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'England need to graft, graft and just stay in'

Geoff Boycott on the key to tackling Ajmal, the Morgan review proposals, how to read a spinner, and why India must focus on improving against pace (19:39)

Producer: Siddhartha Talya

January 25, 2012


'England need to graft, graft and just stay in'

January 25, 2012

Saeed Ajmal bowls in the nets, Dubai, January 10, 2012
"Watch his wrist like a hawk" © Getty Images

Siddhartha Talya: Welcome to another edition of Bowl at Boycs. I'm Siddhartha Talya and it's my pleasure, as always, to welcome Geoffrey Boycott on the show.

Morning, Geoffrey, not the best start for England this year?

Geoffrey Boycott: Not the best? You're kidding me. I can't believe anybody expected that either side would win in three days in the Emirates. These pitches are like in Pakistan. Actually, the soil for the Dubai Test match came from Karachi, I am led to understand. So you can imagine, the pitch plays pretty true, very good. On the slow side, with lowish bounce but pretty true. But really, if you apply yourself, you should make plenty of runs on those. You need to just apply yourself a lot better than England did.

I really enjoyed the Test match. I'm pleased for Pakistan. They outplayed England. I'm quite fond of Pakistan in a way. They've always had some wonderful players but they have been a problem at times, haven't they?

ST: Well, Geoffrey, as expected, we have a couple of questions today dealing with England's performance in Dubai and I'll get to those in a bit. But I'll start off with a question on English domestic cricket. The question comes from Steven in the UK.

Steven asks: Do you support the recommendations made in the Morgan review? Fourteen matches per team in the County Championship, down from 16, a return to 50-over cricket from 40-over cricket, and 14 group matches in Twenty20 cricket. What impact will the changes have on the domestic structure in England?

GB: I've met Mr Morgan a number of times. He's a very likeable man, a very nice man. Very polite and courteous. He certainly never asked me anything, and a number of ex-players I know have never been asked, so who the hell he asked about this report, I don't know.

But, sadly, I don't think this will help English cricket. I believe he has pandered to many of the counties, who just want money. Money is their god. The counties will vote for whatever he says to make money. They're all in trouble. If there were two flies running up a wall and playing cricket, and if the TV would pay for it, then the ECB would sell it for money.

It's about now for [the counties], their existence. Not what is best for English cricket or the English game in the long run, or what will help the youngsters coming through in the future, when we are dead. We should always be thinking, not just of now, but we have a duty, a moral obligation, to make sure that cricked is played well and keeps going for the next generation. Like parents try to look after their children and make their lives better, we should try to keep cricket going for the next generation, not just for us.

David is a big friend of the ECB. Remember, he was the chairman of the ECB, so he knows people there. He knows the chairman and he knows the chief executive, David Collier. He's got on by being a politician, a very savvy politician.

So many counties are so much in debt. They have serious difficulties. And they'll vote for anything. Many will tell you, all the time, how important three- or four-day cricket is to the development of our players to play international standard cricket and produce a very good Test team. They'll keep telling you that, but when it comes to altering the structure of our game, it's always the three- or four-day game that loses matches and is hurt. Look how last year it was relegated to the beginning of the season, right at the start of April, the worst weather. Not the best weather. That, in the months of June, July and August, is saved for T20. We have to play our four-day game around the Twenty20, which many of the counties want because they want to make more money.

They pay lip service, do many of the chairmen, to proper four-day cricket - how much they care about it, how important it is but when it comes to it, they'll shoot it. They'll say one thing and do the other. But what they're doing is reducing the four-day game and playing more Twenty20 - it is up from 10 to 14.

Many of the counties have short-sighted thinking. They can't get it into their heads that too much T20 cricket in the middle of our summer, from 10 to 14 games, is not good. They forget that when the England team plays well, and has been doing for a few years, they make a lot of money through advertising, gate receipts, television revenue, everything. And all the counties, all 18 of them, are getting £1.5 to 2 million share-out. But no, they still want more.

If they have more Twenty20, they can get a bit more cash. Three- or four-day cricket is a developing ground for quality cricketers. It doesn't bring in more money. There's not many people who watch - a few thousand here and there. With Twenty20, they can get more people in, who don't normally come to the Championship, so it's just more money. It's avarice. All the time, money, money.

I'm saying what I think, but it's not going to change anything. The game is run by well-meaning people but I don't think it's in the best hands. I don't think they have the long run, the future of cricket, at heart. It's about survival for them.

ST: Next up is a question from Nathan in the UK and it's a very relevant one given the way Saeed Ajmal's been bowling. Nathan asks: Is it a good thing to teach kids to focus on the grip of the bowler when batting, especially a spinner? Would that make it easier for a batsman to play the ball or would it complicate things more?

GB: I can speak from personal experience, Nathan. That's the only thing I've got. For an offspinner, you could grip it where the seam is going round and round towards the batsman or you could grip it across the seam and spin it. I watched the wrist. I think that is the key. It's not the grip. You've nearly got it right.

If you watch the wrist very closely and work that out, then eventually you'll work out which way it's going. Now there are a few people who say they can see the ball spin, i.e. which way it is spinning out of a spinner's hand. I couldn't. I watched the wrist very carefully and tried to work it out. Now if you can watch the wrist, you get a fraction of a second more to see it. Remember, if you're watching the ball spinning in the air, it has to leave the hand and travel a number of yards before you can see which way it is spinning. If you can actually see it from the wrist as he delivers, you get a fraction more time.

Certainly with the spinners, it's so important. That's the problem with Ajmal. Many of them can't read him. Once you read him, it's straightforward. I didn't say it's easy. You still need to play the length, the line, and when it turns a little bit, you can still make a mistake. But if you know which way it's going, even if it's only slightly, you know which is the easier side to play it, which are the easier shots to play, which are the ones you shouldn't.

ST: Jamshed from Pakistan sends us our next question. He wants your assessment of the Pakistan batting line-up, and wants to know if there are any serious weaknesses that you see there that England can exploit in the upcoming Test match.

GB: I don't think there are any great weaknesses. I think they have three very good Test players with good records. Ajmal, the spinner - I liked him the first time I saw him a couple of years ago. Umar Gul has a good record, and so does Younis Khan. The rest of the players are honest, decent cricketers. Pakistan's strength at the moment is their unity, their togetherness, which is quite refreshing after all the troubles they tend to get themselves in to. It's really refreshing to see them together, playing well.

I actually don't think they are that strong a side. They're a decent side and can be beaten. They won't be beaten by England unless England play a hell of a lot better. England have to play to their best. That's the first thing England have to do. Not concentrate on Pakistan, concentrate on themselves, because there is a lot of improvement needed.

ST: Moving on to a series happening in Australia, we have a question from Sunil in India. Sunil says: Gautam Gambhir has said that home teams should prepare pitches that suit them best and has asked for "rank turners" against visiting teams in India. Do you think this is going a little overboard? And since India have had problems coping with swing and bounce, what do they need to do at home to improve their own batting?

GB: Right, I'll take the first part of the question. Why doesn't Gambhir make the point that he and his batting colleagues could learn to play better against seam bowlers when the ball comes off a bit quicker, bounces a bit higher or it swings and seams a bit more? It's not rocket science that's needed, it's just better technique from these players. I also think he's trying, in a way, to deflect a lot of criticism they're getting from the Indian public and they are rightly getting criticised.

If a batsman is exceptional on subcontinent pitches, and not good in England or Australia or South Africa, then he can't be classed as a great batsman. He's a one-dimensional player. A one-dimensional batsman, and it's up to him to learn how to adapt to other conditions. Because, throughout history - and this won't change - the great batsmen of any era are those who can bat well in all conditions, all countries, home and away, first and second innings, all situations, defending or attacking. If you can't, you can't be considered as great. I think that's the trouble with people like Gautam, and there are one or two others there that are very good in their own country.

"Gautam [Gambhir] is going overboard and trying to deflect criticism from himself and his colleagues. What he really should be saying is, 'How can I improve? I've been around for a long time, it's time I'm a hell of a lot better than I am in countries where I don't make any runs'"

Making more spinning pitches in India is not the best way forward. Indian pitches do turn anyhow; they're flat and good for batting and then they turn, so the spinners always get into it. Gautam is going overboard and trying to deflect criticism from himself and his colleagues. What he really should be saying is, "How can I improve? I've been around for a long time, it's time I'm a hell of a lot better than I am in countries where I don't make any runs."

And if you want to get better - that's the second part - it's quite simple. First of all you've got to want to play better, not want to make more turning pitches in your country so you'll be comfortable. Get faster, bouncier pitches at home to prepare on and to practise. You could practise on hard concrete if you wanted, which really makes the ball bounce. Get hard balls, composition balls, not necessarily the leather balls. Get composition balls on hard concrete and make it bounce a little. You could even get the seamers, good club seamers, to bowl from 21 yards. They can come one yard through the crease, which will help them get the ball through faster at the batsmen.

And that's what you want. You want some practice against this, instead of saying, "Oh dear, we can't play this. Let's have more pitches in India that turn, for us to play well against the opposition." Not a good way to play, that. Not a good way to improve. It says what I've always thought and many people do, that one or two of these Indian players - not Tendulkar, who is a true great - are very good in their own country, get huge money from advertising and everything, but they don't do it abroad.

ST: Geoffrey, the Test match in Adelaide could probably be the last time we see Tendulkar, Laxman and Dravid bat together in a Test. India don't play their next Test match in quite some time. What do you think has been their collective legacy for Indian cricket?

GB: It's been a period, over a decade, of high-quality batsmanship. Dravid's got one of the best techniques - he's getting on a bit now, like all of us when we played towards the end of our careers. We're not quite the same force, we can't be. He's a lovely lad, got a wonderful technique, a nice demeanour about him. Sachin's an all-time great, an iconic player, can play anywhere. And Laxman, he's thrilled me enormously. I call him the magic man, because you can bowl three balls to him, same length and same line, and he can play three different shots. At the moment, he's not in very good nick. That could happen now and again. His footwork, he plays a little bit forward, like David Gower. He takes the ball on the up a bit. If he's just out of sync, out of rhythm, or not just quite to the pitch of the ball or anything, takes a bit more time to move against the bounce or the seam, he's going to make mistakes. But he's been a wonderful player. You've had three of the best and they've done well.

ST: The question that Geoffrey has picked as his favourite for this show comes from Rizwan in the UK and it's got to do with a bowler who has given England a fair amount of trouble, already, in the series in the UAE.

Rizwan asks: Geoffrey, do you think England were affected by the whole talk of of a teesra, or the other variation, that they failed to tackle Saeed Ajmal's biggest weapon, the doosra? How should they approach their batting in Abu Dhabi?

GB: The teesra is a load of baloney. If this wasn't a family show, I would use another word as well. I think it's propaganda. So let's get that straight. When Shane Warne was bowling - he was the greatest - in Tests, every series I ever saw him play against England, he had a new ball. There was this new magic ball that he perfected and the press lapped it up, loved it up and wrote it up. And I used to say then, "What a load of so and so." He bowls legspinners, the googly, a topspinner and a flipper. That's all there is. Nothing else.

There were so many new balls he had… you know Heinz baked beans, they sell them in 57 varieties, they say, and that's what Shane did. He talked it up so there were 57 varieties of balls, and it was a load of rubbish. He had four. Now, where were Shane's so-called varieties when Laxman and Dravid were making their world-record partnership in Kolkata to win the Test match? Where were they then, all these magical balls? And it's the same here with the teesra.

When England start to play him well, if they ever do, we won't ever hear anymore about the teesra. Simple as that. Shane was a true great, an iconic bowler in cricket, a superstar. Ajmal is an excellent bowler. But if England play him well, there will be no more talk of the teesra.

Now, it comes to the doosra and the offspinner. All it is is a slow ball. One turns in and one turns out. If you can't pick him, you've got this problem. It's the same problem against any spinner. I had the same problem in the 1970-71 series against John Gleeson. It took me a state match and two Tests to really work him out. I still made runs, but I made them slowly.

Gautam Gambhir and Virender Sehwag take a drinks break, Perth, January 12, 2012
"Get faster, bouncier pitches at home to prepare on and to practise" © AFP

This is what England have to do. If they can't pick him, even with all the Merlin and the Pro-batter that they have - they've had hours on that - then stay in. Defend. Defend those stumps for your life. Be watchful, patient. Graft and graft and just stay in, all the time, watching like a hawk his wrist. Watch it, watch it. And try to pick him. And one time, after a while, after you've stayed in long enough, you'll start to think, "I'm sure that's a doosra." And it will be a doosra. You're not totally sure but you'll begin to think, "I think it is. Yeah, I got that right. An offspinner, then an offspinner and then a doosra. I've got it right." And slowly and surely you'll start to pick him. Then it's a different ballgame. It's just another slow bowler who bowls little offspinners . A good bowler, but he's not the mystery man. He's not the bogeyman.

And you can score better then, because when it leaves his hand, and you're not sure what it is, you have to play carefully for your stumps. It's very difficult to attack. But when it leaves his hand and you see the wrist and know it's a doosra, you can go inside-out through the covers. Front foot, back foot. When it's the other one, you can go outside-in with the spin on the leg side. Spot him, work him out, but you can only do that by staying in the middle. It's halfway to playing him well.

ST: Geoffrey, the track in Abu Dhabi is usually a little flatter…

GB: It'll be roughly the same. It may be very flat, but this one [in Dubai] was pretty flat. But it was on the slow side, a bit on the low side. You had to graft and work for your runs but nothing unusual in that. We just played many poor shots. Andy Flower got it right. Our shot selection, our thinking about what to play, was poor. You have to make better decisions on your shot selection. That's the first thing England have to do.

ST: Thanks a lot, 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 join us again in a couple of weeks' time to answer them. Until the next time, it's goodbye from me, Siddhartha Talya, and everyone else at ESPNcricinfo.

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