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'One-day cricket has improved Amla's strokeplay'

Geoff Boycott on three world-class batsmen: Amla's form, Ponting's retirement, and Tendulkar's challenge (21:57)

Producer: Siddhartha Talya

December 7, 2012


Bowl at Boycs

'One-day cricket has improved Amla's strokeplay'

December 7, 2012

Hashim Amla drives past cover, Australia v South Africa, 1st Test, Brisbane, 1st day, November 9, 2012
"He's improved so much that he's one of the best batsmen in the world" © Getty Images

Siddhartha Talya: Hello and welcome to Bowl at Boycs. I'm Siddhartha Talya and I'm speaking to Geoffrey Boycott today in Kolkata on the eve of the third Test match between India and England. Geoffrey, there's been a lot of talk about the pitch in the lead-up to this Test match. There's been talk of differences between the curator as well as MS Dhoni about whether or not to prepare a turning track. What do you have to say about what's happened so far?

Geoffrey Boycott: First of all, there's nothing in the rules of cricket that says the home side can't make the pitch to suit its particular bowlers. Is it morally wrong, or is it justified? I don't see it as any big deal. You would expect people to have pitches that play to their strength. You'll be wrong in your head to start playing on surfaces that made it more difficult for your team or bowlers, it's human nature. So I don't see anything particularly wrong in that. And if you make a pitch that suits youself, you can't be sure if it's going to work, as we saw what happened to India in Mumbai.

So, personally, the making of pitches, I don't think it's wrong, but I don't think I'd be asking for anything specific. I'll only be saying to the groundsman, "Look, can we have a cricket pitch that allows us to bat well and get runs and if we bowl well we can get some wickets and a result or both sides can." That's because, for a long time now, the cricket-loving public want to see results, they don't want to see tedious five-day draws, particularly high-scoring ones, everybody's getting runs, the bowlers are just cannon fodder. I don't see that as cricket. The game is supposed to be a competition or a contest between bat and ball. Hopefully, the bat will have a slightly upper hand occasionally, so that we can see some runs.

But some of the best games in my career I've played in and seen have been on the lower side - 350 or 370 in the first innings has been a pretty good score. And, by the time you get to the second innings, maybe 270 or 280 is quite a good total. So I hated playing matches and seeing matches where each of the teams gets 600. I don't find them mouth-watering to watch.

ST: We'll come back to India v England in some time, but let's move on to the questions for today. The first one comes from Ashley in Sydney, and it's about a player who didn't have the perfect send-off, given that his team was beaten comprehensively by South Africa in Perth. Ashley wants to know: How do you rate Ricky Ponting as a Test captain and as a batsman? Is he among the most combative cricketers to have played this game?

GB: The first bit of his question, well, as a Test captain, for me he is not special. Captains tend to be judged by history, by people now, on how much success or failure their teams have had. Really, if you're a captain of a side with Glenn McGrath or Shane Warne, and, at times, some top batsmen, they've had some superb players, all playing at the same time made winning easy. I don't judge it by that but I do know that's how people tend to. Without them, would it have been easy to win? I don't think so.

I look not just at winning and losing, at tactics, how you handle situations on the field. Have you got good ideas? Have you been proactive, or just waiting for something to happen? Have you got some intuition? Do you see things happening on the field before they happen? Not following the ball when it goes somewhere and put a fielder there…

Captaincy, sometimes, a lot of times, in tactics, is a feel for the game. It's a feel for what's going to happen. There's no set plan, there's no set blackboard, there's no rules that say to you, "Hey, this is going to happen." You've got to have this feel, this intuition, you just feel it's going to happen. That's a gift. I didn't see he had that. For example, he'll always be haunted by winning against England at Lord's in 2005 and then he went to Edgbaston on a flat pitch, wins the toss, puts them in - when McGrath has trotted on the ball, can't play, one of his main bowlers, and he puts England in - and they get 400 on the first day. I believe that one moment changed the whole Ashes, because England went on and won that. He could have batted us out of the game with his batting line-up, just batted well and they would have got 600.

As a fielder, I think he was outstanding. He was a wonderful, top-class fielder anywhere - catching at slip, run-outs from midwicket and cover, he was absolutely outstanding.

As a batsman, he was world-class. A truly great player in this era. A true warrior, who was up for tough situations, he wouldn't bottle it, he was up there for it, he was a scrapper, a guy you want in the trenches with you and a guy who's got real talent, who could bat.

As a person, as a guy, I think he was a top bloke. A fierce competitor on the field, but a really good, decent, straight guy off the field. The best compliment I could pay him: he's a man you want to play for and he's a guy you want to play with.

ST: Geoffrey, when people speak of Ponting's combative approach, they usually look back at that innings he played at Old Trafford in 2005, under pressure. A Test match that Australia managed to draw, largely because of his 150…

GB: Well, he's a warrior. That's my point. As I said, he's up for tough situations, whether it's defending like that or you're trying to win. He's a no-fuss guy. You just know when you get into tough situations or in the trenches with him, he's going to be there. He's one of the guys who is never going to bottle it.

We shouldn't be too sad that he's gone out on a poor note or a lesser note, getting out cheaply two or three times. Look, very few players go out on a high. Bradman went out getting nought. It's as simple as that. It's what you have achieved over all those years. To me, the fact that he doesn't score a hundred and go out like you'd write a script in a comic book, it doesn't mean anything. It's what you've achieved over all those years, all those innings when you batted great for Australia. The fact that he got a few low scores in the end, in a few years time he'll sit back and think, "Hell, I should have quit a bit earlier, shouldn't I?" That's all.

"As a batsman, Ponting was world-class. A truly great player in this era. A true warrior, who was up for tough situations, he wouldn't bottle it, he was up there for it, he was a scrapper, a guy you want in the trenches with you and a guy who's got real talent, who could bat"

But who the hell wants to quit? It's always the best time of your life. You're playing cricket, you're young, fit, and healthy, you've loved it all your life and who wants to give it up? It's human nature. So I don't blame people. I think he'll just sit down like all of us and say, "Wish I would have done that earlier, I didn't need it." But he didn't know that, did he? If he would have known that, he would have done. If he would have got another hundred, he would have thought it was all worthwhile. I don't think we should criticise him or anything for just getting a few low scores. It's human nature, it happens to all of us.

ST: Another player who will be remembered for that Perth match is Hashim Amla, who got a 190-odd in the second innings to bat Australia out of the game. Amit from India has a question about him. He says: Amla was once considered a classic Test-match specialist, but he's not just that. He can score runs at a fair pace and he's had much success in limited-overs cricket as well. Is it due to the confidence good form can bring? How do you think the expansion in his shot-making ability has come about?

GB: First of all, when we saw Hashim Amla, he seemed a bit vulnerable early on with a sort of flailing high backlift. But he's improved so much that he's one of the best batsmen in the world. You could say Pietersen, Kallis, Amla, Michael Clarke - they're pretty good, all four of them, and he's right up there. He has wonderful concentration, superb stamina and desire, which I think is so important. Desire is important to stay in and make huge hundreds, which he has done.

What's helped his strokeplay, to answer the other part of the question, is playing one-day cricket. Lots of batsmen play shots or strokes in one-day cricket because they have to, they didn't really know they had them but they have to try and play them because you have to try and score. And when you have to play strokes in one-day matches, there is a freedom of the mind that you don't always have in Test matches. That's because you know at the back of your mind, your team-mates know and everybody watching knows that you have to try and play shots, it's the nature of the game, and you have to score. And that gives a number of batsmen a bit of an excuse that if they get out, it's not totally their fault because the nature of the game says, "I have to play a few shots." So they play with more freedom and confidence than they do in a Test match, knowing that they won't get quite as much criticism for getting out in a one-day match trying to play a shot or two so long as it's a sensible shot, not something stupid.

In a Test match, failure can and does put a player's place in the team at risk very quickly, because then everybody says you've got five days, no excuses. Here, in one-day cricket, you always, at the back of your mind, have that little bit of freedom to say, "I had to try and score," a little bit of an excuse. If you have to try strokes and they come off, wow, the confidence can go up alarmingly. You think, "I didn't know I could do that". You're not going to tell anybody but you're not doing things that you normally do.

Also, the nature of the modern-day player, which he is, is different from many years ago. The modern-day youngster now, or young players, they grow up with so much Twenty20 and 50-over cricket from a young age, that having to score quickly in one-day cricket transforms them a bit more naturally. It transfers into their batting more easily and they can play at a quicker tempo in Test matches, because they're doing it now fairly often in one-day cricket since there is that much one-day cricket. Years ago, there was no one-day cricket at all. It's very difficult for youngsters today to understand that. So you played to the tempo - Test match cricket, five days, don't get out, don't do anything silly, else you get criticised. Today, it's second nature to do and play differently.

And so that transforms itself into Test match cricket, and I think Amla is the perfect example of the modern batsman. A superb technician with a wide range of shots and one-day cricket has helped him express himself more and more to become an even better player and one of the great players in the world at the moment. When he first came, I doubt his best friends, or his team-mates, or anybody trying to be honest, would have said that here is a guy who is going to become world-class. They would have said here's a good player, but he is now world-class and has been for years.

ST: Geoffrey's favourite question for this show comes from Nitin in India and it's about a player who has been spoken about a lot in this series. Nitin asks: Geoffrey, do you think Tendulkar's recent struggles are a result of his slowing reflexes or his technique? It is inevitable that one's reflexes slow down at some point but I still think he's good enough to play on. India tour South Africa in 2013 and we need an experienced player there in the line-up. What do you think is the issue with Sachin from what you've seen in the series?

GB: In the first Test match in Ahmedabad, he hit the offspinner over the top into the outfield but there was no fielder out on the boundary, so he got four runs over midwicket. Then England put a man at midwicket, and Sachin, trying to be positive, tried to hit Swann over long-on where there wasn't a man, so it was a safe area. But the ball turned a little bit, he tried hitting it to long-on, but he dragged it to where the man was [at deep midwicket] and it looked silly. I understand what he was trying to do but what was wrong there is that he'd just come in. He was trying so hard to be positive and get on top of the bowler, which I don't really think is the best way. I'll come to that in a minute.

Then, in Mumbai, he comes in, the ball is turning away off Monty, off the front foot he tries to turn the ball for one towards square leg, so he finishes up with the edge of the bat. I always found it difficult to play with four-and-a-quarter inches. I think it's more difficult playing with the edge, even the great players. Then [in the second innings] he played on the back foot, he didn't want to be caught forward against Monty and he was still trying to work towards square leg. If you watch the slow motion carefully, he plays the ball, he's turned the bat so much that he has the edge showing at the ball. That's pretty tricky and dangerous, and that's what got him out.

For me, one was a mental error, trying to hit over the top too soon. The other two were technical errors when he's trying to work the ball when he's just trying to get in.

I come to the point, as he says, about reflexes as we get older. As we get older, reflexes, reactions, eyesight, they can't be as good as when we were younger. It's just impossible. Nobody out there who is listening to this can run as fast as he did 20 years ago. It's just nature. Age affects our footwork more than anything. But to make up for this loss of reaction or little bit of eyesight... we should be able to make for this a bit because we're older, wiser, more mature, we've got so much experience because we played so many Test matches, so many one-dayers. We've seen all this before. There's nothing new to surprise us. So you lose a bit on one side, you gain on the other. And if you're smart, you make up for it as you get older.

Now then, when you get into these stressful situations eventually it's going to happen, and no maturity or experience or knowledge can make up for your reflexes, loss of little bit of eyesight or so forth. I think - he's nearly 39 - he is finding that it is so difficult early on. I played till I was 41 and a half for England; I played for Yorkshire till I was 46. I understand from myself that getting those feet moving early on and feeling the ball on the bat is the most difficult period as you get older. You also find certain shots you can't play that you used to play. And it's quite irritating, really, when you've been able to take on bowlers who you think, "Yeah, he's quite good, but really, I could have taken him on easily." Maybe he felt that about Swann. Ten or 12 years ago he probably would have done. But as you get older, you have to be a little bit more careful, not negative but careful. It's because your reactions, your reflexes, your legs, nothing is quite the same. And it really can be quite annoying when you just can't quite recapture what you used to have at the zenith, when you've been that good, better than anybody around… only Lara, I've seen, has been quite good. Hell, it can be irritating.

And as age catches up with us, then you have to stay in a bit longer, to play a little bit more carefully, more technically correct, until you get that first 30 runs or so. You have to work harder, harder than he's ever had to work before. Not because it's him, because it's any of us. I had to work so hard for those first few runs to get those legs moving in the right place. And it was a mental error and two technical errors that got him out, wasn't his ability. So, in my mind, as you get old, you have to make the bowlers bowl you out with an absolute corker, a beauty, a really top ball. If he can stay in, graft and work hard for 30 runs, the old Sachin will begin to flow, because the body gets going, the legs get moving, you get a bit of confidence. You've got 30 runs behind your name, you move at the ball a bit more positively.

But he just can't bat like he used to, nobody can, none of us as we get older. That brilliance is gone. He and his supporters have to accept that. He's mortal, he's human, he maybe an icon player but he is mortal and human. I hope he gets some runs and I think he will if he can convince himself that he is mortal, he is human, he isn't quite what he was because nature has taken over. And that, as I said about Ponting, is not embarrassing. There's no shame in that, you know, it is just life.

Sachin Tendulkar walks out at the Eden Gardens, India v England, 3rd Test, Kolkata, 1st day, December 5, 2012
"He gets more leeway than anybody else because he's done more things" © BCCI

And shortly, you know, he'll have to call it a day altogether. We all get to that point and if he doesn't then somebody else will have to tell him and if nobody wants to tell him in India because he deserves as much praise, as much leniency as anybody, because he's done such fabulous things for the country. But eventually all of us have to get runs or wickets. We don't have a job nine to five, going to work, in an office. We are result-oriented, the team is, the individual is. And so, in the end, if he doesn't make runs, the end will be there. He'll see it himself and it'll probably be like Ponting. He won't want to go. Who should want to go? Who should want to leave the stage? Does an actor or actress want to leave the stage? Do those Bollywood boys and girls want to leave? Nobody wants to leave. It's been the best time of your life. So he's trying to make it last longer. I hope he does. I think most people are going to hope he makes some runs but, as I say, he gets more leeway than anybody else because he's done more things. But, in the end, only runs matter.

ST: But do you still think Sachin is struggling to come to terms with that, Geoffrey? His game has changed over the years, he's become much more subdued compared to his free-flowing self for all of the '90s and a good part of the 2000s.

GB: Yes, but he didn't do it in Ahmedabad when he tried to hit him over the top. That was, "I'm going to boss him, I'm not going to let him dictate to me." It wouldn't have been my way of telling him down to deal with it. I've told you what I think is my way. I hope I've put it in such a nice, sensible, reasonable and constructive way, because I'm one of those who, like most of you, love him to bits. He's been fantastic, and he's a Yorkshireman. Adopted, of course.

ST: 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 hope to catch up with Geoffrey again during the fourth Test match in Nagpur, so we'll see you then. Thank you for tuning in.

Posted by   on (December 9, 2012, 3:11 GMT)

practical man boycs really good said

Posted by   on (December 8, 2012, 21:10 GMT)

Geoffrey has been the most insightful, impartial observer of the game for 2 decades. His analysis of how talented, instinctive cricketers can deliberately adapt to the changes brought on by advancing age makes a short gospel on embracing change. Cricketers and sportsmen of all disciplines would benefit immensely from hearing or reading this interview. Superb, sir!

Posted by   on (December 8, 2012, 5:16 GMT)

great words of great man about three great batsman...

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