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'Players should take responsibility for fitness'

Geoff Boycott on the pros and cons of a large support staff, Strauss' retirement, England's World T20 chances, and the best slip fielders (16:39)

Producer: Siddhartha Talya

August 31, 2012


Bowl at Boycs

'Players should take responsibility for fitness'

August 31, 2012

Alastair Cook takes over from Andrew Strauss as Test captain, Lord's, August 29, 2012
"The pressure on opening batsmen as captains is getting worse" © Getty Images

Siddhartha Talya: Welcome once again to Bowl at Boycs. I'm Siddhartha Talya and speaking to me today from Scarborough in Yorkshire is Geoffrey Boycott. Good morning, Geoffrey. Let's begin with a piece of surprising news that came in yesterday. Andrew Strauss has retired from all cricket. You had said sometime back that you expect him to lead the England side on the tour of India. But this would come as a surprise to you as well - that he's chosen to quit all forms of cricket at a fairly young age of 35?

Geoffrey Boycott: Yes, I did, actually. I was very surprised. I thought he'd go away on a rest and do some work on his batting. He's obviously not been batting as well as he can. It's quite obvious when you watch his footwork that his foot's not going forward. He's playing away from the ball, some technical issues he needs to work on. But he could do that. But you've got to have the mental energy and desire to go and want to go and work at it, and it looks as if he's just got tired. He's got tired of handling all the media, the batting, the travelling and everything to do with playing cricket. If that's so from what he says then he's made a very wise decision because you do need to be up for the challenge and work at it. If you feel that you're too tired and have not got the energy then it's a good decision.

ST: And was Alastair Cook the logical choice to replace Strauss as captain?

GB: I don't know, he is an opening batsman. There'll be pressure on him when he has to bat early. The pressure on opening batsmen as captains is getting worse. They've got so many interviews to do when they do the toss, then they've got to run in, pad up and bat and get their mind right before batting. If you bat at No. 4 or 5, it's easy. You've got an hour off, you can get a cup of tea, sit down and relax. But he's a nice lad. He was always earmarked for captaincy. They've got rid of any speculation have the selectors by naming him straightaway, so that's a good thing. I actually think Graeme Swann and James Anderson are pretty knowledgeable, and they would have done good jobs, but we'll have to see how he is. He's a nice lad.

ST: Our first question of the day comes from Cyril in the UK and it's about the County Championship. He asks: How do you think the county season has gone for Yorkshire so far? They made it to the final of the T20 competition but are still third in Division Two right now.

GB: Good question. Getting promotion from Division Two is the priority for Yorkshire. Most of our members are traditionalists who love proper cricket, that's three- and four-day cricket. We've won more championships than anybody else in England so it's vital for our county to get up.

I don't like excuses and I try not to make them. But, I will accept that in this particularly wet summer, it has been difficult. Rain has come at least twice when we could have won quite comfortably by taking around 70 overs out of the day. So it's been very unkind to us when we had opportunities to win. We haven't lost a championship match but have had difficulty in finishing a match off with its full overs.

We've missed Mitchell Starc, the Australian left-arm seamer. He's been excellent for us but Australia have asked for him to play in their A team, so his removal from us to them has hurt us a great deal, because in all forms of cricket he's very good indeed. Ryan Sidebottom has been injured, he's a good pro. And we actually missed Starc on the finals day in Cardiff. When he plays Twenty20 he usually gets an early wicket. He's fast, swings the ball and is brilliant at the death, bowling fast left-arm round the wicket into the pads. He's very good and hard to hit. These are two penetrative, wicket-taking bowlers for us and because of their absence, together with lots of rain around, I think we may struggle to get promotion. I hope not.

Our performances in the T20 were a revelation, an improvement from last year. The players seem to be responding very well to their new coach Jason Gillespie and have to be applauded. Even though we might find at the end we're a bit disappointed.

ST: Starc has been playing in the UAE for Australia against Pakistan and he's been bowling pretty well, he got a five-for recently.

GB: Doesn't surprise me.

ST: Yes, he's got this ability to swing the ball into the batsman and it's been quite threatening. Next up is a question from Sanjay in India and it's about England's next major assignment. He wants to know: What do you make of England's squad that's been picked for the World T20. No KP, but there's still a call-up for Michael Lumb and Luke Wright. They'll have Stuart Broad as captain as well. Do you think England stand a good chance?

GB: English cricketers hardly get any opportunity to play on slow, turning pitches in county cricket. Nowadays, there's so much great covering around with tarapaulins everywhere, keeping rain off the pitches. There's great drainage, so there are very good batting pitches. A lot depends, for me, in Sri Lanka, on how our batsmen bat on slow pitches. If these pitches spin, then we've got a problem. Slow spin or slow turn seems to be a really big problem for all of the English-type batsmen.

"For me, a thinking cricketer is a better cricketer. I've always used that phrase because in the heat of the match, when the battle is on and you're in a tough situation, whether you're a bowler or a batsman, the coach is not sitting on your shoulder telling you what to do"
Look how the first team played in the UAE against Pakistan and in the first Test in Sri Lanka. We got out of jail in Colombo where Pietersen got a big hundred. But we lost four Test matches there. We play at the ball with hard hands, we play well in front of our pads. Instead of batting like how Indian batsmen grow up - they [Indians] wait for the ball, use the wrists at the last minute to turn the ball, manoeuvre it into the gaps. We seem to get paralysed by slow spin and then we get out, because our only option is the sweep or the reverse-sweep. Now, in my opinion as a batsman, you've got to do better than that, you can't just rely on sweep or reverse-sweep.

When it comes to Lumb, I would have looked at someone else. He's a good batsman, yes. But he doesn't strike me as a man who is really that keen to play for England. He came to Yorkshire, left us for more money at Hampshire, left Hampshire and went to Notts, into the IPL. An important issue, when it comes to a team, is loyalty. So he's a good batsman, yes, but I wouldn't have picked him. So we'll wait and see how they plan on… if the pitches are slow and turning, that's the key. I can't tell you how they're going to do. If I knew how the batsmen are going to bat, I would have had a good idea.

ST: Here's an interesting one from Boris in the UK. He says: Today, Geoffrey, we have coaches for everything. What were the fitness routines and training regimes like when you were playing? Should players today be taking more personal responsibility for their fitness, especially those who break down so frequently?

GB: Interesting question, that. In the early sixties, when I started at Yorkshire, there was no training whatsoever. None. I repeat that, none. We turned up for nets for Yorkshire on the first of April. We had batting and bowling under coaches like Arthur Mitchell, who was a former opening batsman for the club and a great slip fielder, Maurice Leyland, who many people would know internationally because he played a lot for England and did very well, Bill Voce, the fast bowler for England.

Catching was haphazard. It was by personal choice among ourselves. We went out and did a few catches. Nobody ever did any running round the park. If ever they did it, they did it at home on their own. They certainly didn't at Headingley when I was there. And it's amazing to me when I look back, how we performed so well.

But it does beg the question. Today, they've got so many organised, disciplined and skilled professionals to help everyone. How much better could we have been if we had had that set-up? Probably a lot better, I think. So, in many ways, it has improved a great deal. This all started in the mid-late seventies. Teams got a trainer to go with the physio. But nothing like the sophistication of today. Today you see international teams - they've got a specialist physio, a doctor, a trainer, specialist batting and bowling and fielding coaches. So, nothing's left to chance. It's all brilliantly professional.

With the greatest respect in the world, I think it'd be difficult for anybody to argue against the principle that they cover all eventualities to help the players get the best out of themselves. It's a matter of judgement and opinion about how good the particular individuals, who are teaching the players, are - physio, batting or bowling coach, trainer, doctor.

The one thing that the questioner asked, personal responsibility - now that's the important point to me. When you get so many backroom staff helping players, some cricketers stop thinking for themselves. That's because there are so many of the backroom staff helping and telling them what to do, when to do it at training. That's good, that's all right. But it's bad in another way if the cricketers' stop thinking. For me, a thinking cricketer is a better cricketer. I've always used that phrase, because in the heat of the match, when the battle is on and you're in a tough situation, whether you're a bowler or a batsman, the coach is not sitting on your shoulder telling you what to do. So that player has to be able to think for himself. He has to have a plan B, a plan C, be able to adapt, know what is best for himself. So, having coaches at the back of the room, whether it's in training or technique, it's good. But if it stops people thinking, then it's not good.

I do believe that every player should know what is best for him, whether it's technical or physical. Don't leave it to everybody else, or someone else. Be responsible for yourself and your own fitness, that's my principle.

ST: Geoffrey, back in the day they did have rest-days for Test matches. But how did players develop the stamina to bat for long periods or bowl long spells?

GB: I don't know. I would do some training on my own and run around the cricket field at home. Not at Headingley. For my first tour, when I went off for England, nobody called you up for a camp, nobody checked your physical fitness and anything. It's amazing. You just went on tour. And it didn't take me long to realise after my first two tours that, hey, this is wrong. This is crazy. I've got to get to it the ground running. I've got to be physically fit. I've got to go to the nets myself and get myself ready. It was all self. You had to do it yourself. That's pretty hard. Very hard. It's much better that you can get somebody to help you do that. But I think you've got to still think for yourself. By doing it ourselves, we did think about everything ourselves. That made us good thinkers in the middle of a game.

ST: Geoffrey's pick for his favourite question for this show comes from Earl J in Canada, and it's one on slip catching. Earl says: Jacques Kallis was quite impressive at slip in the England Tests. Who is the best slip fielder you've seen and has there been any noticeable change in the approach to fielding in the slips then and now, in terms of the way they stand, position themselves etc ?

Phil Sharpe slip catching
"I got the impression after many years that Sharpe enjoyed taking outstanding catches more than making runs"

GB: Good question. I haven't noticed anything different in the way they position themselves. What I've always seen is that the Australians tend to stagger themselves better than other teams, it's just been something the Australians have always done for a long time. But, other than that, the simple basics apply: stand still, be relaxed and just really concentrate on the ball.

I can only give my opinion of what I've seen. I've probably seen every player in the world at some time but certain players I will see more because I've played for Yorkshire and England. I am bound to see Yorkshire and England players a lot more. It's just by nature. Philip Sharpe at Yorkshire stands out. He had very small hands but he actually wanted the ball. In fact, I got the impression after many years that he enjoyed taking outstanding catches more than making runs. I know that sounds a little bit daft, but he did.

If I had to pick one slip catcher, I'd pick Bob Simpson of Australia. He was a fantastic catcher, whether it's spinners or seamers. You've got to remember, some guys are good in the slips when seamers are bowling. Not quite so good when they stood up to the spinners, much closer to the bat. Some people are not good at all at that. Simpson caught be in my first three Test innings for England in '64. In fact, my first innings, I nicked it, it went to Ian Redpath at second slip low down to his left hand. He went for it, missed it, Simpson had dived behind with his left hand and caught it diving. It was a brilliant catch. It went out on the front cover of, I think, the Cricketer magazine. I was sick of signing it for cricket lovers by the end of the season.

Ian Botham had great hands. Tony Greig had great hands, Mark Waugh of Australia was very good. There are quite a lot around but those are the ones that spring to mind as being exceptional. Tony Greig was the best tall-man catcher I've seen. What is he, 6ft 7in? To get down and catch, has very big hands. Botham was interesting. He stood closer at second slip than anyone I saw in my career. Sometimes on slow pitches, he'd get very close. In fact, he'd get slightly in front of the keeper, which is hardly ever heard of. Second slip may be level, but he'd get in front of the keeper. You could get players who'd do that just to show off or be clever or a bit of bravado. That doesn't count, that doesn't cut it. You have to stand there and make the catch. And Ian could do that. That's the important bit.

So it's not changed a great deal, I don't think.

ST: There you go, Earl. Thanks a lot for that, Geoffrey. That brings us to the end of this 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. Until the next time, it's goodbye from all of us at ESPNcricinfo.

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