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'India and Pakistan have a great chance to win'
Geoff Boycott on the World Twenty20, the worrisome state of county cricket, and the greatness of Wally Hammond (23:06)
Producer: Siddhartha Talya
September 27, 2012
Related Links » News: 'India and Pakistan have a great chance to win' Players/Officials: Sir Donald Bradman | Wally Hammond | Sir Leonard Hutton | Sir Garry Sobers Series/Tournaments: ICC World Twenty20 | England Domestic Season Teams: England | India | Pakistan | Sri Lanka
Bowl at Boycs
'India and Pakistan have a great chance to win'September 27, 2012
Siddhartha Talya: Welcome, one and all, to Bowl at Boycs. I'm Siddhartha Talya. We're recording this just a day after the first round of the World Twenty20 ended. I'm joined by Geoffrey Boycott today, who's speaking to us from his residence in Jersey. Morning Geoffrey. Been following the World T20?
Geoffrey Boycott: Yes, I'm watching it a bit. I can't say I'm watching all the matches. I think some are a foregone conclusion, when you see the pitches that turn. They're going to turn more and be more difficult for the chasing side. But I think there's been some good stuff as well.
ST: Our first couple of questions today are about the World Twenty20. The first one's from Aftab in Pakistan. He says: There weren't any major upsets in the first round of the tournament - no wins for Afghanistan, Ireland, Zimbabwe or even Bangladesh. Is that a bit of a let-down?
GB: The big traditional countries don't think so [laughs]. They won't want to be embarrassed by losing to the newer countries, shall we call them. They're not minnows anymore. Most of them have had good wins, occasionally, against the recognised sides. We shouldn't expect shocks all the time. We've had some in the T20s and 50-overs matches in the past. But now the major players and the major countries know what to expect from these new guys. They won't be surprised by them anymore. They're not going to let that happen all the time.
You've got to remember in the modern day that most of these countries have got so many backroom staff who do a lot of homework on the opposition, whoever the opposition is. And nothing gets left to chance. So don't keep expecting shocks because it's embarrassing for the big guys. They don't want it to happen.
ST: So among the teams that have made it through, Geoffrey, which team has impressed you the most so far, asks Amit in India. He also wants to know if the pitches this time round in Sri Lanka have surprised you because there's something in it for the seamers as well.
GB: No, the pitches haven't surprised me. In the subcontinent, these pitches will turn, and they'll turn more and more as the competition moves forward. Most of these grounds have, what we call, small squares, small amounts of pitches. It's a small area. If you've got a number of matches - remember, they've had warm-up matches as well at some of these grounds - these pitches will have to be used again and again. If they're not used again, the one next to them will overlap so close to the ones that have already been used, you'll find that the bowlers' footmarks that are running off the pitch are actually running on to the next one that is going to be used. The groundsman will have little preparation. He won't have much time for his groundstaff to get on and do the required amount of work. There won't be much time between one use of the pitch to the next, where you allow the roots to grow proper grass and come through, and bind everything better. It's not going to happen. You'll find the odd pitch which is really good, and the scoring, surprise surprise, will be heavy.
But the subcontinent pitches usually spin, and the more overs you bowl on them means they'll spin more. Just think of it if it was a Test match. The first day it hardly turns, the second day it turns a bit more and so by the time you've had four matches, it's turning quite a lot. That happens in India as well. So batting first should be a big plus, a big advantage in some cases.
So the team that actually has got good spinners in its side to bowl on these surfaces, and also has good batsmen to play against spin - that's the other thing, because you've got to play against the opposition spinners. India and Pakistan both have a chance here. They both have a lot of quality spinners. Pakistan have got Saeed Ajmal, some people can't read him. Then they've got Afridi, very handy. Their batting can be a bit wobbly at times.
India have not only got two spinners, who bowled England out, they've actually got a very good bowler who wasn't playing, Ashwin, and they've got Yuvraj Singh, he can bowl well. And India have the very best batsmen against spin. If you work it out, India, in particular, have batsmen who've grown up with spinning pitches. They have good wrists, no fear against spinners. They come across the turning ball right from a very early age. It doesn't mean they can't get out to them - let's be clear - but they are more comfortable than most.
The thing about playing the turning ball - not slow bowlers who don't turn but spinners, when it turns - it's not about how much the ball turns, it's the change of pace, the variation in flight. A lot of balls are going on like topspinners. They're going on quicker. There are people playing for turn. It's not. It's hurrying on like a topspinner and it's beating them because it hurries on to them. It's a bit like Shane Warne's flipper. It zips on, catches you out. Now that's a potent weapon for a good spinner - flight, guile and the topspinner where it skids on. I just think that if India and Pakistan, if they don't cock it up, they've got a great chance to win. They've got better-quality batsmen, a good array of spinners. But just remember, every time you pick somebody, or watch your own country, T20 is a bit of a lottery.
ST: Harbhajan's looking good as well. So do you think this leaves England in a very vulnerable situation, Geoffrey, especially after their capitulation to Indian spin?
GB: Don't be gloating [laughs]. We know we were very bad. There'll be a billion Indian people jumping up and down when England played terrible. They do have a problem against spin. I see them talking themselves saying they don't have a problem, they play well in the nets, etc. What you do in the nets doesn't mean anything. And talk is cheap. Anybody can talk well.
What they have to do is go and perform in the middle. And only if, and when, they perform well against the spinning ball, and show us that they can play in the middle, in the heat of the match, in battle, we'll put our hand up and say, "Well done." But, at the moment, after how they performed against Pakistan in the UAE, and against India here, I'm not buying it. Anybody else out there shouldn't buy it. Of course, they've got to be confident. But I think they've got a serious problem. They've always had this problem against the slow, turning ball and, as I said, against spinners who've got a great variety, the skidding ball, England have got to prove it. Not just to me and other supporters of England - we're all watching to see if the talk is real, that they do have it in them to play well - but to themselves. In the end, when you play sport, it's really about proving it to yourself.
ST: Up next is an interesting question about the state of county cricket today from Sandy in the UK. Sandy says: My question concerns the general health of county cricket. How has the following been for the County Championship and the 40-over competition in terms of turnouts? Are counties managing to preserve their traditional fan-bases? And what can be done at an administrative and organisational level to make county cricket much more attractive?
GB: That's a big question, Sandy, but a bloody good one. I don't really know the answer to that. It's not often I say that. Membership has been going down for years for all the counties. I'll give you an example of Yorkshire, that's what I know more about. In the '70s, when I played, we were playing to a membership of 13,000. Now, we have about 6500 members. It's gone down in half in 40 years. It's a huge concern for all the counties. But I really don't know how to change it.
Cricket has always changed with the times we live in. Today, and for the last 30 years or more, people have had more diverse attractions than they had 50-60 years ago - things that they can go and do more than sit and watch a cricket match. Sport on TV is a huge bonus for us all to watch. We watch it in comfort, live sport as it happens. Many people are happier not having the hassle of travelling to a cricket match, parking the car, paying for the travel, paying for the entrance to a sporting occasion like cricket, when they can sit in comfort at home.
TV puts lots of money into sport and we all can see live events all over the world. It's fantastic. I watch it like anybody else. But it also has a negative effect on sport. Although TV pays lots of money into many of the sports, many people stay at home because it's easy, comfortable and so there are less bums on seats. Cricket is hurting for that. I don't see a way out. I think it's going to go on hurting. I don't see how you get people back to cricket. Football is the one big exception, where TV has not hurt. It's helped, in fact.
Years ago, there was no opportunity to travel abroad. There was no cheap travel to various countries to see the sun and the beaches and the sea. So, men went to the cricket, some women went too and it was a day out, part of their holidays. You go back to the '50s, the crowds were huge, man. It was like a day at the seaside. Very few people had own cars. Now it's different. With people owning cars, the family can have a day away. They can go on holiday throughout England and various place they never could. If the wife has a choice of a day or two at the cricket, or visiting places with the whole family in a car, or going abroad by cheap plain travel to sit on the beach in the sunshine with the kids, sorry, it's a no-brainer, a no-contest. Who's going to win that? The women, aren't they? They're going to go on holiday. They're not going to go to the cricket.
So stemming the downward trend has to be the priority of all cricket counties in England. But they're not finding it easy, and I don't know how they'll find it easy. Improving it will be even more difficult but just stemming the downward trend first will be good, because each year it goes down and down. People now have got out of the habit of going to cricket. They've got more, better and more interesting things to do.
|"The ECB and the administrative officials treat county cricket as purely a feeder competition to produce young international players for the England team"|
It's not about the quality of cricket, I'm not getting into the cricketers. It's a fact that there's more opportunity for people. The ECB and the administrative officials treat county cricket as purely a feeder competition to produce young international players for the England team. The County Championship, both the divisions, has been reduced to fitting in wherever and whenever it doesn't affect T20 and 40-over cricket. So if it's relegated to a third-class citizen… and money from Sky TV is their god. They protect and safeguard that at all costs to do whatever it takes to keep Sky TV happy to get the money. I'm not blaming Sky TV, they do a great product. They want people to watch, pay a lot of money and do a fine job.
But while ever money is the more important, that money from TV is more important and the extra cash they get from T20 and 40-over cricket is all more important than county cricket, then the health of county cricket and membership will go down and down and down. And it'll keep on going down till eventually some counties will go bust and they'll have to go to the wall, and have to amalgamate. It's very sad. But it will happen in a number of years.
I think it's unsolvable, quite honestly. I really do think county cricket getting more members is unsolvable. There are some good people out there trying to increase it, but I don't know how you'll increase it. There are too many opportunities for other things, and it's [the County Championship] relegated to the worst days of the week. T20 is always given the best days: it's given Friday nights or Sundays. Forty-overs cricket is given the best watching day for the families, which is Sunday. The County [Championship] is relegated to the early season when it's freezing damn cold in England; we're playing in early April now.
ST: That seems to be the trend in all cricketing countries - domestic [first-class] cricket is not in very good health.
GB: Yeah, we've got so much international cricket. People say, "Why should I go watch the county? I'll watch internationals." There's that many.
ST: We come now to a trick question of sorts that Geoffrey has picked as his favourite for this show. It's from James Noon in Gibraltar. He says: I feel sad that the greatest English cricketer is hidden under the shadows of Bradman and Sobers, given he was the second-best batsman of his era. He was also the best catcher and someone who has bagged more than 700 first-class wickets. Do you think he's received the due recognition for his achievements, compared to the status that Bradman and Sobers enjoy today?
GB: Very good question. You didn't mention Walter Hammond, but I knew who you were talking about. He was an absolute great. When I did a book two years ago, my best XI of all the countries, he was definitely in, immediately.
You take someone like Leonard Hutton, who was one of the all-time greats. Leonard was a man who said very little, he spoke very quietly. He didn't have a lot to say about many people. But if you ever said to him, after chatting with him, which I did... Colin Cowdrey said to me, "Watch this, Geoffrey. In the conversation I'll ask him about Wally Hammond." And Leonard just rolled his eyes and shook his head in awe whenever Wally's name was mentioned. For him, Wally was the doyen of his era, and the superlatives flowed about his batting when Leonard talked and Leonard very rarely said a great deal. He was an unbelievable player.
I researched him [Hammond] quite a great deal. He had an arrogance of great players and sometimes he upset his fellow professionals. Stories abound that when he played for Gloucestershire, he didn't think much of an offspinner called Monty Cranfield, and said he could play him with a cricket stump. After the game that day, he duly took the hapless bowler back to the middle and proceeded to do just that... [laughs]... which is quite embarrassing . And a very great bowler called Tom Goddard bowled for Gloucs and after Tom had bowled very well one day, celebrating the win bonus, Wally said, "You're not that good. I could play you with the edge of the bat." So, they all pooh-poohed him. So he took him out to the square and again showed him he could play him with the edge of the bat, to Goddard's humiliation. He was quite a character, Mr. Hammond.
Make no mistake, he could really bat. There were times when he was a genius. People, you're right, don't talk about Hammond as much in the same breadth…from that era, everybody just talks about Bradman. But when MCC went to Australia in 1928-29, he out-Bradmanned Bradman. He made 905 runs in that Test series at an average of over 113. He made 251 in Sydney, 200 in Melbourne, 119 at the [Adelaide] Oval and another 177, that was at the Oval too. Then he did make the world-record score, he did hold it for a while, making 336 not out against New Zealand in Auckland. He made that in 318 minutes, not even a full-day's play. His third 100 came in 47 minutes. He clearly was an awesome player like Bradman at his best and Viv Richards, who we've see in the modern day, putting bowlers to the sword. Okay, you can say New Zealand weren't great at that time, that's true and we can accept all these. But he has some outstanding performances and figures that will stand the test of time.
I think you're right. His brilliance and performances have got, kind of, subjugated a bit, to everybody talking about the Bradman era, and in the modern era they've talked about Sobers and Richard etc. There is a case for saying he was that good, that he was the best England player, that he was second to Bradman the best batsman. But there have been other people that have been great in English cricket, he's not the only one. You talk about his 700-odd wickets. Let me tell you, there were even better players than him.
What about WG Grace? He scored 54,000 runs, took 876 catches and, what people don't realise about the great man - they only remember him with the beard, when you had pictures of him when he was about 50, but he was a slim, athletic man - is he took, in his career, 2809 first-class wickets. Remember, there weren't that many Test matches then. We always think of Sobers, but he there is a case there for WG being the greatest allrounder ever. Yes, there is a good case, because you can't just judge him on Test matches. In the old days, 1890s and early 1900s, they played on terrible pitches with stones on them and bumpy, they only played in England and Australia, and very few matches. He only played 22 times for England, that's all. Scores were lower, batsmen scored less. His Test record doesn't look great against somebody who's played 100 Tests and averages 50, but his record in Test and county cricket was far higher than anybody else at the time. So, always you can make a case out for people.
But you're right, I love the question and I got it in one [attempt]. I looked up my figures and I knew who you were talking about.
ST: Geoffrey, did you have any personal interactions with Wally Hammond?
GB: I actually met him on my very first tour, to South Africa for England, as a young man. It was in 1964, we went to South Africa. In Durban, the manager Donald Carr [assistant secretary at Lord's] and captain Mike Smith went and sought him out, found him living in Durban and brought him to every day of the cricket. And sadly, I was too young, too much in awe of him to really ask him all of the questions I would have loved to have asked him now - had about a million. But that's what happens. You're so young when you meet these guys, you say hello and what have you and hang on to every word that other people ask them, but you just don't have it in you. You're too shy to ask all the things you'd love to ask these great players. But, remember, he was truly great. And I use the word properly. Outstandingly great performer.
ST: He passed away in 1965, Geoffrey, a year later.
GB: Shortly after that tour then. We were lucky to have him. He sat at the back of the box there, the sitting area, watching. Anybody who knows their cricket - that's the important thing - knows that he was a true great.
ST: Great, there you have it, James. Thanks a lot for that, Geoffrey. It was an enjoyable show. That's a wrap. We'll get back to you in a couple of weeks' time. Please don't forget to send us your question using our feedback form, and Geoffrey will be back again in a fortnight.
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