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'England have edge in Prior, tail and spin'

Geoff Boycott on England v South Africa, the best specialist wicketkeepers, Australia's one-day problem and whether T20 can spark a revival in the Caribbean (19:08)

Producer: Siddhartha Talya

July 17, 2012


'England have edge in Prior, tail and spin'

July 17, 2012

AB de Villiers takes a catch during wicketkeeping practice, Canterbury, July 12, 2012
Can AB de Villiers handle the physical and mental challenge of wicketkeeping in Tests? © Getty Images

Siddhartha Talya: Hello and welcome to Bowl at Boycs. I'm Siddhartha Talya and joining me today from Jersey is Geoffrey Boycott. Geoffrey, we are all waiting for the marquee event of the summer to begin. England v South Africa. All geared up?

Geoffrey Boycott: Yeah, I'm looking forward to it. I'm off this week to The Oval. It's unusual to start the Test match at The Oval. Remember, it's always, by tradition, the last one. The first one is usually Lord's, the Mecca of cricket.

Unfortunately, or fortunately, whichever way you want to look at it, we have got the Olympics in Great Britain, in our capital city, London. Apparently nobody is supposed to have a sporting event within miles and miles of London [during the Olympics]. And also, Lord's, which is owned by the MCC, a private cricket club, is being used for the archery competition. So for some time now, about ten days or more, it's been out of commission for cricket. They have put a stand, I believe, in the outfield and the archers will fire their bows - over the pitch, I hope, not on to it.

So when you see the Test match at Lord's in three or four weeks' time, I hope the stand doesn't damage the outfield too much. Apparently they shouldn't mark the pitches. That's not just the pitch for the Test match but all the pitches that will still be used for Middlesex's home matches etc. They shouldn't be on there, but we'll wait and see. I don't think the groundsman is too impressed. I spoke to him a few weeks ago. He reckons we're playing darts with bows and arrows.

ST: The tour has begun with a setback for South Africa, and that's the loss of Mark Boucher. Related to that is our first question of the day and it comes from Chris in the UK.

He says: Boucher retired from international cricket after suffering an injury to his eye, ending a 15-year career. Was he among the last pure specialist wicketkeepers, who couldn't dominate with the bat but fought hard lower down the order? Also, how would you compare Boucher to some of the great wicketkeepers that you played with, like Alan Knott and Jeff Dujon?

GB: Couldn't dominate? Hell. There are few batsmen who can dominate, never mind wicketkeepers, and there are few that have done in history, compared to the amount of people who have actually played. It's pretty tough, playing Test cricket. When you're playing against a side that's got good bowlers, my God, you've got to learn to get runs.

Knott was the best wicketkeeper I saw. I judge every wicketkeeper not on how many dismissals they make - that's a statistic - but how many they miss. Wicketkeepers can only make stumpings and take catches if their bowlers can create chances. So, really, if you get a lot of chances, a lot of nicks, and if you catch them and it's a big statistic... I just think he was a genius, made very few mistakes.

Wasim Bari, I'll tell you, was as good as they come. Wonderful hands he had, beautiful hands, when he played for Pakistan. Alan Knott thought he was a superb wicketkeeper.

Dujon was good, but he stood back most of the time. Against a four-man attack - I don't say it disparagingly or to criticise him - but he hardly ever had to come up to the stumps. A couple of overs from Viv Richards, I'm sorry, that's not going to bother anybody, wicketkeeper or batsman. In fact, if I could make it to near tea time, I was queuing up to face two or three overs from Viv - it was a respite from the four quicks. So Jeff didn't have the opportunity to stand up and show how good he was to spinners.

There are plenty of gutsy keepers around today. Strong characters like Boucher who fought hard. You'll be hard-pressed to go past MS Dhoni in India, wouldn't you? Wow. What an achievement he has - his team became No. 1 in the world, it won the World Cup, he's still playing well now in all forms of cricket. Brendon McCullum from New Zealand. Australia have got two - Brad Haddin and Matthew Wade - I think they can bat. In England, Matt Prior's quite good.

So, sad to lose Boucher. It was coming towards the end of his career but you don't want your career to end like that. It was one in a million, unlucky thing to have happened. It's like walking down the street and one person gets hit by a red bus. And that's what happened to Boucher. It's actually one in zillions. How many wicketkeepers in club cricket, school cricket, county cricket, Test cricket, any kind of cricket, all over the world, how many get hit by a bail in the eye? It's one in millions, and he's just been terribly, sadly unlucky.

ST: South Africa are in a situation where they may have to use AB de Villiers to keep wicket for the Test matches, to the likes of Steyn and Morkel. Do you think he is up for it?

GB: He'll keep wicket all right because he's been doing it in 50-over cricket, but that's three-and-a-half hours only. Now, he's going to have to do it for six-and-a-half hours - because they don't have six-hour days now; they bowl so slowly. And it's also bending up and down and the mental concentration that's required. Will that affect him later on in the day? Will it affect his batting? The extra tiredness, mental and physical. Now that's a question I can't answer but it is tough, let me tell you, if you don't do it regularly.

ST: Our next question from Daniel Morris in Australia is about his team's poor performance in England in the one-dayers. Australia were beaten 4-0. He asks: Why do you think Australia were selecting cricketers such as Brett Lee (who is now retired), Mitchell Johnson, Clint McKay and Xavier Doherty for the ODI series against England? These players seem to be on the decline and will likely not play the next World Cup or the Ashes. On the other hand, England seem focused on a team that is most competitive for the next World Cup.

GB: A one-day side is totally different from the Ashes. They pick different players, so do England too. We pick one or two different ones. Not many. Most of ours play, but we do have one or two that are different. That's the first thing. So forget the Ashes when they pick these guys for the one-dayers in England.

But I think the biggest problem for Australia is: they have a dearth of talent in batting and spin bowling. I mean that. I don't mean the players are poor but there is a dearth of quality.

Every country should be planning, in my opinion, for the World Cup in Australia and New Zealand in 2015. That means every player from now will be two-and-a-half years older when the World Cup comes around. And ideally, you want a balance in the side - some youngsters who are talented and who can learn and improve with the benefit of one or two experienced guys around them.

Australia, as I've said, have a problem in finding quality. Their seam bowling looks good. There's James Pattinson, who I like a lot. Pat Cummins looks good, but if he keeps getting injured he's not going to be any use to anybody. He's not going to be any use to himself, because he's not going to stay on the park long. That's his problem. Mitchell Johnson is a problem for them. Occasionally he has a good bowling performance, whether in one-day or Test matches. That isn't going to cut it forever. He isn't going to keep getting picked on one good performance and three or four poor ones. Eventually he's got to get it sorted out. We know he's gone to Dennis Lillee to sort out a better action - instead of a slingy action, get an action where he bowls more over the top. That should get you more accuracy, but he's got to do it. He didn't play all the matches here, so that tells you there's a problem. This nonsense about his ankle hurting and being rested - I don't believe that. We think he was left out because he's not bowling very well.

David Hussey is very good, but he's 35. He'll be 37 and a half when the World Cup comes around in Australia.

Then you've got new guys but they'll be all right. George Bailey is 30 and Peter Forrest is 27. Maybe they're late developers - in two-and-a-half years' time they'll be 32 and a half and 29 and a half. That's all right, you can live with that, that's not a problem. That's a good age if you are experienced and with two and a half years of cricket to come to get better. Doherty is 30, he should be 32 and a half. Spinners usually get better when they get a bit older, so he should be all right.

Unfortunately for you, putting the question forward from Australia because you want your team to do well - they may be the best of what's around. That's the problem. Australia have always tended to look for young players. It's a young country, or it was. They like their athletes to be young, give them a chance and so forth, and not [have them] go on too long. But you might have to suffer the fact that you've got an era now of a few years where you haven't got too many really talented youngsters and that you've got to go with the slightly older players in their late 20s and so forth. And the selectors are saying, "Hey, we just haven't got the quality youngsters. We've got to go with these to make the World Cup in two and a half years' time."

Michael Clarke and Shane Watson are 31. That's all right, they'll be 33 and a half. As long as they stay fit and get on the park. Thirty three and a half when the World Cup comes is very experienced players. After that, you'll see a big change in the Australian side. There'll have to be. But for the moment it's the best of what you've got around. Some good players, but they are late in their 20s or 30s, which is slightly unusual for Australia.

"The time has gone when they used to just whistle up a tree and instead of a coconut coming down, came a brilliant cricketer. That's what it was in the West Indies 40 years ago"

ST: We now come to the question that everyone seems to be asking, and James from the UK is one of them. He says, it's been a rain-marred summer, Geoffrey, and let's hope it doesn't ruin the next series. England v South Africa. Who's it going to be? These are two teams with top-quality bowling attacks.

GB: I think it's too tight to call. Mainly because the bowling and the batting is fairly equal. The area where there is a bit of difference is wicketkeeping.

Matt Prior has been excellent for England. All he needs to do is bat properly and make an impact. Not make quickfire cameos - all those little quick teens don't help. He needs to bat like he can bat. He hasn't made centuries, he's a very good batsman, his wicketkeeping has been excellent. As I mentioned before, nobody is sure about AB de Villiers. We know he is a super batsman but when he does a full day, six and a half hours, can it be more tiring mentally? Will it affect his legs etc? That is an unknown for them. If he does well, wicketkeeping and batting, then there's no difference with England actually. He's actually a better batsman than Prior, and Prior's a better wicketkeeper. So there's not much to choose there, but it's how de Villiers goes, that's the question mark.

The one area where England do score is the spinner. Graeme Swann is a superb bowler. Much better than Imran Tahir. South Africa hardly developed wicket-taking spinners. They have spinners in a defensive role in one-day cricket. Their pitches are pretty good for batting and seam bowling. They don't help spinners. So, eventually, a year ago, they drafted in a Pakistani legspinner. It's within the rules and we, England, can't complain. We've got so many South Africans and an Irishman around. But we are better off in the spinning department. I wouldn't lose any sleep if I were playing Imran Tahir, and I'm 70.

The late-order batting, I think we can score there. Stuart Broad, Swann and [Tim] Bresnan - if he plays - are much more capable of getting late-order runs. South Africa have a much longer tail with their bowlers. So it's up to Broad, Swann and Bresnan to make it count. They can bat and they can change the course of the game. Small points, that's all they are, but they can be match-winners.

The biggest factor in England at the moment, which has nothing to do with the teams, is to do with the look of the toss. We've had a most awful summer. In fact, it rains almost every day. We might as well be living in Ireland. We talk about Ireland being lovely and green, which it is. It hardly ever goes a day without rain, and it's been the same in England. It's hard showers or it's heavy showers or it's constant rain. Now if that keeps up and the Test match is round the corner, that can affect the pitches in England. They can be a little sweaty, maybe a little fresh, just fractionally damp and quite a bit of seam movement early on. Somebody who wins the toss and maybe bowls first can get among the opposition and make a big impact. So the pitches in England can affect a Test match when we get wet summers like the one we've had this year.

ST: And finally to the question that Geoffrey has chosen as his favourite for this show. It comes from Vivek Sharma in India and he touches upon a couple of different issues in this question. He says: Given that the interest in cricket among kids in the Caribbean has been waning, do you think the money in the IPL and T20 cricket can reverse the trend in the West Indies? Also, is the success of Chris Gayle and Kieron Pollard setting the template for more physically powerful players playing T20 cricket? Will there ever be room for finesse in T20?

GB: Good question, Vivek. Personally, my answer to the first bit of your question is no. I really don't know how anyone can get more kids interested in cricket in the Caribbean. I say that with a very heavy heart and great sadness. They have produced some of the most wonderful cricketers, and entertaining spectators as well, who just get into the game, the colour, the excitement, the noise - it's fantastic.

Dilip Sardesai is caught by Alan Knott, England v India, 3rd Test, The Oval, 5th day, August 24, 1971
Alan Knott: "The best wicketkeeper I've seen" © Getty Images

The kids, when I've been there over the last number of years… the interest is not there. The desire, the ambition seems to have gone backwards. And so far has it gone backwards that it looks gloomy for the future of cricket. Money seems to be scarce for the top players. So how do you find enough money to put a better infrastructure in place for schools, competitions at school level, competitions at youth level, for teenagers to play in competitions after they've left school, in clubs and everything? You need some money to make better infrastructure.

The time has gone when they used to just whistle up a tree and instead of a coconut, down came a brilliant cricketer. That's what it was in the West Indies 40 years ago. Cricket was everything. There were so many queueing up to play. Not anymore. Kids want to go off to university, to schools in America and Canada, to get a degree, get a successful and very good job. And through travel now by aeroplanes, you can travel the world. You can go get a job in Europe, in India, anywhere you want. I personally don't see how it's going to change. I hope somebody has a better vision than me and can change it because without a strong West Indies, and without an exhilarating public watching and enjoying the game, cricket loses a great deal. Without a strong West Indies team and their supporters, we in cricket lose out.

Now, the IPL and T20. You've got 120 balls in 20 overs. And it's how many home runs can you hit, how many boundaries. The big guys in baseball, they hit home runs better or more, because they are big and strong and can hit the ball further. And that's naturally happening in T20 and IPL. If you're big and strong, and obviously with some talent, you can clear the boundary easier. You've got bigger bats now, you can get a decent hit on the ball but not perfect, and it goes miles over the boundary. You hit it properly, these big guys, you hit it out of the park. There will be room for finesse, but it will get less and less as the years go on.

ST: Thank you for that Geoffrey.

That's a wrap on today's show. Don't forget to send in your questions using our feedback form. Here's looking forward to a closely fought series between England and South Africa. We'll have Geoffrey back on, during the course of the three Test matches, to give his inputs. Until the next time, this is Siddhartha Talya signing off.

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