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'England should have been playing five Tests against South Africa'

Geoff Boycott on why the hosts don't really need an ODI series against Australia, Kaneria's life ban, and preparing for the World T20 (17:24)

Producer: Siddhartha Talya

June 29, 2012


'England should have been playing five Tests against South Africa'

June 29, 2012

Fans watch the cricket from flats overlooking The Oval, England v Australia, 5th Test, The Oval, 3rd day, August 22, 2009
Two additional Tests against South Africa would have drawn more fans than the ODIs against Australia © PA Photos

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

Well, Geoffrey, we are already in to the middle of the English summer, but it has been a depressing few days, hasn't it, given the amount of rain around? You've had quite a few county matches affected, as well as a few games during the series against West Indies.

Geoffrey Boycott: It's been a terrible summer. We get these every now and again in England. No wonder everybody in England asks everybody about the weather - "Isn't it a nice day?" and what have you - because when we get nice days we are very happy about it. There's been a lot of rain wherever you've been, there have been high winds. And it feels as if summer has not begun. Quite honestly, everybody is fed up. I have heard the long-range forecast, and the weather forecasters are saying it will be a very hot, sunny July. That summer will only come in July. Summer's due on Friday, then, and I'm going to England for the one-dayer on Friday - for England v Australia. We need it desperately because everybody is sick and tired and fed up. It's affecting every sport and it's affecting all of us. We feel, "Hell, if this is the English summer, what the hell are we doing here?"

ST: We have a couple of big-ticket series coming up and hopefully that will raise the spirits. The first one, of course, is the ODIs against Australia. Related to that is our first question of the day, from Shyam in India.

He says: Geoffrey, we have England playing five one-day matches ahead of the Test series against South Africa. England are going in with a full-strength team. Who's your pick? And did England really need this before a major Test series?

GB: No. I don't think England really did need five ODIs against Australia. What we all have to be aware of is that any type of cricket between the old enemies of England and Australia will sell to full houses, and in England, for very, very expensive ticket prices. At Lord's and The Oval in London, they'll be £90-100 for a ticket. That's for one day. People in Asia, you can't believe how much it costs here. Even normal tickets are £50-60, but in London they are more expensive. So it'll make a lot of money.

In my opinion, from a cricket point of view, it would have been better to have a five-Test match series against South Africa. A lot of ex-players, commentators and writers that I speak to say the same. South Africa are a really terrific side. They've got some terrific Test players - good names with great Test records. They are a marvellous cricket team. And if you had to say who's going to win between England and South Africa, you'll be hard-pressed to choose between the teams. If you go through them man for man, there's nothing to choose. I can't choose a winner. I think it's really who plays well on the day. But if you've got a shortened series of three Tests and you win one, you think, "Well, we're home and dry. We've only got to draw one and we can't lose the series." When you've got five, it's a better test.

I think our administrators have got it wrong this time. They would have sold two [more] Test matches easily and certainly made more money than the five one-dayers, because South Africa are a really top side. Anybody who just looks at the names in there… Dale Steyn is a fantastic bowler, Jacques Kallis - wow, what a cricketer. Just go through them all. I'm looking forward to it. I'm really sad and disappointed there's only three Tests.

ST: Geoffrey, will you be calling it for the ODIs? England are looking pretty good. Alastair Cook is in fine form as captain, he's got a couple of centuries. Australia haven't played for quite some time. Given that England have chosen a full-strength side, do you think they stand a good chance here?

GB: Yes, I'm going to be working on BBC Radio, on Test Match Special with my friend Jonathan Agnew and I'm looking forward to it. They're always good. Fifty-overs cricket is a better chance for everybody to use their skills, while T20 is purely fun and you've got to hit the ball out of the park. [In 50-overs cricket] you can make a hundred, you can take five wickets, you can show your strength and ability.

It's good for us, in one way, because we are not a great one-day side. We flatter sometimes and play very well, and other times we play poorly. So we're trying to formulate a side, hopefully, for the World Cup in three years' time, which England have never won. So from that point of view, you've got to have a few pluses and think, "Well, maybe we can get a few youngsters in." So from that point of view, it's interesting. But, really, it'd be much better to have two more Test matches.

If England play a full-strength side, I think they have a chance of beating Australia.

ST: An important development last week was the punishment that was handed down to Danish Kaneria. He's been banned for life by the ECB (after being found guilty of corruption). We have a question related to that from Shamim in the UK.

Shamim says: While Kaneria has been given a life ban, Salman Butt was convicted [for spot-fixing] and sent to prison, but he does stand a chance of making it back to international cricket. Do you see a bit of inconsistency there, and do you think they've been a little lenient with Butt, give he can still return to international cricket?

GB: No, not really. Butt and his colleagues were found guilty in a court of law. It was the English police, or public prosecutor etc, our legal system, that brought the case against them under English law. It wasn't the cricket board, it was the police, our law-making society. Their sentences were given under the laws of England, the laws that govern everyone in this country whatever your profession.

Kaneria, very differently, went before the cricket tribunal of the ECB. Their job, as a tribunal for English cricket, is or was to protect, specifically, our English game of cricket. They have some wider powers than the rules of law in this country. What they have done is listened to all the evidence, found him not a credible witness and banned him from English cricket for life.

The ECB can only recommend to other countries what they do. We, the ECB, have no powers over what other countries say or do regarding Kaneria. India, Sri Lanka, Pakistan, Australia, you name it, we have no powers over any of those. The ECB do have the power to look after the game in England and that's what they've done. They've said, "Listen, you've spoiled our game and done something terrible that really hurts and damages our game of cricket in England." It damages the game everywhere but specifically it happened in England, in county matches. They said, "Right, the punishment for that is so severe." I actually think the punishment is right, that he shouldn't play English cricket again. How can we trust him? How can we trust him over any cricket match he plays in England?

Butt, as captain of Pakistan - I hope he doesn't make it back. He has a right to try now, he's served his sentence [he was let out on an early-release scheme]. What the PCB do to him, I don't know. Maybe they'll do nothing. But they have the right, if they wish, to call him to a tribunal of his peers in Pakistan and discuss what harm he did to Pakistan cricket and cricket generally. They still have that right and they'll have powers and rules of their own. Maybe they don't want to do anything, maybe they'll agree with England that they should do something and ban him for life from cricket in Pakistan. But each country will have to decide this for itself. What he did was he hurt the game we all love.

I'll give you an example. Many years ago there were three Sheffield Wednesday footballers who were in the top division then. And they went to jail and were banned for life for match-fixing. Taking bribes ruined their careers and sent a strong message to everyone else. They finished up looking after public houses, selling alcohol, in Sheffield. So no, I hope he doesn't make it back because what he did ought to be a lesson to everybody.

ST: Time for a bit of flashback now, Geoffrey. We have a question from TV Subramanium in India about a couple of your team-mates from Yorkshire. Do you think Brian Bolus, the batsman, deserved more chances with England? He had a very good tour of India in 1963-64. Then there's the allrounder Chris Balderstone, who concentrated more on football in his younger days. Do you think he could have played more for England, had he focused more on cricket?

GB: Good question. Let's take Balderstone. I knew him quite well. He played two Tests in 1976 against the great West Indies team of Holding and Roberts. He was unlucky there but I never saw him as a Test match player. In that era, with fast bowlers like that around, you needed to be a good batsman against fast bowlers. I thought he was an excellent county cricketer. A useful left-arm spinner and batsman, but he lacked a bit of technique to handle the best fast men for me.

"I actually think the punishment is right, that Kaneria shouldn't play English cricket again. How can we trust him over any cricket match he plays in England?"

He was a lovely man, I knew him really well. When we were growing up as teenagers, we used to go to the Yorkshire nets, many of us. Duncan Fearnley, the batmaker, Jackie Birkenshaw, the offspinner who played for Leicestershire, John Hampshire. We all went to the Yorkshire practice nets in the winters - and in April as well. We played for Yorkshire 2nd XIs. When John Hamsphire and I tried to get into Yorkshire cricket and move upwards, football seemed to be Chris' first love. Also, I think, they got a bit more money at football. He took the view that football was better for him and you could say he took precedence in football over his cricket development. He only came back to Leicestershire full-time - he was very intermittent with Yorkshire - when the football season finished. Also, when he got to an age where he couldn't physically keep up - around about 30s - at football, he then moved into cricket proper. He died of cancer, which I'm really sad about, quite some years ago. Nice man was Chris.

Now Brian Bolus, he played seven Tests. And you're right, he was a good batsman. He played against West Indies of Hall, Griffith, Sobers and Gibbs - now that's a good attack - in 1963. Sobers was at his best with left-arm swing and seam. He had a couple of Test matches, did all right. He got 14, 43, 33 and 15. Nothing special. But when he went to India, he did very well, you're damn right. He was an excellent player of spinners. He had some good scores in India. I think he had three fifties.

I don't know, honestly, why he wasn't selected again. He came back from that tour in 1963-64. And I remember it quite clearly. John Edrich had gone on the tour. I wasn't picked, as a young man. I had been second in the national averages in 1963, and I didn't get picked for India, but Edrich did go with Mickey Stewart and Brian Bolus. And Edrich must have been ill, he didn't play until the last two Tests. I remember when we came back for the '64 season, there was a match which they still play today but many years ago it was almost like a Test-trial match. In 1964, it was MCC v Australia and the selectors had a say in who played in that match if they wanted to look at anybody, batting or bowling, before they picked the team for the first Test. Now we all three played in that Test trial. Edrich and I got picked for the first Test match, and Bolus didn't. Why? I have no idea.

When Edrich lost a bit of form, Bob Barber came in for the fifth Test and Brian got left behind because they seemed to have moved on. I have no idea why. Edrich even got dropped for the fifth Test and he didn't go to South Africa. On the tour to South Africa, they actually picked Mike Brearley as the third opener. So Edrich was left behind, there was Brearley, Bob Barber, who played in the fifth Test, and myself who went to South Africa. Why? I have no idea, but Bolus was definitely a good player of spinners.

ST: A question from Raheem in the UAE is Geoffrey's pick as his favourite for this particular show, and it's an interesting one, particularly in the lead-up to the World T20 in Sri Lanka in September.

Australia and Pakistan are due to play a series of six T20 matches in the UAE sometime soon. There was an unofficial T20 tri-series in Zimbabwe as well. Bangladesh will be playing some T20s in Ireland soon. Are these teams doing it smartly, focusing on the T20 cricket ahead of the World T20 by doing away with ODI cricket?

GB: It's a good question because these teams are being smart in playing T20, in readiness for the World T20 in Sri Lanka. Why wouldn't they get ready to try and win the tournament? I don't think it has anything to do with doing away, as you say, with 50-over cricket. It's like any sporting team or individuals. They focus on the winning post.

Footballers who are playing in the Euro 2012 tournament, they aren't playing five-a-side matches at practice. They're practising for a full XI a side. We've got the Olympics coming up in London; the sprinters in the Olympics aren't getting ready in London by running marathons. Our shot-putters, throwers - they aren't practicing synchronised swimming to win a gold medal.

Chris Balderstone on the attack
Chris Balderstone made more than 19,000 runs on the county circuit but football was his first love © Getty Images

It's common sense and, as you say, smart to focus on the T20 in Sri Lanka and play that type of cricket so that you get used to it. That's important. It all happens so quickly in T20 cricket, it's over in three hours, and you can win or lose the game quite easily in a couple of overs. You bowl two bad overs and you go for 20-odd each over - that rockets the scoreboard around. You lose three wickets in two overs and suddenly you'll be eyeing the eight-ball and struggling to reach a decent total.

So, for instance, not only players but captains have to stay really smart and clever and be quick in the brain to think about what is happening and to be able to change the thoughts from plan A to plan B to plan C. I actually liked that stimulus as captain. When we played 40-over matches in England, I liked the captaincy, because you have to think quickly on your feet, and in T20 you have to think even smarter. If you're interested in that as a captain, it's fantastic for your cricket brain. You've got to stay smart. And if you are smart, as a team and a captain, those smart thoughts can help you get to the winning post, but you need to be playing those matches consistently. There is no point in playing Test matches, say, and then going straight into the World T20. It doesn't make any sense at all. You want to play some matches whenever you can so you really are ready, [having] practised the correct form of cricket.

ST: There you have it, Raheem. Thanks a lot for that, Geoffrey. That's a wrap on today's show. Please don't forget to send us your questions using our feedback form and we'll have Geoffrey back in two weeks' time to answer them. Thank you for tuning in, and until the next time this is Siddhartha Talya signing off.

Posted by   on (June 29, 2012, 16:13 GMT)

I agree about the South Africa series - I'd rather have a longer test series.

If this series is meant to be a World Cup warm-up, they should've asked the Windies to stick around and SA to come early for a World Cup style league table group, with perhaps the likes of Scotland, Ireland or the Netherlands invited.

Posted by   on (June 29, 2012, 12:14 GMT)

These 5 ODIs are an overkilll, they may make money in the short-term but excessive scheduling against any opposition risks losing the feeling that there is something special about an event, leading to a longer-term decline in interest even in such a contest as England v Australia. There are already far too many meaningless ODIs and that is the real reason for the decline in interest in them, NOT anything that's wrong with the format itself. Having only 3 Tests with South Africa is an opportunity missed to promote the series as a test world championship decider between the two top ranked test sides in the world.

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