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'Too early to be judging Cook's captaincy'

Geoff Boycott on England's one-day success, Ponting's axeing, Brian Close's bravery and Westfield's conviction (14:52)

Producer: Siddhartha Talya

February 23, 2012

Transcript

'Too early to be judging Cook's captaincy'

February 23, 2012

Brian Close ways out of the way of a Michael Holding bouncer, England v West Indies, Old Trafford, July 10, 1976
Brian Close: genuinely brave © The Cricketer International

Siddhartha Talya: Welcome once again to another edition of Bowl at Boycs. I'm Siddhartha Talya and I'm joined, as always, by Geoffrey Boycott, who's talking to us from Dubai.

Good morning, Geoffrey. England have bounced back in the one-day series, they've taken an unassailable lead. It's quite an impressive performance, isn't it, given the dispiriting defeat in the Test series before this?

Geoffrey Boycott: Yes, they have played pretty good but quite honestly it's not unusual for a team that wins the Test series to sort of go off the boil in the one-dayers. That's what seems to have happened to Pakistan. Look at England. They beat Australia in the Ashes just over a year ago and then were pathetic in the one-dayers prior to the World Cup. We could hardly win a match, we didn't even know what our best side was. Two years ago in England, South Africa beat England comfortably in the Tests, but in the one-dayers South Africa were poor and England won. So I don't know what to make of it, really. But it happens far too often; the side that wins the Test matches somehow goes off the boil, and the side that does poor in the Test matches suddenly has a lift.

ST: Let us begin today's show with an interesting question on bowling, and it comes from Edwin Burrows in the United Kingdom. He says: Geoffrey, you recently picked Sydney Barnes as one of your favourite bowlers. Many regard him as the greatest bowler of all time. Why have players and coaches been reluctant to emulate his method of bowling legbreaks and offbreaks at a fast-medium pace?

GB: Good question, Edwin. But it's simply this: Many players and coaches today don't avail themselves of the history of our game. Quite a lot of them have no idea, or very little knowledge, of cricket, unless they have played against a player or saw someone play when they were a youngster. They might have seen something on TV, since TV is such a huge medium today. If guys see anything on TV, they think, "That's it, that must be the best, nothing else matters." In other words, the history of our game for 200 years - they don't search and find out about it.

If you think about it, up to 20 years ago, cricket on TV in any part of the world was poor. You got grainy pictures in black and white. When satellite came in - satellite TV [in England] came in 1999 when West Indies played England in the West Indies - it spread so fast. Nowadays we've all been able to see virtually every cricket match in the world. Sky in England have got about seven channels, India are the same, New Zealand and Australia have all got satellite. When I go to South Africa, I can see every cricket match in the world on SuperSport. If you have satellite, that's it, you see everything. Current players are enjoying huge financial rewards because TV is paying huge money.

Most international players go by what they see in TV or what they've seen as kids. They don't read up about it. They don't know about Sydney Barnes, and some of them have no idea about whether he bowled or batted. If they know he was a bowler, they don't know what type of bowler he was. For you to say to me that he bowled legbreaks and offbreaks at a fast-medium pace… I'll say to you, he actually swung it as well. It swung in the air and went off the pitch. I've read about the famous Australian batsmen like Clem Hill who've talked about him and said he was just brilliant, absolutely brilliant. Most of today's players just don't know the history of the game, so asking them to relate to what Sydney Barnes bowled, what he did and how great he was, and to read about opposition batsmen at the time who faced him - and they said he was brilliant - they don't know about it, sadly.

ST" Geoffrey, we'll come to a question about a player you played with for quite some time. It's a question from Stefan Hemmings in the West Indies. He says: This may seem a rather odd question but I was reading a feature on your fellow Yorkshireman, Brian Close and his high pain tolerance. What were your impressions of him? Was the bravest (or craziest) cricketer you've ever met in your career?

GB: I don't think he was crazy. I think he was genuinely very brave. I got into the Yorkshire side in 1963. When he played for England in that famous match at Lord's and took blows from Wes Hall and Charlie Griffith on his body… He had a very strong mind over matter. He was mentally strong. He would tell himself that the ball didn't hurt him.

The next day, when he came up after a match, there was a Yorkshire match at Sheffield. He had all these bruises on his body. He was getting changed and it was quite an event to see somebody letting the ball hit him at that pace. He had all these bruises and the press came in to film him. I happened to touch him on one of the bruises and he shot up in the air - it hurt like hell. So the next day he was normal, but it hurt at the time he was batting or even fielding. He would tell himself: "It doesn't hurt, we're playing to win."

In county cricket, we used to play on all kinds of turning pitches. He was fielding very close to the bat once, at bat-pad on the off side as well as the leg. This guy hit it and it hit him [Close] on the head, and down he went. All of us rushed to him wondering how seriously he was hurt. And as he lay there, the blood gushing from his head, he just said to us slip fielders, "Did you catch it?" And we said, "No, we were worried about you" and gave him a nice rollicking. But that was Closey. He just had this mind over matter until the match was finished. And then, like everybody else, things hurt. So, no, I don't think he was stupid. He was just a rare individual.

ST: One of the players who has stood out for England in this ODI series they've already won is Alastair Cook. He has a couple of centuries and an 80. Related to that is a question from Ketul in Hong Kong. Ketul asks: How do you rate Cook as an ODI captain? He wasn't considered an ODI player initially but is now leading the team. His batting in the 50-over format has improved significantly. What's worked for him?

GB: As a captain I think it's too early to say. He's not done enough matches yet. Why do I say that? Some players thrive on a new responsibility. Some find the pressure or the added workload too much to handle. They find that it gets them down and their form suffers. For others, it uplifts them. Take Michael Clarke from Australia. He's done marvellously well since he has taken over as captain from Ricky Ponting. He's got a number of hundreds.

The question to watch for all of us is: can Cooky, and Clarke for that matter, maintain their form the longer they do the job? That's the real question. Newness gives some people an uplift, an emotional high, like an adrenaline surge. And so they play very well.

 
 
"Beating Pakistan in the UAE is good but the real thing is: can you win the World Cup? In a year's time, nobody will remember these one-dayers in the UAE but they'll remember that we were rubbish in the World Cup in India"
 

Now, Cook seems very comfortable with the ball coming on to the bat from seamers. Remember, although he is a very good Test player, it's only eight months ago, maybe, that he didn't get picked for the World Cup in India. So it's been a meteoric turnaround for him.

He likes the ball coming on. Here in the one-dayers in the UAE, the Pakistan seamers have been pretty poor, to put it bluntly. One guy has played two Tests and picked up one wicket, and Umar Gul, who's a very good bowler, that's the worst I've seen him bowl in one-dayers. His line is wrong, his length is wrong, everything's wrong, there's nothing good. In fact, if he didn't have a record of doing well for Pakistan in the past, you'd drop him. That's how poor he's been. So it's been quite easy for England's players to knock him off and get a start.

And when the spinners come on… what you've got to understand is that spinners in Test cricket hem the batsmen in with close catchers, everybody is saving the single. England were under terrific pressure and they froze. Here in the one-dayers, when the spinners have come on, everybody is spread out, there are no close catchers, no pressure on our batsmen, they play a little defensive shot and get one because everybody's spread and it's been much easier.

So, let's just reserve judgement at the moment. Let's say the team is doing well for England, he's doing all right as captain and is doing brilliantly as a batsman. But there'll be other surfaces, other types of matches, and the longer he does it, they will be able to judge him.

ST: You briefly mentioned Ricky Ponting. Following a string of poor performances in the one-dayers in Australia, he's been dropped from the side and it seems highly unlikely that he'll ever play the 50-over format again. Do you think that was a bold decision by the Australian selectors to leave him out?

GB: I don't know if it's a bold decision. I think you have to make decisions that sometimes are unpalatable, that you don't want to make but you have to be strong enough to make. Just like England and all the other countries, and India even… they are the world champions, one-day winners, but they've got to start planning for 2015.

England have to keep their eye on the ball. Beating Pakistan in the UAE is good but the real thing is: can you win the World Cup? In a year's time nobody will remember these one-dayers in the UAE but they'll remember that we were rubbish in the World Cup in India. And it is important for India to try and remember, "Hey, we are world champs, let's enjoy it, but let's start planning for 2015, because some players will be too old." It's the same with Australia.

Will Ricky Ponting be fit to play one-dayers in three years time? He's 37 now. My answer is: probably not. Sometimes, well it is rare that somebody in their 40s does, but probably not. All these one-dayers that are played all over the world that people come and watch and enjoy, that television plays lots of money for, are nice fun while we're watching them, but the real crux is winning the World Cup. England have never won it, Australia have, they have a tradition. Same with India. They've got to think, "Hey, don't rest on our laurels, think forward three years' time." And in three years' time Ponting will be 40 years of age. For me, I think you've got to find some young guys. Test matches are a bit different.

ST: We now come to the question that you have picked as your favourite for this show, and it's about the spot-fixing controversy that continues to rage on. It comes from Simon in the UK. He says: Mervyn Westfield is now the fourth cricketer to be sent to jail for spot-fixing. Do you think the domestic game is more vulnerable to corruption? Given that he's been sent to jail for something he did in 2009, do you think this matter should have been dealt with much earlier?

GB: Is the domestic game in England more vulnerable to corruption? I don't think so. I think it's about individuals. Whatever type of cricket they play, whether it's county cricket or international cricket, it's about the individual being susceptible, as simple as that. If people like money above their responsibility, morality and above the law, there'll always be people who'll take money, whatever the type of cricket.


Mervyn Westfield pleaded guilty at the Old Bailey, London, January, 12, 2012
Mervyn Westfield: In jail for spot-fixing © Getty Images

Should this have happened earlier, should he have gone to jail earlier? It's very difficult to say. The law has to take its course. Sometimes the law moves very slowly, but with certainty. The UK police have had lots of interviews, from what I understand. And then they've also had to see if there was a case that could be proved - that is the key. Look at the case they've been looking into, concerning Danish Kaneria, and try to work out with interviews and all: is there a case to answer for him? In the end our Crown Prosecution couldn't or wouldn't take the case forward to court because they didn't feel there was any proof.

Ideally, most people would have liked this case to come to court much earlier. But, as with all police cases, there are things that we, the public, will never get to know. There'll be interviews, leads and searches, and so things go on, but they're not going to tell us. Because in the UK we have strong laws on libel and slander. So unless the police or an individual can prove something, we've all got to be careful about what we say and what we write. Just remember, thinking somebody is guilty of something or even knowing somebody is guilty of something is not enough. You have to have proof, evidence, to be able to go to court and prove it. And until you can do that, you can't take somebody to court.

ST: Thanks for that Geoffrey, that's a wrap on today's show. Do mail in your questions using our feedback form and Geoffrey will be back in two weeks' time to answer them. Until the next time, on behalf of everyone at ESPNcricinfo, this is Siddhartha Talya signing off.


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