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'Strauss' leadership not under threat'

Geoff Boycott on the under-pressure England captain, why West Indies might struggle against Australia, and what he hopes for from the county season (12:30)

Producer: Siddhartha Talya

April 5, 2012


'Strauss' leadership not under threat'

April 5, 2012

Darren Sammy and Fidel Edwards celebrate after a last-ball draw, India v West Indies, 3rd Test, Mumbai, 5th day, November 26, 2011
"If they are fit, West Indies will have some pretty good firepower. They've got some pretty good fast bowlers… but making runs will be a big problem" © AFP

Siddhartha Talya: Welcome once again to Bowl at Boycs. I'm Siddhartha Talya and speaking to me from Colombo is Geoffrey Boycott.

Morning, Geoffrey. Lots of cricket happening around the world. West Indies are playing Australia at home, England are touring Sri Lanka, and the IPL's taken off. Will you be following the IPL at all, on and off?

Geoffrey Boycott: I'll follow it a little bit because I like to keep abreast of all the cricket. Quite frankly, I've had a lot of cricket this winter and I'm going home after England, I hope, beat Sri Lanka, and have a bit of a rest before our season starts. We've got West Indies coming to England, we've got the Aussies for the one-day series, we've got the big series - South Africa and England, No. 1 and 2 in the world. I'm not sure who's going to win that one. So I'll try to keep abreast of it. But you know, the IPL is fun. You've got to treat it as fun. Don't treat it as if it is the type of cricket in the world that everybody should play. Just enjoy, pure and simple as that.

ST: Our first question for the show today comes from Sean in Trinidad and Tobago. He says: West Indies have given Australia a tough fight so far, drawing the one-day as well as the Twenty20 series. The three-Test series starts soon. Do you expect them to continue playing like that in the five-day format as well, in home conditions?

GB: No, I don't. Making runs could be and will be a big problem for West Indies. We've seen for a while now that the West Indies batting doesn't look that good. They lack some real class or quality. Which of their batsmen is a real, high-quality, technically correct batsman you can rely on? They've got guys to hit in the hit and giggle of one-day cricket. Kieron Pollard is massive, in one-day cricket he is unbelievable. But they haven't got anybody who's of a high quality. Test match cricket is different, it's not about hitting fours and sixes and taking risks. It's about making big scores. Chanderpaul is near the end of his career and he's not the force he was even if he played.

If they are fit, West Indies will have some pretty good firepower. They've got some pretty good fast bowlers. I like [Sunil] Narine, the interesting and new doosra bowler, but they haven't got a spinner as good as him. I'm not surprised somebody snapped him up for the IPL.

But if you haven't got runs on the board, you're always struggling. It's always an uphill battle. I think that's the problem for West Indies.

Australia are not that great. They're quite a bit in flux after being beaten by England. They're trying to formulate a new set of players. So they still have some work to do, but their seam bowling looks good, like West Indies. The batting still needs quite a lot of work. I call their batting solid, decent, but it's not the force of a really top side. It's not as good as South Africa's. On balance I'd say Australia have the edge.

Ricky Ponting says England are in decline - well, that's a laugh looking at the Aussies. They're not exactly spectacular at the moment.

ST: Our next question is from Sam in Australia and it's got to do with county cricket. He says: Firstly, Geoffrey, congratulations on taking over as Yorkshire president. You have a pretty new coach in Jason Gillespie. He's a great person and a great bowler. I would like your inputs on what he brings to the side. Also, which team looks best placed in Division One right now?

GB: Well, yes, Gillespie brings knowledge, experience, level-headedness. He's a good bloke, has done it at the highest level with an excellent record in Test matches and one-day cricket for Australia. Although he has played for Yorkshire and knows some of our players reasonably well, he can bring in his own ideas to the guys. Nobody could ever say to him, "What do you know about the game? What have you in the game?" His personal record in Tests and ODIs for Australia is excellent. He has such a good record that he played in one of the great periods in Australian Test cricket. He's played with some fantastic players and they were a fantastic team.

We at Yorkshire need some fresh ideas. We need to get promotion. We have a lot of talented youngsters, some pushing for England places in the next two or three years, like Joe Root, the young batsman. You've got Jonny Bairstow, who's played one-day cricket for England. We've got a couple more. But some of them haven't performed, like [Adil] Rashid the legspinner - he's not gone forward at all. Ajmal Shahzad, the fast bowler, had a poor year. We need to get the best out of these. We actually got relegated.

"They've had some criticism have England's batsmen. They've had a kick up the backside, they've had a slap, they've got to get their act together, because a lot of media, me included, have been telling them that they've batted poorly this winter"

Now Yorkshire members, they like Championship cricket. Our whole tradition and heritage is Championship cricket. I think among first the 100 championships we played - we started in 1863 - we won 30. So you can see, we were pretty good until lots of Kolpak players from Europe came in and overseas players etc. And we produced many of the world's greatest players for England. So it's very important for us to have a guy like him [Gillespie], with fresh ideas, and hopefully get more out of the players than they gave last year.

In terms of Division One, where everyone wants to be, I think Lancashire will be up there again because they have no real Test calls. James Anderson - you can't call him a Lancashire player - he plays so much international cricket, and there's such a lot this summer, I can't see him play more than a couple of one-day games for Lancashire.

Durham can be up there. I always feel Durham has lots of good cricketers - many cricketers came from the university there - and they've got Collingwood back. He won't be playing for England. I think they can give Lancashire a run for their money.

ST: Shom from India sends us a technical question. He says: Suraj Randiv has a high-arm action. For a fast bowler like Morne Morkel, it helps to dig the ball in hard and get some good bounce. How does it help an offspinner like Randiv?

GB: It's a similar sort of thing. If you have a high action for a spinner, it will help him get bounce occasionally. And it helps him get topspin. All spinners are trying to spin the ball to deceive batsmen, but sometimes, if the ball hurries on with topspin, like in table tennis, when you topspin the ball and it bounces and hurries on, it bounces more and hurries on quicker and surprises the batsman, not necessarily turning. If a batsman is getting forward, which we try to do from time to time, and trying to kill the spin with a big stride, if the ball bounces a touch, that can cause a mistake, just as much as spin.

You only need it to bounce and turn a bit - it doesn't have to bounce a lot. If the guy hasn't got his footwork in the right place, then a little bit of spin and bounce is preferable to the ball spinning a great deal and always staying on a similar bounce. If the bounce is predictable, then the batting is easier. So just remember, it's the same with tall bowlers. When they bowl with a high action with pace, they are more awkward, because of the bounce, because you can't get forward properly. You'd like to get forward more but you're always worried about the bounce - it's high on the bat. And it's the same principle for bowlers who bowl spin.

ST: Geoffrey's pick of the best question for this show comes from Evan in the UK. We are recording this right before the start of the third day's play. England are pretty well placed at 154 for 1 in reply to Sri Lanka's 270-odd. Andrew Strauss was under pressure to perform and he managed to get a half-century. Evan wants to know how big the pressure was on Strauss, both as a batsman and a captain. England tour India later in the year, and they've lost four games in a row in spin-friendly conditions. Was his leadership ever under threat?

Andrew Strauss acknowledges reaching his half-century, Sri Lanka v England, 2nd Test, P Sara Oval, Colombo, 2nd day, April 4, 2012
Andrew Strauss managed a half-century in the first innings of the ongoing Colombo Test, but needs to do more with the bat © Associated Press

GB: I don't think his leadership was under threat, because as a leader of men he's good. They all like him, they all want to play for him. I don't think he has ever been a technically good captain. Field placings, changing the bowling round, lifting the players - he's always seemed to me to follow the ball a bit rather than be pro-active. But England are a good side and have done well, so I don't think they're going to get rid of him straightaway.

But what has brought him under pressure is a collection of results, where we've played pretty poorly against Pakistan, the batting has. And he's been one of them. His batting has been letting him down. So it's a combination of his batting and the team losing. Look, they tend to sack losing generals eventually. Winning generals always get the medals and the plaudits. Well, he's had all the plaudits, he's had all the medals. England have done well, they've got to No. 1, beaten Australia twice, he's had all that. Now he's getting the pressure when England have batted poorly. They haven't bowled bad at all. They've bowled really well, against Pakistan and against Sri Lanka. The bowlers have done fantastic in subcontinental conditions, far better than one or two thought they would. But the batting has been below par. They've been making mistakes, they've been sloppy, playing poor shots. It's been a bad selection of shots off certain balls. They've been getting themselves out.

Strauss has been a party to that. He's been making mistakes. It's been a long time now since he's made a hundred. It's even worse, you know, when you're making 20s and getting out than getting out, like Cook did twice to good balls against Sri Lanka, playing defensive early on. That happens to every batsman, particularly openers. It's a new ball, the guy bowls you a good ball and you get out. But when you get to 27 or so and get yourself out, that's worse for a batsman because you are just about in then, in the subcontinent - you've done all the hard work. And so he's been under pressure and rightly so.

The 61 will help. I think England will win the Colombo Test. They're going to bat all day. They've had some criticism, have all the batsmen. They've had a kick up the backside, they've had a slap. They've got to get their act together because a lot of media, me included, have been telling them that they've batted poorly this winter. And so I think they're going to pull their socks up and going to win. I don't think this is a great Sri Lanka side - no Murali, no Vaas, no Slinger Malinga. Their bowling looks pretty ordinary.

England are going to win, everything is going to be hunky dory. But then they're going to go back to England, play in their own conditions, will do very well because they're comfortable there with seam-up, batting, and our seamers are very good. But then come the Tests against India again. And this is the question mark. They've had a poor batting winter in the subcontinent - what the hell is going to happen when they come to India? Are we going to play as badly again? Nobody's sure. Andrew will survive because I think we will win, and he's made 60. But he's still got a problem. He's got to get some runs. Nobody's going to get rid of him, not till probably the Ashes in 2013. But you can't carry captains.

ST: Let's see how it goes. Thanks a lot for that, Geoffrey, that's a wrap on today's show. Please use the feedback form to send us your questions and we'll have Geoffrey back in two weeks' time to answer them. Goodbye.

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