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'England may struggle on slow turners'

Geoff Boycott on the upcoming Test series in Sri Lanka, Rahul Dravid's retirement, the success of Vernon Philander, and Tendulkar's achievement (13:38)

Producer: Siddhartha Talya

March 22, 2012


'England may struggle on slow turners'

March 22, 2012

Jack Hobbs on his way to 52, England v South Africa, 5th Test, August 20, 1929
Jack Hobbs: not to be used as a role model for limited-overs cricket © Getty Images

Siddhartha Talya: Hello and welcome to Bowl at Boycs. I'm Siddhartha Talya and joining me today from Cape Town in South Africa is Geoffrey Boycott. Morning Geoffrey, all geared up to leave for Sri Lanka?

Geoffrey Boycott: Yes, I'm all ready. I'm leaving today, I'm going to England for a couple of days and then I'm straight on to Colombo and then a bit of a car journey up to Galle. I'm looking forward to seeing Galle, I haven't been there for up to four or five years.

ST: Let's start with a question from Aakash in India and it's about one of India's all-time greats who stepped down recently from international cricket. Rahul Dravid has called time on his career. What do you think is his biggest legacy and do you think someone like Virat Kohli can take his place at No.3?

GB: Virat Kohli is a very good player. I thought for some time that he needs to be exposed to international cricket as much as possible. You can have all the potential in the world, you can look good in the nets, in the practice or warm-up matches but you actually need to play. And when you're ready to play, if you don't get the opportunity to play at the top level, if you don't get the opportunity to move up to a higher grade of cricket, then you actually go backwards because you become stale, become static, you stand still. You need to be exposed all the time, you need to be put under pressure. He's been ready for a couple of years has Kohli. He's been waiting in the wings patiently, he's a very good player.

Whether he'll be as good as Rahul Dravid, I'm not so sure about that. This kid [Dravid] is a lovely boy. On or off the field, he's an absolutely delightful guy. I don't know anybody who has a wrong word for Rahul Dravid. You couldn't meet or know anyone better in life, never mind in cricket. For my money, he has technical excellence, any batsman or any youngster will be proud to copy or imitate his way of batting. It's been textbook and almost a delight to watch in everything he does. Excellent footwork, he's used the crease with a big stride forward to the pitch of the ball and then he's got right back in the crease, onto his stumps, to give the ball time to move, he's watched it. Terrific defence, has concentration, patience.

He wasn't called "the Wall" for nothing. It's a very apt nickname because all bowlers knew if he got in he wasn't going to give it away, and the bowlers will get to feel as if they were bowling at a brick wall. Cricket has been enriched by his batting and his presence.

ST: We'll move on to a question from Chandrasekhar J in India about another cricketer who has had an excellent start to his Test career and that's Vernon Philander. He says: Philander has taken 45 wickets in six Test matches. He's no stranger to English county cricket either, having played for Middlesex a few seasons ago. With South Africa touring England this summer, do you think Philander is someone who'd worry the English camp?

GB: Worry England's batsman? Well, worry is a word I wouldn't use. I certainly think they will be concentrating on him, they will be aware of what he bowls and how he bowls and that he's having success and so forth. For me, he is a good asset for South Africa because he is a foil, opposite the pace and aggression of Dale Steyn, who will force the batsmen to stay back a bit more in the crease. Then you've got Morne Morkel, who's got a great height, a high delivery action which can cause problems for most batsmen when they're trying to judge the length.

If you remember: Curtly Ambrose, Joel Garner, Vincent van der Bijl, even the great West Indian bowlers Courtney Walsh and Michael Holding were very tall. They already had pace but they also had high actions and height, and this forces batsmen to stay back too much when really, they want to get forward. I wanted to get forward when I batted. It's very difficult. You get that in-between length, it's not full, it's not short. To medium-fast guys you might want to get forward but to tall guys with high actions, they force you back. Really, you'd like to be forward but it's very difficult to get forward.

Now, Vernon is not fast but he's lively enough. And he tends to pitch the ball up. He moves it with a bit of swing and a bit of seam or a bit of both, and he has enough pace with superb control, it's the accuracy. He's a good bowler, make no mistake. And sometimes, when batsmen are put under a lot of pressure from pace at one end, and they're forced back a bit and get a few short balls then here's this guy who comes from the other end, pitches it up, not quite as quick as them, sometimes they [batsmen] relax a little thinking, "he's a bit easier there." But he's not necessarily easier. He's very accurate, bowls at off stump a lot. He bowls very few wayward deliveries and I would expect him to bowl well in England.

All three have to bowl well actually. Styen, Morkel and him because they will all realise that if they don't bowl well, then there's a kid waiting in the wings, who's an excellent prospect and maybe even better than one or two of them. He's Marchant de Lange. To me, he looks top notch. So I expect Philander, Steyn and Morkel to be a handful to England. But don't kid yourself. England have got some good bowlers too. So it's going to be a great series.

ST: Geoffrey, do you think South Africa now have a complete bowling attack? They have Steyn, Morkel, Kallis and Philander along with Imran Tahir, the legspinner, to back them up.

GB: You're kidding me. Imran Tahir? You're kidding me. He won't cause me a sleepless night. The three seamers and the allrounder are as good as there are in world cricket. They're terrific bowlers. Let me tell you, they are top notch, all four. But the spin, give us a break! My mum will be queuing up to bat against him.

If it really turns, then England are poor on slow pitches but if it just turns a bit and England's seamers can get into it, then I think England have a good chance of beating them. I know that seems strange to say, but yes, it's going to be interesting
ST: Let's move on to a technical question and it comes from Andrew Crowther in the UK. He says: I am at the moment, re-reading Jack Hobbs' My Life Story from 1935, and I am struck by his sentence about batting: "Do not draw away, if you draw away you cannot play with a straight bat and the movement may cause you to be bowled off your pads."

I wonder if the limited-overs strategy of the batsman falling away to leg, when he swipes at the ball in an effort to increase the strike-rate, has led to an increased number of batsmen getting bowled. What do you think?

GB: [Laughs] You've got to remember, though, and take it in context, not out of context. When Jack was playing in the '20s and '30s, he had no concept of the Twenty20 cricket of crash, bang, wallop and hit it out of the park. In his era, everything had to be played textbook. You stood in your crease, you played straight, you played nicely. You know, they hardly every hit any sixes, they hit it on the floor. So you can't take something out of 1935 and then say, that applies to 2012 if you're talking about one-day cricket.

If you're talking about Test cricket, what Jack says applies to Test cricket just the same or county cricket or four-day cricket, anything that is proper cricket played with two innings and where time is not so important, then yes. What he says, that skill applies today, but you can't say what he's taking about Test cricket, applying it to Twenty20 cricket. It's very different.

The only time in Jack's time that any batsman was taken out of his normal comfort zone, shall we say, was during the Bodyline series when England employed bowling at the ribs in Australia in 1932-33. Larwood bowled at Bradman, and Bradman was so clever; he was clever enough, he was good enough, he was quick enough on his feet to back away to leg and play the chest-high, rib-high balls to the off side. Now, nobody else in the Australian team could do that. I bet if England had to play the bodyline, none of them could. Bradman was a genius with his mind, his quick feet, etc. So, backing away, no, in proper cricket, because you would get bowled or bowled off your pads.

You can't really take what Hobbs said in 1935 about proper cricket and apply it to one-day or Twenty20. These kids today are trying to improvise and dream up ideas of how they can hit boundaries off what are pretty good balls, and it's not easy sometimes.

ST: Well, let's come to the question that Geoffrey has picked as his favourite for this show and it's about the upcoming Test series between England and Sri Lanka. It comes from James in the UK. Who's your pick for the short Test series between those two teams? The subcontinent hasn't been a great touring place for England. Do you see this team winning at all?

GB: The biggest unknown for me is what type of pitches will be prepared. Everyone has taken note of how poorly England batted in the UAE against Pakistan on slow, turning pitches. If we get those sort of pitches, that are slow turners, then England may struggle. You'd think that they will have had some thinking, and one or two talks about how they're going to play better. But even so, they did play pretty poorly.

But also, Sri Lanka don't have any Ajmal or Murali to confuse the England batsmen with the doosra. And there's no Malinga to clean up the tail or maybe get an early wicket with the new ball with his yorkers and pace. Sometimes in Sri Lanka, the pitches are slow, flat and good for batting, where you can get high-scoring, tedious, drawn matches. I hope that doesn't happen because that won't be any fun to commentate on or to watch.

Who's going to win? I don't know. It seems England's seamers are better than Sri Lanka's. I'm not sure Sri Lanka's spinners are better than England's. Monty Panesar bowled great and Swann's bowling great, so I'm not so sure. If it really turns, then England are poor on slow pitches but if it just turns a bit and England's seamers can get into it, then I think England have a good chance of beating them. I know that seems strange to say, but yes, it's going to be interesting.

But two [Tests] is no good. You lose the first Test , you think, "How the hell am I going to win the series? I can't." You can only draw it. So I'm looking forward to going to Sri Lanka because they're nice people, lovely people. Their cricket is nice. I'm a big fan of Mahela Jayawardene, think he's done some fantastic things for Sri Lankan cricket. But two [Tests] doesn't thrill me, I don't think it's good for cricket.

GB: Can I say just one thing to all our listeners? I just want to say I'm one of millions of people who are thrilled to bits to see Sachin Tendulkar get his final [100th] hundred. It must be playing on his mind for months, and although he's tried not to think about it, it's probably tensed him up and everybody's been onto him about it. And now that he's got the monkey off his back, he's likely now to get one or two more quickly. So I'm really pleased, he is a smashing young man, a delight for cricket, and I hope he goes on to play another year or two before he hangs up his bat. I love him lots. We know he's not really a Yorkshireman, but he's played for us. We are proud and pleased that he's played for us and anybody who's ever met him knows that his cricket, and his personality, have been an absolute joy to watch. Well done, Sach.

ST: Geoffrey, do you think it'll free him up a lot more now that he's finally reached his landmark?

GB: He's just been trying too hard. Can you try too hard? No, you just try like hell, you tense up a bit and then you make a mistake and then the opposition try a bit harder as well. They know you're trying for that hundred, that magical number, then fielders come in and everything just gets tighter, more stressful and you can't play your best when you're tight. Any kid out there has got to remember, yes you want to be concentrating in the mind, but your body has to be relaxed so you're in control. And whenever you tense up at anything, it doesn't matter if it's golf, tennis, cricket or in life, you don't play your best. So now, he'll be better if he stays concentrated in the mind, relaxes his body and I wouldn't be surprised if one or two more hundreds come, reasonably quickly.

ST: Great, 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 Geoffrey will be back in two weeks' time, speaking to us again. Goodbye.

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