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'Resolving KP issue more important than Lord's result'

Geoff Boycott on the decision to drop Pietersen, Strauss' 100th Test, the use of flight, and why Steyn's better than Anderson (15:53)

Producer: Siddhartha Talya

August 16, 2012


Bowl at Boycs

'Resolving KP issue more important than Lord's result'

August 16, 2012

Andrew Strauss, Andy Flower and Kevin Pietersen observe England's net session, Abu Dhabi, January, 24, 2012
"I wouldn't just take a letter of apology. I want him to front up and say, 'Hey, I was wrong, I'm sorry', and he's got to mean it" © AFP

Siddhartha Talya: Hello and welcome to another episode of Bowl at Boycs. I'm Siddhartha Talya and joining me today from London on the eve of the Lord's Test match is Geoffrey Boycott.

Afternoon, Geoffrey. It's been a thorny build-up to the Lord's Test and it's not something England would have wanted.

Geoffrey Boycott: Yes. Unfortunately it's all been about Kevin Pietersen, which is a shame because this is a big moment. You're playing at the Mecca of cricket, Lord's. Full house. The first four days will be full, you won't get a seat.

South Africa are very talented. England have been very good over the years, [but] we haven't played well over the last two Test matches. Our Test matches sell out. It's the only place in the world where Test matches sell out for huge ticket prices. And it's been overshadowed by the business about Kevin, so it's a pity. It'll be a great event. It looks as if South Africa definitely have a big edge, now that Pietersen's not playing.

ST: We'll get to the Pietersen question in just a bit, but our first question comes from a cricket fan living in the United States. He is Brent Flank-Davison, and he says: We need your help in settling an ongoing argument between cricket lovers in New York city. We are avidly watching the Test series between England and South Africa. We want to know, who is the better bowler: Steyn or Anderson? And who's the better batsman: Kallis or Pietersen? Please settle this debate once and for all.

GB: Good question, but I can't settle it once and for all. All I can give you is my opinion. It doesn't make me right or wrong. It doesn't make me god. I don't make the judgments, it's just an opinion.

I don't think there's much in it. But if I have to choose - which you're asking me to - I'll choose Dale Steyn. He has a bit more pace than Jimmy Anderson.

They're both terrific bowlers. They swing it, seam it, make the outswinger and outseamer go very well - and that's the best wicket-taking ball there is against right-handers. Steyn is quite sharp, though. He's really sharp. Jimmy can swing and seam it, but Steyn has a bit more pace, and that means you've got less time to play the ball.

At the moment, Jimmy's not getting wickets. The ball is not swinging as much for him. It's seaming and he's bowling tight and well, but when it doesn't swing as well as seam, and it's just seam movement, I don't think he's quite as difficult to face. Or, to put it in another way, he's a fraction easier.

If it comes to the batsmen, what you've got is Kallis for me. Why? Because he's more dependable, consistent, keeps on doing it. He's got a textbook technique, he's a clinical player, and he's been doing it for years. His record is outstanding. Kevin does outrageous shots - he makes memorable shots, in fact. He makes innings like Headingley a fantastic living memory, he keeps you on the edge of your seat. He could attack occasionally and butcher the bowling like he did at Headingley - and these are quality bowlers, like Steyn - but he can do silly things. He can give it away when he shouldn't. There are a number of times he's got himself out in the nineties trying to hit a silly boundary or a six. It's nice to have both types of batsmen, and it's nice to have both types in your team, but if I have to choose, I have to choose Kallis. You've got to take your choice; it's only my personal view.

ST: And would Steyn also have an edge because he's done well all over the world? He has an excellent record in overseas conditions as well.

GB: Anderson bowled pretty well in Australia on flat pitches, you know? He was outstanding with the new ball and the old ball - it reverses. But this year, in the two Tests against South Africa, he hasn't swung it as much and has not been quite as effective. But it's marginal. We're talking about opinions, views. I rate all the four people I've mentioned. If I had to choose, I'd choose the South Africans, but really there's not a great deal in it.

ST: Coming now to the Pietersen issue and we have a question about that from Brian in the UK. He says: The general consensus seems to be that England were right in dropping Pietersen for the Test at Lord's despite being 0-1 down in the series. What next for both England and Pietersen? We know now that the ECB has acknowledged receiving an apology from Pietersen, but do you see him back in the England colours for the World Twenty20?

GB: I've just heard that Pietersen has apologised. I hope that's right. I'm watching it on the news now. If he's done that, that's the right thing to do. If or when you do something wrong, in my opinion, all of us have got to front up personally. And the two guys he rubbished were the captain and coach of England. He has to front up to them, in my opinion, face to face. I wouldn't just take a letter of apology. I want him to front up and say, "Hey, I was wrong, I'm sorry", and he's got to mean it. Even if he apologises and comes back to play, he's got to play under the same captain and coach. So, unless they feel comfortable that he means it, what's the point of a letter? What's the point of him coming back unless he means it and they know that he means it and there's a chance of repairing the damage?

He has to be man enough, in my opinion, and big enough to put his hand up and say, "I was wrong." I was always taught never to try to defend the indefensible. And it's indefensible what he did. If he can't or won't do that [front up and apologise], how can he play under Andrew Strauss and Andy Flower? For my money, it's not enough to write a letter of apology. I like that but now you've got to come and face the two, privately. And say it to the face.

I wouldn't pick him in the ODIs or the T20s against South Africa. Remember, it was the South African players he made the texts to. The offending comments about Andrew and Andy were to the South African players and I think it could prove embarrassing if he played in those one-dayers and T20s. I think we need him to apologise and then have a bit of a cooling-off period.

My original thoughts about the World Twenty20 were that we won't pick him - wait until the Test matches in India. I wrote a piece in the Daily Telegraph. And I've had time overnight, about another 36 hours, and I'm thinking, well on reflection, maybe he could play the World Twenty20. It would give us about six weeks. A few weeks anyhow, just time to take him out of the limelight, have a bit of reflection on everything and just, sort of, settle down for a few weeks without playing against the South Africans whom he texted. Else, I think that's embarrassing. On reflection, maybe a few weeks off and it'd be all right for him to play in Sri Lanka in the World Twenty20.

I have no strong feelings, but I do feel that everything needs to settle down. If he's going to apologise and mean it, let it settle down. He's got to zip it. Less said by him now after he apologises, the better. Let everything calm down. Let England get on with the cricket. They may well lose against South Africa but this is a bigger issue than winning the game. It is paramount in any team that the captain is the leader. And you have to respect him, fall in with what he wants. You can't be rubbishing the captain and coach, I'm sorry.

For everybody out there who works in a different job other than as cricketers, if you were found to be texting your opposition company and rubbishing your boss, I don't think you'd last long in your job, it's as simple as that. It's just unacceptable, and that's what's happened here. And it has to be dealt with. It is bigger than England winning the Test match. Without Pietersen, yes, their chances have lessened. But this issue is bigger. It's about, fundamentally, players playing under a leader, working under a leader - two in this case, coach and captain - and if you haven't got respect for them, and if you disrespect them to the opposition, sorry, you can't play. You can't play unless you apologise and mean it.

There has to be some trust in the leader, there has to be a team ethic, because cricket is 11 individuals working as a team, and if you don't work as a team, if there's one bad apple, if there's one getting it wrong, one is a trouble-maker… sorry, no matter how good a player he is, he has to go, for the sake of the team. Nobody is ever bigger than the team.

"It's about, fundamentally, players playing under a leader, working under a leader - two in this case, coach and captain - and if you haven't got respect for them, and if you disrespect them to the opposition, sorry, you can't play. You can't play unless you apologise and mean it"

ST: We move now to a question about technique and it comes from Shamim in Pakistan, and this is something that budding spinners should be listening to carefully. He says: Flight is a big weapon in a spinner's armoury but do you see it being used less and less these days? Is a spinner just as likely to be successful today if he didn't have the variations like the carrom ball or the doosra, but relied mainly on mastering the basics?

GB: I think it is difficult to generalise because every few years cricket throws up someone who is unique or different. They all have variations, whether it be flight or an unusual ball like the carrom or the doosra.

Let's take Anil Kumble, who bowled flatter than normal. But there was still some flight involved in his bowling. It wasn't all one-dimensional. He wasn't a great bowler because he was one-dimensional; he wasn't. He's a fantastic bowler.

Take Saeed Ajmal, who bowls beautifully. He bowls the doosra but he still uses flight and guile as well as the spin and the deception of the doosra. Don't get the impression there's no flight and guile involved just because you bowl a carrom ball. They don't bowl the carrom ball every ball; they bowl the ordinary flighted balls as well, and they mix it up and surprise people. So I don't believe you can just label spinners as flight bowlers or unusual bowlers.

Take Graeme Swann, for example. He can't bowl the doosra. I repeat that, he can't, and doesn't, bowl the doosra. And yet he's been the No. 1 spinner in the ICC rankings for some time. I rest my case. It depends how good you are at what you do. Simply that. Can he take wickets? Can he make runs? That's all that matters. Whether it's flight and guile, or something like the doosra or the carrom ball, it doesn't matter. There's a bit of everything involved.

ST: Geoffrey's pick for his favourite question this show comes from Suhas in India and it's a very topical one, about Andrew Strauss, who'll be playing his 100th Test - the next one against South Africa at Lord's.

Suhas says: Strauss has been a highly successful opener as well as a two-time Ashes-winning captain. What were his biggest challenges as a captain and where would he rank among England captains in the last three decades?

GB: I don't judge captains purely on how many Tests they won. A lot depends on the quality of players at their disposal and the quality of the opposition. For example, how can you say someone is a poor captain if he was captain against the great Clive Lloyd's side, which included four West Indies quicks of express pace, a fabulous and talented batting side with the world's best batsman, Viv Richards, in it? Hell, you'd be hard-pushed to beat them no matter how good a captain you are.

What about the great Don Bradman's side? What about the 1948 side, when he had Ray Lindwall and Keith Miller and great bowlers there. And he was averaging 100 an innings. How the hell are you going to beat that side? So, whoever's captain against those sides, you're going to struggle to win. It would be unfair on a captain to judge them on results alone against those two teams.

Andrew Strauss will play his 100th Test this week, Lord's, August 14, 2012
"[Strauss is] the sort of guy you want to play for" © Getty Images

I judge them on tactical nous, man management. You take people like Mike Brearley, who was a brilliant man manager. Take Michael Vaughan, tactically very good and pretty good at handling the players - he was excellent, was Vaughan.

Andrew is a good guy. He is a decent, honest, fair-minded fellow. His strength is leadership of people. You would want to play for him because he's just a great guy. In his make-up, he doesn't offend anybody or upset anybody. He gives you straight answers. He handles the media well, he doesn't fly off the handle or get his views across by shouting at people. He never ducks a question to the media. He's straight with his players.

But tactics aren't his strength. Yet he's got a very good team with him. He's got some damn good cricketers. He's got Pietersen at his best, Cook as an opening batsman, he's had a superb bowler in Anderson, has had Swann come to the fore, Prior's a good wicketkeeper-batsman. So there's a lot of things involved.

When he took over, his biggest challenge was to get everyone involved in the team pulling in the same direction and to give the guys confidence to express themselves. Because we had a bit of a blip when Vaughan left, and we weren't quite pulling together. I think he's given them stability. Not just him, you've got to think about our selectors as well. It's not just Andrew.

Our selectors have done a brilliant job in recent years. They've gone out and watched players. They've made good decisions, they've watched players and judged if they're going to be any good, if they've got the character for Test cricket. They brought in the players, Andy [Flower] has had to organise them and put it all together, like making a jigsaw. So there's been many different pieces to get the right team, as it were. The selectors, Andy the coach, and the captain, have helped our players gel together. Andy's one of the key people, as he's had to get the players in the right frame of mind, organise everything. I think Andrew has done very well. As I said, he's not great on tactics - for me, that's not his strength. But in everything else, he's the sort of guy you want to play for. He's just been the right man at the right moment with Andy Flower to settle everything down, work hard professionally. I think he's done a damn good job.

ST: Well, it remains to be seen if Strauss will be able to inspire his team once again in that crucial match at Lord's starting tomorrow. That brings us to the end of this show. Thanks a lot for that, Geoffrey. Thanks to our listeners as well for tuning in. Please don't forget to send us your questions using our feedback form and we'll have Geoffrey back in a couple of weeks to answer them. Until the next time, it's goodbye from all of us at ESPNcricinfo.

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