and do you see this record being broken soon into the future? Also, while we may agree that flat tracks help batsmen score big, isn't it still a great achievement to score a double-hundred inside 50 overs?
GB: Of course it's a great achievement, but was he the best candidate? Not sure what you mean but if you mean, was he the most likely guy to break that record, I would then say yes. In my opinion, he was. His natural game is to play shots. In the subcontinent where it doesn't bounce much and doesn't seam much from the seamers, he's shown many times an ability to destroy bowling. There's very little movement, as I said, and there's no bounce, so they are not going to catch you out.
He's such a terrific shot-player. He's a four-ball hitter, loves hitting boundaries or sixes, is top-class at hitting them. So if you work it out mathematically, for him it's one boundary an over. Fifty overs, one four an over, he's got 200. He won't be the only batsman playing, he'll only get half the balls, so it'll be three, not six, balls an over.
That's not difficult for Virender. It's a straightforward thing for him because he does play lots of shots. He's got this fantastic shot-playing ability, he can improvise well, he plays off the cuff, he's very instinctive and he plays with no fear.
The pitches are good and he's brilliant, but the only question is, if we are logistically working it out, whether he'll make a mistake. Will he make a mistake somewhere in the 50 overs and get out? If the law of averages - they play a lot of one-dayers now - happens, if he doesn't make a mistake on one of those subcontinent pitches, with his fabulous talent, you've got to say there is always a chance, always, that sometime, somewhere, he's going to make a tremendous score, like a double-century, because he is that sort of player. And he just takes the bowling apart.
Will it be passed again in the future? Yes, I think there's every chance it will be. Maybe him. If you had asked me who I would have expected to pass it, him or Sachin, I'd have said Sachin. Sachin doesn't score as fast, because Sehwag is outstanding, but Sachin has a lot of shots, great concentration and patience, and is reliable, once he gets in, not to make mistakes. You've got two players with great shot-making ability, slightly contrasting styles and concentration, but really, they are four-ball hitters in the subcontinent. So it's a fantastic achievement from both of them. Will it happen again? You bet. I would think it will.
ST: Our next question comes from Nigel in the United States. It's something that was also brought up during Rahul Dravid's Bradman Oration in Canberra not too long ago. Nigel says: Geoffrey, do you agree that rankings matter little, even if it's for Test cricket? Wouldn't Test cricket have greater context with a Test Championship, which has now, unfortunately, been postponed to 2017?
GB: Rankings are just an interesting talking point. That's all they are. They're useful from that point of view. If it gets people talking about cricket, not other sports, then that's good for cricket. But they have no real relevance. There's some guy sitting with a computer in the ICC, and most people have never heard of him because I can't remember his name. They would have more credibility if the rankings were done by a panel of well-known ex-cricketers, really well-known people.
But even then it's not easy to get a true reflection. It's not like football, where every team gets to play each other home and away. I mean, you've got some series that are five Tests, some that are three Tests, and some they nip in for two. Australia nipped into South Africa for two. That's nonsense, isn't it? I know administrators mean good, but while they're still only interested in making money, more than they are in the game, it's very difficult to produce anything that's so accurate. You know who's the champion of football in England. Everybody plays each other, so many points for each match, it's there before the match starts and the champion is there, it's real. Here, some guy on a computer gives points. Even if I or you were doing it, it'll only be our opinion then, wouldn't it? Sorry, I don't take much notice of them. I know they do take a lot of notice in Asia, but I don't think so.
The Test Championship might have been a shot in the arm for Test cricket. It would have been a huge focus on the semi-finals and the final at the Mecca of cricket, which is Lord's, in England. There would have been huge media interest throughout the world to actually crown the team officially as world champions. For a long time we knew Australia were the best side, but wouldn't it be nice to actually crown the world champions like you have the world FIFA football championship or the European football championship or the rugby World Cup?
Unfortunately TV money and TV rights have got in the way of a great idea that came from Martin Crowe from New Zealand. It would have been a terrific boost for Test cricket. But it's been missed, as always with Test cricket. If you think about it, Test cricket never gets the priority that one-day cricket gets. Television wants one-day cricket more than anything. The administrators will take one-day cricket more than anything because it pays them more money. The public come to one-day cricket more than Test cricket. Only for certain iconic matches like England v Australia, they get full houses. In so many places around the world, there's a lot of interest but there's not as much interest as there once was. No way.
ST: One Test match that certainly drew a lot of attention very recently was the one between New Zealand and Australia in Hobart, which New Zealand won by seven runs. It, however, finished in four days. Related to that is a question from Clifford in the UK.
Clifford says: We're increasingly seeing Test matches finish within three or four days. The fact that Test matches are producing outright results is a good thing, but why are they finishing so quickly? How much of it is down to bad cricket or difficult pitches? Wouldn't you want Test matches to be going the full five days?
GB: I've advocated for a long time now, for quite a while, that four-day Test matches should be the norm. I don't think it's bad cricket. I think the quality of cricket played is excellent. It's really fun and exciting to watch.
I'll explain why. Since there has been so much one-day cricket in the last 20 years or more, any youngster growing up, all over the world, has had to play the one-day stuff from a very early age. So batsmen have had to play many more shots, take risks to score runs quickly because they've been brought up with that kind of thing.
Going back a long time, technique was a priority and the technique today, because they have to play more shots, isn't that good. It can't be as good, because it isn't necessary to have such fantastic technique all the time. Why? Because in the last 20 years, as I've said, it's been about hitting the ball, scoring runs, hitting big fours and big sixes. It doesn't matter how. It's just that you have to get runs, improvise and do something.
|"Technique today, because they have to play more shots, isn't that good. It can't be as good because it isn't necessary to have such fantastic technique all the time"|
Many years ago, when I grew up and before me, Test matches were all the players had. They didn't have one-day cricket. They had uncovered pitches to play on. Some good pitches, sometimes rain-affected - they were wet, jumped and turned, and that was the norm. The spice and variety of the game was that you weren't sure what you'd get from one day to the next. The history of cricket is littered with matches where people played on a sticky dog or a good batting pitch one day, which the spinners bowled them out on the next, once it started to dry.
So it was very important, when you had uncovered pitches and when pitches were open to the weather, with the ball doing various things, that you had to have very good defensive technique as well as the ability to score runs, play some shots. But that defensive technique was priority. Because if you couldn't stay in, how the hell were you going to get any runs?
The game has changed dramatically in the last 20 years. If you ask youngsters today, they've never heard of playing on uncovered pitches. You know, the game changes. We now see plenty of runs scored in Test matches. The runs scored per over is as good, if not better, than it's ever been. But we get more wickets falling as well. For people, it's become a norm for them, playing one-day cricket at an early age, to play more shots, score more runs, to not have quite as good a defensive technique before they get out. So wickets, runs, scoring, it is good cricket. It's good fun, enjoyment, entertainment, if you want to call it that, for spectators.
If the ICC would improve the over rate and make players get on with it like they used to - the over rate right now is about 13 overs an hour; everybody used to bowl about 15-17 overs an hour. You will find that today the public have a faster way of life. They have phones, they have motor cars, they don't want to come and sit for five days. Only an iconic series like England v Australia can fill Test matches. The crowds are down everywhere but England. The TV money keeps the game afloat. But TV money is killing the game slowly, very slowly. As more and more people stay at home to watch. Because it's free if you stay at home - there's no parking, no travelling, there's no queuing to get into the ground. More and more people are staying away. Look at the crowds at Test matches. I've advocated that one of the ways is to improve the over rates - make them four-day Tests, maybe even play at night, but I'm afraid nothing's changing.
But it is good that matches are finishing with results. They'll go on finishing like that. And that's good for the game.
ST: Let's move on to the question that Geoffrey has picked as the best one for this show, and it comes from Nilesh in India. We are heading into another marquee series and that's between India and Australia and it begins on Boxing Day.
It's a high-profile tour but there are still issues with regards to fitness on India's bowling front, while Australia are missing Cummins and Johnson to injuries as well. Australia have also left out Phillip Hughes and Usman Khawaja, and they've drafted in a left-handed opener, Ed Cowan, who's been very prolific this domestic season for Tasmania. Nilesh wants to know: how are the teams matched, and is this India's best chance of beating Australia in Australia?
GB: If you want my frank opinion, neither side is that good. India have always had problems finding fast bowlers for abroad. In India you've had fast bowlers but they haven't had a lot of work to do because the spinners get plenty of work in India. Spinners, in India, can get them out of any difficulty because they bowl a lot of overs, and India usually have pretty good spinners. And it can be the same problem in Australia.
What can the fast men of Australia achieve? That is the key. The Indian batsmen are good. But, as always, it depends on what type of pitches the series are played on. If you find pitches where there's no pace, no bounce and no real fast men against them, then the Indian batsmen will do well. India have got good players but some of them are getting towards the end of their careers, and it's pace, genuine pace, that can upset them. The Aussie spinners are nothing special. I saw the offspinner [Nathan Lyon] they found, who was once a groundsman. He looks a good bowler. But he's not something you would worry about like a Shane Warne.
And Australia. What about them? They're rebuilding and they need to after England walloped them. Pat Cummins, when he played for Australia against South Africa, he looked fantastic and really impressive. But he's injured. He genuinely is fast, he bowls the ball away from the batsmen. Johnson is fast, erratic, needs bouncy pitches, otherwise he's ineffective, and he's injured. So, I don't know if they've got any real fast men that will worry the Indians. Yes, they'll bowl well on their own pitches. They usually do. They usually find bowlers who can bowl, be energetic, and they'll probably be a bit better than India. But they don't really have the quick men, the genuinely fast men.
And Australia's batting has weaknesses. They've just been to a batting camp and they need to go to one. Ricky Ponting's under pressure to make some runs. The Australian batting is not going to frighten you. But the Indian bowling, now that's not going to worry anybody either on Australian pitches.
So it's difficult to call. The nature of the pitches will have a big say, that's all I can tell you. If you're looking for a close series, if you're looking to think, "Well, hmm, crikey, I'm not sure who's going to win," this is one of those series. So there's a good chance for India to do well, but the Indian fast bowlers have got to find someone. They've got to shape up.
ST: Geoffrey, it's been an uncertain build-up to the Australian series, especially from the Indian side. Zaheer Khan is returning after a long layoff due to injury. Then there's Ishant Sharma who pulled out [in a tour game] after bowling just five overs. Is fitness a major concern? And there's no Praveen Kumar either.
GB: It's always been a problem. You've had Srinath and Kapil Dev, wonderful bowlers. In between, you've had players like Ishant Sharma who've floated in and bowled well and you thought, "Wow, he looks good." He's tall, bowls off stump, gets it to move in and out, gets a bit of bounce on bouncy pitches, wow. And then what happens? He loses it, gets injured, maybe eats too much, who the hell knows. That is indicative of nearly all of India's seam bowlers except Srinath and Kapil Dev. You have people come in, and they play well for a short period. They show you lots of promise. They look as if they've got something about them. And they flatter and deceive and let you down.
ST: So, Geoffrey, you wouldn't take a punt, before the series?
GB: No, I'm not putting any of my money on those two. You're kidding me.
ST: Okay, 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. Here's wishing you a Merry Christmas and a happy New Year and we'll see you again in two weeks' time. Goodbye.
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