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'Switch hits are great for cricket'

The shot ought to be legit if the lbw rule is tweaked. Also, a look at England-West Indies (19:49)

Producer: Siddhartha Talya

May 17, 2012


'Switch hits are great for cricket'

May 17, 2012

Kevin Pietersen plays a switch hit, West Indies v England, 3rd Test, Antigua, 4th day, February 18, 2009
Don't outlaw the switch hit, but give the bowler a fair chance © AFP

Siddhartha Talya: Hello and welcome to another edition of Bowl at Boycs. I'm Siddhartha Talya and joining me from Jersey is Geoffrey Boycott. Good morning, Geoffrey. The county season is a few weeks old now and Yorkshire have bounced back with a couple of victories after drawing their first three matches. Things going well there?

Geoffrey Boycott: It was a big surprise, that. Anybody who's played cricket knows that chasing 400 runs in the fourth innings is a tall order. The odds are usually on the bowling side. Batsmen may play well, good pitch, nice day etc, but they just make one mistake and... you know that when you're chasing 400, the chances are mainly the bowling side will win, unless somebody on the batting side makes a big hundred.

Fortunately for Yorkshire, the overseas player [Phil Jaques] made 160 and the young kid, who's 22 and who I think is very talented, Gary Ballance, made an unbeaten hundred. Then the tail-enders nipped in. We had [Tim] Bresnan playing for us. He plays for England, we don't get him very much but we had him that day. He made 39 [38 sic] off 34 balls because he can play and he helped us get home. It was a thrilling and surprising victory. It was good for the team because we lost [Jonny] Bairstow to the Lions and we lost Joe Root, the opening batsman - two of our best batsmen to the England Lions - so it was a good performance. Very, very good.

ST: Our first question for today concerns an important development for West Indies cricket and it's about the return of Chris Gayle. The question comes from Liam in the UK.

He says Gayle and the West Indies Cricket Board are appearing to patch things up and Gayle has said he wants to resume his career with West Indies. What's the challenge for the team here? Should they ensure there is absolutely no future uncertainty over Gayle's availability and are they better off without him - despite all his talent - if there is?

GB: It's a good question, but when he says they've patched things up…well, Liam, we are not privy to those conversations. When you say patched up, I'd like to know what the "patched up" is. Has he said he is available for one-day cricket, all cricket, Test cricket, everything? I doubt that. I don't think he's going to stop playing Twenty20 around the world and the IPL. If that overlaps with anything to do with West Indies, there's too much money at stake for him to make. The challenge is for both sides to make some adjustment and find some common ground. If that sounds diplomatic, it's not meant to be.

I'll explain. There's got to be a bit of give and take on both sides, otherwise it won't work. For one thing: Gayle's talented but he's a maverick, with an individual character and an individual talent. His body language is that he walks around slowly, snail's pace, nothing makes him get up and go until he's actually batting. And yet, if you watch the modern young cricketer, the young sportsmen who've been coming along for the last 10-15 years, they're all working hard on their physical fitness, they're up and bouncy. Before the day's play, they're doing exercises. Even on days off. And sometimes after play, you see them working on their fitness.

West Indies seem to have got a team of quite a lot of young players, especially the batsmen. They like to dive around, their captain wants to see energy in the field, he's getting that from them, there's some very good fielding. The body language, which is so important for a team, is way up. He's got a set of guys who are carrying themselves well and throwing themselves about. We'll come to the fact that they are a bit short on batting, we know that and they know that. Their bowling is very good, and they seem to be playing as a team. That is very important, they are playing as a unit. Whether you like Darren Sammy, whether you think he's good enough to be in the team, whatever he is doing with the back-room staff, the coaches, they seem to be pulling together as a unit.

Now, there is room for any individual in any team make-up, particularly if that individual is talented. But, and this is the but, even talented players can upset the team balance. He can't just do what he wants all the time, he's got to buy into the team ethos as well as be an individual. I played in a team of individuals, with Ian Botham, David Gower, myself. We were all very different. And the captain sort of handles them. And with that talent, you handle their idiosyncrasies, their differences but as long as they are ready to play, ready on the morning of the match, ready to practise, and they buy into the team effort of winning.

Now, it's going to be a delicate balance. It's a delicate alliance between them because, if he plays well it will help integrate the guy easier. But I've always found that leopards don't change their spots. That includes me and everybody else. All of us can mature, we can use our experience and our knowledge to get on better with others, you hope so as you grow older, you learn things. But they can't afford for him to not buy into the team ethos. Anything that causes trouble, and he'll have to go. Doesn't matter how many runs he makes. The captain is the key in all this. Sammy, whether you like it or not, as captain is the leader of the team, he sets the benchmarks and you follow. And if you don't follow, you go. It's as simple as that.

And I doubt if he's going to want to say, "There's an IPL going on, West Indies are playing and I'll play for West Indies." So, whatever deal he's done - we haven't found out yet - it'll come to the fore shortly. I think he'll play at times, I don't think he'll put West Indies before the IPL money and some of the other Twenty20 money.

ST: West Indies are in England right now and they'll be starting a Test series shortly, and related to that is a question from Jonathan in the UK. He asks: Are West Indies set for a thrashing in the Tests and are you happy Jonny Bairstow has made it to the Test squad?

GB: I think the West Indies fast bowlers can give England a real tester. I rate Fidel Edwards, Kemar Roach, they are pretty good. They can give England's batsmen a few problems provided they can catch. When I last saw them in the West Indies against England, they had butter fingers, they kept dropping everything off Edwards - [Ravi] Bopara got a hundred and I think they dropped him five times. You can't do that, you really can't. You've got to catch everything.

But the batting is a problem. It looks short on technique to cope with quality seamers in English conditions. Although the covering is brilliant these days in England, they've got fantastic covering everywhere, the pitches are dry as they've ever been even with rain around and cold and overcast conditions - the thing is, in English conditions, the ball usually does something and particularly early on. People like [James] Anderson can make it talk. And I don't think some of their batsmen have got the technique to handle that kind of movement, so they could find it very difficult. I'm not sure they'll get a whipping, but I think England will win. Not comfortably, but I think they'll win fairly okay.

When it comes to Bairstow, I've known him since a young man. But I'm really sad for Bopara, and thrilled for Jonny. Bopara has been on the sidelines waiting for a big chance to play Test matches. He's been 12th man, 13th man, in the squad, not played, carried the drinks, this and that this winter. England have moved on from [Eoin] Morgan. He's not quite done it, he's done all right but he's not done it when the chips have been down and when they really needed him. So they've moved on and were looking for Bopara to play a few Tests and find out if he is really good enough. Getting injured, that's the worst thing that could happen to him because his time was now.

But, it's meant an opportunity for Bairstow. Probably before he expected it and before any of us would. I think Jonny will be a star. He can bat technically, he can belt the ball out of the park a long, long way, he can field and dive, he can catch, he is a wicketkeeper and wants to be a wicketkeeper like his father was. He's a charismatic individual, full of energy. Give him two or three years, when [Matt] Prior has got to the end of his Test-playing days, and I wouldn't be surprised if he becomes the wicketkeeper-batsman for England. He's a super personality, and when Prior is ready to retire, not yet but three years, I believe Jonny will be the next wicketkeeper-batsman, there's a tip for you, that's my feeling.

He'll be nervous, surely. We're all nervous when we first play. But I don't think that present-day players find it as we did stepping up from county cricket. The reason for that is: when they're young like Jonny, he's been playing for the England Lions, he's been to India with a performance squad, he's been with the England one-day squad there. So, being on tour, stretching himself, different countries, he's been on pre-season tours with Yorkshire, he's been to the West Indies, he's played some one-day internationals and practised with the first team. Sure he's got to go out and bat against some very good bowlers West Indies have and it's a big occasion, but he's actually used to all the players and the people around him.

When I played, we played county cricket on a Tuesday, we finished on a Tuesday night, went home, got our gear, we went down to wherever the Test match was on in England, turned up to the nets at three 'o'clock. I did at Nottingham, for my first Test match. I didn't know half the team, I don't think I had spoken to half the players I was playing with until I turned up for nets and had to be introduced to them. I may have played against them but I hadn't spoken to them. The whole team had just finished county matches on Tuesday night, then nets at 3pm, dinner that night and we played the next day. So it was quite a big step up from county cricket, with no getting used to your own team-mates, not going on tour or anything as Under-19s or a second team. So, it's very different today and I think it's a better of way of bringing any youngster, not just Jonny, through to play international cricket.

"Bairstow's a charismatic individual, full of energy. Give him two or three years, when Prior has got to the end of his Test-playing days, and I wouldn't be surprised if he becomes the wicketkeeper-batsman for England"

ST: Next up is a question from Andrew in the UK about Ajmal Shahzad's exit from Yorkshire. He says: As a former Yorkshire captain who had his own run-ins with the cricket administration, how do you feel about Ajmal Shahzad's acrimonious departure to Lancashire. In your experience, are reports that Shahzad fell out with the administration due to his reluctance to bowl conservatively credible, or is it more an issue of a clash of personalities?

GB: First of all, when I met Ajmal, which is not too often, I see him very occasionally, I find him very affable. He is very pleasant with me. I'm not in the dressing room. But I do know stories that abound. I've been on the board for six years, I know of the board and I'm president of the club. I'm out of the day-to-day running, I've been for some time.

The problem is: Ajmal is his own man. He wants to bowl fast. Yet, so far, he has taken two wickets and they've been very, very expensive wickets. Now, it's very admirable to want to bowl fast and to be able to bowl fast. But, if that bowler doesn't get anyone out, and when he does get somebody out, it has cost the team a hell of a lot of runs, that's not really helping Yorkshire. When you give away a lot of runs, you're expensive, the scoreboard whistles around. The fielding team can lose control of the game very, very quickly.

The type of surfaces we have in Headingley, we're trying to make them faster and bouncier. We're trying to make them turn and it's just not working out. It's like the pitches in India. You can't make yours faster, you just have slow, turning pitches. They are flat for batting and then they turn for the spinners so it's hard work for seamers. At Yorkshire, it's hard work for fast bowlers and it's hard work for spinners because when it spins, the pitch gets so slow, my mum could play with a stick of rhubarb. We have goodish pitches that seam, so you really need some control and some discipline.

Yorkshire wanted a more disciplined approach with his bowling because you don't want the ball whistling around the park. And because he's been so expensive, the captain and director of cricket have had differing views with him even from last season. It's not just this season. It's carrying on from last season. And there's been dialogue, an exchange of views, discussions, however you want to put it, diplomatically or forthrightly, there is a problem. There's a problem between what Yorkshire want and what Ajmal wants. And in the end, it's the player, the captain and then the new coach, Jason Gillespie - they're not on the same wavelength and they can't get on the same wavelength; then it's better to cut your losses quickly. Don't have a difficulty or a problem simmering.

I'm not blaming Ajmal totally for it, that's not my intention. I really believe that when there's a problem that can't be solved, you're very definitely two opposites at loggerheads, then it's counterproductive to the team, it's unsettling. It can be divisive and you've got to stop it. I don't think it's wanting him to be conservative, it's wanting him to be more disciplined. It's about getting wickets. You can put up with clashes of personality but bowlers have to get wickets and he's not getting enough wickets for Yorkshire. If they don't get wickets, and then people try to help them, and they don't like your advice or want your advice, you just can't let them doing their own thing if it's not working and it's not helpful for the team.

Better to part your ways. Better for Ajmal because he might go and find another environment, different sets of people, different types of pitches to bowl on, maybe different people giving him advice and it works, it gels. I saw the other day, he got three wickets for three runs and that's good. I'm not unhappy about him going to Lancashire. I'm not like some. I'm very pleased if the boy goes and finds cricket that he enjoys, that he plays well, and if whoever employs him likes what he's doing. They're on the same wavelength, that's very important. And it's better for Yorkshire that they don't have the aggravation. So it's better all round.

Chris Gayle comforts a nervous child, Ireland v West Indies, Group B, World Cup, Mohali, March 11, 2011
"He can't just do what he wants all the time, he's got to buy into the team ethos as well as be an individual" © ESPNcricinfo Ltd

ST: Coming to the question that Geoffrey has picked as his favourite for this show, it's from Samanth in India and it's about a shot that's generated a fair amount of debate in the recent past. Samanth says: The ICC is considering tweaking the lbw rule for batsmen playing the switch hit, saying they could be given out lbw while playing the shot if the ball pitched outside leg stump. Is that fair enough - to balance it with the batsman changing his grip - or is it just better to outlaw the shot itself?

GB: No, it's not better to outlaw it. It's a very good question. Outlawing it is not right. Switch hits are great for the game of cricket. They have been a terrific new invention that takes some cockiness, some confidence and great deal of skill to pull it off. I would never outlaw something that is creative and exciting. But something should be done to make it fair for the bowlers. At the moment, the batsmen are getting an easy ride with the lbw rule. They're getting it both ways.

When you start off as a right-hander and the ball pitches outside leg stump, then no batsman should be given out lbw, we all know that. But when he switches to be a left-hander and the bowler pitches outside what was leg stump but now it's the left-hander's off stump, the umpires still give him not out. So he gets the benefit of a right-hander and [after switching to becoming a left-hander] he gets the benefit when he's saying, "Oh, that pitched outside leg stump." No, when he's a left-hander it pitched outside his off stump. And for me, when he turns around and bats left-handed, if the ball pitches outside what was his leg stump, is now off stump, he misses it and it hits his pads and can hit the wickets, I think he should be given out. In fact, every time he switch hits, he's never given out lbw, that can't be right and that can't be fair on the bowler. It is not fair.

As far as I understand it, MCC make the laws of cricket. Not the ICC. It's a very good question but he says ICC are looking at it. The MCC make the laws which apply to all of us, whether you play club cricket, school cricket, any type of cricket. The ICC can make and change, not a law, but a rule just for international cricket. So it's very different. If the ICC makes something, it's just for international cricket. The laws of the game are by the MCC.

Never outlaw something that is exciting and creative and thrills the crowd. It's just madness to do that.

ST: Geoffrey, the switch hit involves the batsman changing his grip while a shot like the reverse sweep does not. So are you suggesting that the new lbw rule that's being contemplated apply to both those shots, or should the batsman get the benefit of the doubt when he's playing the reverse-sweep because it's a more difficult shot to execute?

GB: I don't care about the grip. The bowler has to tell the batsmen from which side of the wickets he's going to bowl. There should be some rule somewhere, whether he is a right-hander or a left-hander. You can take your pick. I've made my choice. When he becomes a left-hander, which is just before, if you're watching carefully, they are jumping just before he delivers the ball. So, technically, as he delivers the ball, they are left-handers. I don't care about the hands.

How they do the hands is like batting. Where you put your hands on the handle of the bat and what-have-you, I'm not worried about that. But he becomes a left-hander when the bowler delivers the ball. For me, I would say he is a left-hander. I'm not worried about the hands at all, I treat him as a left-handed batsman from that moment. Just like the bowler. When he says he's bowling over the wicket, he can't suddenly go and bowl round the wicket.

ST: Thanks a lot for that Geoffrey, that's a wrap on today's show. Do not forget to send in your questions using our feedback form and we'll have Geoffrey back in two weeks' time to answer them. Goodbye.

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