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'The whole English summer has been messed up to fit in T20'

Geoff Boycott on the scheduling of county cricket, why England hasn't produced a quality legspinner in a long time, and how to defend against the short ball (19:02)

Producer: Siddhartha Talya

May 3, 2012


'The whole English summer has been messed up to fit in T20'

May 3, 2012

Joe Root cuts during his 66 against Sri Lanka A, England Lions v Sri Lanka A, Scarborough, August 4, 2011
"Take it from me, Joe Root will play for England" © Getty Images

Siddhartha Talya: Welcome to another edition of Bowl at Boycs. I'm Siddhartha Talya, and speaking to me today from Jersey is Geoffrey Boycott.

Morning, Geoffrey. The county season began sometime back. It's been marred by rain so far. Yorkshire have played three matches and all of them have been draws. What do you make of everything that's happened so far?

Geoffrey Boycott: It's always difficult, early April. Historically cricket's never started till late April. Almost until the end of April or early May, because we have such poor weather. I know that all over the world the weather is changing. It's been unusual at times. Last year a lot of counties got away with playing a lot of early matches. I don't think the counties want to play that early, it's the ECB that makes them play that early so it can fit plenty of Twenty20 in for the best part of the summer.

This year a lot of the matches have been ruined through rain. We're getting, typically, our April winds, heavy rain, and in between we get the sun out with blue sky. It's quite coolish but it's very pleasant. If you wrap up well and go for a walk, it's very nice. But in between there's rain and there's wind, and it's no fun at all trying to play cricket, and you'll see a lot of matches that have been affected by rain. The lucky ones are those that have been able to bowl the opposition out quickly, like Notts and Warwickshire, and win the matches quite comfortably. But for a lot of teams it's been a bad start because they've not been able to get four days in to get a proper finish, so it's just been rained off.

We really want to be playing championship cricket, and many people like me feel the whole summer has been messed about just to fit in Twenty20. Really, with people throughout the world struggling for money, the financial climate is poor. We're better off if we just had Twenty20 every Friday night so people could plan for it. You have one home match one week and then you're away the next Friday. It's two weeks for people to save up and get ready to have an enjoyable time in a family atmosphere. But when you're getting two or three Twenty20s within ten days, people don't have the money and they want to do something else as well.

We tell the officials, but they don't want to know. They just want to have a big chunk of four or five weeks of only Twenty20 and so the County Championship has to start early April. And this year, it's ruined before it started.

ST: Our first question comes from Narbavi in India. He says: It's probably too early to ask but do you see any openers on the English domestic circuit who could take Andrew Strauss' place in the years to come? Or is someone like Jonathan Trott the go-to option?

GB: No problem. The guy is at Yorkshire. He's called Joe Root. He's a very tall young man. He was very tiny but he grew quite quickly about a year and a half ago. He's quite tall, plays textbook, bats as an opener or No. 3, plays in a very orthodox manner, like Sunil Gavaskar or Rahul Dravid, technically correct. He's played for England Lions, he is definitely England material. Take it from me, he will play for England. At the moment he is not ready. He could do with another year of county cricket to see how he does. He came in last year. We hoped he would play a few matches. He was ready to do that. But actually he did very well, he played the whole season. He stayed in the side for one-day cricket as well as the Championship, which was quite a surprise.

I'm a great believer that age is not a criteria. I understand that if a player is good enough, he is old enough. Tendulkar proved that; he is a genius. If you look at other kids, maybe they're 17, 18, 19 or 20 and they're ready. So I have no problem with age. I have watched him [Root] play, I've watched him grow up, and I just think [he needs] another year at least. I think they're going to keep Strauss for this summer. They're going to keep him for the Ashes. But after the Ashes, I think he'll get Strauss' place because Strauss is struggling for runs. He's quite a decent offspin bowler, bowls in Yorkshire's one-day matches.

Yorkshire have a tradition, a very long tradition and a very good tradition, of finding top Yorkshire and England opening batsmen. They had the great Herbert Sutcliffe, who opened with Jack Hobbs and made 149 [151] first-class centuries. You had Len Hutton, a great technique player who had 128 [129] hundreds. You had myself - made 151 first-class hundreds. So we spanned a lot of years between us, and I think he'll be in the same tradition. We've had other people who've come and gone a bit, who've been good players but not great players - Michael Vaughan, Martyn Moxon, different people. But I think at the moment Root is not ready. If any injury befell Cook or Strauss, then I agree with you. Trott, who bats No. 3, will have to move up to open and they'll bring in another middle-order player. Everybody will move up one spot.

ST: One player who's been doing very well this domestic season is Nick Compton and he's made it to the England Lions squad as well. He's been batting at No. 3 mostly. Is he someone gunning for a Test place as well?

GB: He's just in good form at the moment, so if he keeps on doing that he might get a chance. I think the way the selectors are thinking, they're going to go with the tried and tested. If anybody gets a go, it'll be Ravi Bopara. He's been around the team as 12th man and never really got a go. He made a hundred against Yorkshire early season, so if he gets more runs by the time the first Test comes around, I think he has a chance of playing instead of Eoin Morgan.

And rightly too. You can't keep somebody around as 12th and 13th man forever. If you think he's the next best batsman - that's why you have him in the squad when they go abroad etc - then sooner rather than later you have to find out, is he good enough? You can't keep taking somebody around like a piece of luggage just to be a fielder, and to just be there in the hope that if somebody is injured you have another batsman. You have to find out if he's really good enough.

Now they've given Morgan plenty of chances. And they're coming around to my view a bit - I never thought he was a Test player. I thought he was okay, he was average, but never thought that he was going to be somebody who was going to be there permanently. And they have to find out if Bopara's the man. I'm not convinced he is. But they have to find out because they are the ones that select and they are the ones who keep picking him in the squad.

ST: Next up is a question from Ajinkya in India. He says: The England bowling attack's performance over the last several months has set me wondering about one of their famous predecessors, Freddie Flintoff. He was always fast, accurate, hostile, could move the ball around, and also had the advantage of bowling in English conditions. Yet his stats are not as good as they could have been. He averaged 33 with the ball. What's your take on this?

GB: It's a good question. I think it was towards the latter part of his Test career that he became a quality allrounder. He played a lot of matches before that, where he showed potential but never quite did anything special. He was okay but nothing special. Before that, he was what I call average. That's why his figures aren't special as a whole, and he won't ever be thought of as a great player, like Botham. He'll never be classed as a great player. Greatness, and I use the word in its proper context, is achieved by players having superb performances over a lengthy period, home and away.

I am a lover of Andrew. I like him as a person, I've always liked him. He's gregarious, outgoing, easy-natured, always pleasant. He's a really good guy. I think his game changed a bit towards the end of his career - he became a very, very aggressive bowler. A terrific bowler around the wicket to left-handers. In fact, he's probably the best fast-medium, lively fast bowler that I've seen bowling around the wicket at the left-handers. Be it his line, his length, he could reverse-swing it, he could hit the deck hard and intimidate people.

He was a superb catcher at slip. He had big hands, huge hands, one of the best catchers, like Botham.

His batting started fairly ordinarily. I'm tempted to say poorly at times. He didn't seem to have a great technique. He seemed to lunge at the ball quite firmly. He played straight but lunged firmly. If he could get on the front foot, he was dangerous. I think the more he played, the more he matured and experienced situations, he got better. So towards the last bit of his career, he played very freely and confidently, with power, and gave an occasional match-winning innings.

ST: Shimit from India sends us a technical question. He says: I'm having trouble negotiating the short ball, especially those bowled at around chest height. I've noticed people like Rahul Dravid get on the back foot and knock them down on either side of the pitch, but I end up lobbing it up off the top half of the bat. Am I not getting back quickly enough? How does one play the ball safely with close-in catchers around you?

GB: Hmm, practise, but practise the proper way. My answer to that is you need to practise on a hard pitch, preferably something like concrete. Something hard like that, not necessarily turf, with a softer ball, a tennis ball, that won't injure you. That's important. You want to get a friend to stand 12 yards away and throw the ball into the hard deck, not too hard but firm enough so that the ball bounces up, as you said, around chest high or rib high. You don't want it to be too fast, but if you get your friend to throw it, he could be more accurate with the throw. If you want to get someone to bowl short, it's not too easy.

"Every now and again, particularly in English cricket, we find some people and some media people, get on a crusade about England playing a legspinner. As if that type of a bowler is a panacea to winning Test matches. Well it's not, let me tell you"

Footwork is the key to all batting. That is my view, anyhow. Footwork is the first thing. You have to be like a dancer. You have to move your feet into good positions and you have to move them early. And you have to be light on the balls of your feet. You can't be flat-footed. If you're late with your footwork, then it's much harder to control playing the ball. You have to get back in the crease quickly so you are in position on the ball of your right foot if you are a right-hander. You have to learn to glide on the balls of your feet and move with great balance, like a dancer. When you get back into the stumps, back towards the stumps about middle, you want to be half-sideways on - not too sideways because you're closed off then - and half-open. In my opinion, if you get chest-on, you've got a serious difficulty.

I'll explain. If you get back half-sideways and half-open, as the ball comes up towards your chest, any ball that gets above your chest, you can't get your hands high enough to get over the ball and keep it down. We'll come to that in a minute, but you need to know that when it gets to above chest height, if you are half-sideways and half chest-on, you can sway back or you can duck. If you get chest-on, that is too wide towards the bowler, and if it gets big on you, above chest height, then there is nowhere to go. You can't get out of the way because if you sway backwards, it's still going to hit you because you're chest on.

So you have to be partly sideways, so you can sway and let the ball go in front of your face or duck a little and let it go over your left shoulder. That is important, and that's why when you are playing with a softer ball, a tennis ball, and practising, you can get used to that. You don't want to get hit and hurt, you want to get the confidence to learn to play and to learn to move your feet and everything. Very important that if it gets big on you, above chest height, then you sway out of the way.

Now when you're playing the ball, you have to get up on that right foot and be balanced, that right instep, and you get your hands high. The most important thing to do is to keep your hands relaxed, particularly the right hand. You're going to relax the hands and above all - this phrase is vital - let the ball come to you. Don't push at it or poke at it or you will give a catch. It's very important, let me repeat that. Once you get up there with your hands, let the ball come to you and ride it as it comes. If you ride back with it just slightly, it will hit the top of the bat and drop down at your feet. And don't pick it up. Make the fielders go and run for it.

ST: Moving on the question that Geoffrey has picked as his favourite for this show - it comes from Jeremy in the UK. Jeremy wants to know: Why is it that England haven't produced a good Test-class legspinner in a long time? There's Scott Borthwick and Adil Rashid around right now. How long before we see another leggie in white kit for England? In the last two decades, I can only think of Ian Salisbury and Chris Schofield, who played as specialist legspinners for the Test side?

GB: For me, the reason you don't get too many legspinners in English cricket is because by nature of our weather. We get more rain, it doesn't get as hot as many other countries - South Africa, West Indies, Australia, India. The soil in India has a lot to do with it as well. But you can't make the pitches hard. Legspinners not only need a bit of turn, they need bounce. Bounce is vital to them, probably much more than spin. You're not going to get that so easy in England, because they're not very hard, the pitches. They turn a bit, they seam a bit, there is swing in the atmosphere, not necessarily bounce.

Rahul Dravid gets on to his toes to play a short ball, South Africa v India, 1st Test, Centurion, 4th day, December 19, 2010
Defending the short ball, Dravid-style © Associated Press

For me, it is not imperative for England to find a legspinner. Unless they are good enough, legspinners are expensive. They are an expensive luxury. Sometimes they look so out of place, and very quickly runs flow too fast and the scoreboard is whistling around far too quickly, the opposition are getting runs, and suddenly the captain and the team can lose control of the game.

When we played Salisbury and Schofield, quite frankly, in my opinion, they weren't good enough. It's only my opinion: I think they were bad selections. I don't think it's the players' fault. If you are picked to play for England, you accept it, you are thrilled to bits, you do your best, and they did. But the selectors at the time, in my opinion, had to put their hands up and accept they got it wrong. If you look at their figures, they were one- or two- or three-Test wonders. They came and went. Nobody's ever heard of them again much.

Every now and again, particularly in English cricket, we find some people and some media people get on a crusade about England playing a legspinner. As if that type of a bowler is a panacea to winning Test matches. Well it's not, let me tell you. If you have Shane Warne, the quality of that great bowler, or a great bowler like Bill O'Reilly, Richie Benaud, Abdul Qadir, Anil Kumble, Chandrasekhar, you have match-winners. It's irrelevant to me what they bowl. What matters to me is they are quality bowlers. But Wisden, you know, is full of plenty of non-entities who played one or two or three Test matches, bowled wristspin, and faded out of sight because they weren't really that good. And it's this panacea that some people think they are, that if you're going to bowl legspin, you'll win a Test. Well, you're not. It's the quality of the legspin that is important.

England have won plenty of Test matches in the past, and in recent years, without legspinners. To me, you should select the best bowlers for that particular pitch. Very important, that - for that particular pitch. When batsmen are selected, they are picked to make runs on their ability to bat against particular opposition bowlers. For example, if you are playing against the West Indies quicks of the '70s and early '80s - what about David Steele for England, he did a fantastic job. If you're going to India, playing spin, you'd better take some people who are good at playing spin bowlers because that is what you'll get. So you pick the best bowlers like you pick the best batsmen. It's as simple as that. I think you just look at the bowlers and say, "On this surface, who are my best bowlers?" Not "Have I got a legspinner?"

Adil Rashid plays for my county, Yorkshire. I have no favouritism at all. I told you Joe Root will play for England eventually. I don't think Adil Rashid will ever play - maybe the odd Test match. He's made no strides forward at all. He's no better now than he was when he first came in to first-class cricket to play for us. He's a lovely lad, superb fielder, an absolute delight to have in your team, but he's just not made any strides forward. Why is that? It's his thinking. It's what's between the ears. He was poor last year. He has a lot to do this year to get back to what he was a couple of years ago. And Borthwick is a work in progress, he's not ready yet. I hope that answers your question. For me, you pick the best batsmen to play whatever bowlers you're playing, and you pick the best bowlers for that particular surface. Simply that.

ST: Thanks for that, Geoffrey. That just about does it for this show. Don't forget to send in your questions using our feedback form and we'll have Geoffrey back in two weeks' time to answer them. Until the next time, it's goodbye from all of us here at ESPNcricinfo.

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