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'As captain, you can't treat all your players alike'

Geoff Boycott on captaincy, Rangana Herath, the 'rebel' tour of South Africa in 1981-82, and how to train to bat long (20:15)

Producer: Siddhartha Talya

December 16, 2012


Bowl at Boycs

'As captain, you can't treat all your players alike'

December 16, 2012

Michael Vaughan trudges off after his golden duck, England v South Africa, 3rd Test, July 30, 2008
"Michael Vaughan was miles better than Andrew Strauss tactically" © Getty Images

Siddhartha Talya: Hello and welcome to another show of Bowl at Boycs. I'm speaking to Geoffrey Boycott today at the end of the second day's play of the Test match between India and England in Nagpur.

Geoffrey, how do you read the match situation now?

Geoffrey Boycott: India are in a bit of trouble, like England were at 139 for 5, and somebody's got to play exceptionally well for you, otherwise I can't see you winning. England have a confidence about them, a professionalism, they are on a bit of a roll, and even without Bresnan bowling particularly well, I think they can bowl you with three bowlers - two spinners and James Anderson. It's not beyond you, but you do have to play well, really well.

ST: It's a pretty big challenge ahead of India now - they're already four down. But let's come to the questions, the first one comes from Arnold in the UK, and it's about captaincy.

He says: Geoffrey, we've spoken of coaches in the past but how much of a man manager is a captain these days? Stephen Fleming was considered the best captain in his time even though the results weren't always great for New Zealand. How do you think a captain can bring the best out of his players?

GB:Man-management, in my opinion, it's a gift. Each captain, each individual, will do it differently and that's right. You can learn certain things and you can be taught some things, but I honestly believe you've got it or you haven't. Some guys don't know they are good at it. For instance, you've got Andrew Strauss. He was never thought of as captain but he was given the job and was exceptionally good at getting the best out of the players - the players wanted to play for him. That's a great honour, isn't it? The players want to play for you, if they want to play for you, they're going to play the best they can. If they're going to play the best they can, the team gets the best out of you. So they liked the guy, they respected him, liked him, he's straight.

Michael Vaughan was never thought of as a captain for England. Marcus Trescothick was the vice-captain. I said at the time that Vaughan will get the captaincy. "Oh, he's not the vice-captain." But I said vice-captains do not always get the captaincy. Some people are just good at being deputies. But you actually have to make the decisions and accept the responsibility for it, so you've got to have something about you. Strauss and Vaughan didn't captain their counties, not at all. So I don't think you have to necessarily go through the rigmarole of captaining, say, a zone in India or a county in England, to get the job. I think you just have something.

It's about studying your players, I think, trying to understand the different characters and different needs of players. I don't think you can treat them all the same. Yes, they all have to be treated the same in some basic, simple things like timekeeping, or catching the bus at the same, turning up at the nets at the same time. These are peripheral things, aren't they? Meetings, basic stuff I call those.

But I think you've got to allow and encourage certain people to express themselves. Others need a bit of encouragement and quiet chat, some need a confidence boost. You've got to study guys. There might be an odd one that needs a boot up the backside; you've got to tell him in straight, no uncertain terms to buck his ideas up or he's not going to play. But I don't think you have to be going around treating everybody the same.

You've also got to make good decisions that appear sensible and right to the players, because if they don't feel comfortable with you, you can be the best tactical captain in the world but they're not going to go with you. You have to actually bring them with you. People I've seen, even outside of cricket, people like Brian Clough, a close friend of mine, a football manager at Derby and Nottingham Forest, with ordinary clubs he won two European Cups, won the league with each of them as captain of the first division. He would make time to sit and think and plan and study players, study his team. He didn't need a notebook or anything, or a pencil, but he'd study it in his head. He would sit quietly and think about how he wanted to approach each player. And then he'd use that.

I think it's a work of art, definitely a work of art. Some guys are born to lead, some you can give them the job and sorry, it's just not going to work.

ST: You've always said that statistics serve a very limited purpose when it comes to comparisons. Is it the same with captaincy, that you don't necessarily have to judge captains by the results they achieve?

GB: I judge them by what I see, how they handle players. There are different things to captaincy. There's the captaincy of handling players. There's the other side of it, which is handling tactics. I don't think Strauss was particularly good at that, not at all. Vaughan was miles better; I think he was very good at it, both. But it takes all sorts.

Ricky Ponting was a wonderful guy to play for. I don't think he, tactically, was as good as [Mark] Taylor, Ian Chappell or Richie Benaud. But the guys liked him, didn't they? He was up there at the front, fighting, pulling his way, batting well for Australia when it mattered, so you gave your best. It's different how you see different people.

But most people tend to judge captains on how successful they are - that's not how successful they are but how successful the team is. You and I could have captained Australia with Shane Warne and Glenn McGrath. Certainly my mum would have done a very good job. I don't think we need anybody particular to do that. And you saw that when they weren't there, Australia under Ricky didn't do so well, did they? So I don't blame Ricky for that but I don't give him all the praise either when you've got two bowlers getting you a thousand wickets. And getting them cheaply.

ST: Coming to a question about a left-arm spinner who has taken over the reigns of Sri Lanka's spin attack. The question is from Nisha in India. She says: Rangana Herath has a big responsibility, taking charge of Sri Lanka's spin department after the retirement of Muttiah Muralitharan. He's won some Test matches for them since then. In your opinion, what are his strengths?

GB: His strengths are, he's a straightforward, orthodox left-arm spinner. He spins the ball, gives good flight, nice loop. I think he's a nice bowler. But here's the problem. You use the words, "big responsibility, taking charge of the spin department after the retirement of Murali". Look, he's never going to be a Murali. It's simple. Herath can't take Murali's place. And if people look at him, saying he's not as good as Murali, it's unfair, it's a burden. It's a pressure he shouldn't have, can't afford to have and it's going to harm him.

Warne and Murali, they were class acts. They were a class of two for wicket-taking. Nobody's going to come near them as spin bowlers. So I think Herath will be a very good bowler in the subcontinent. He can win matches. When he plays abroad, in England, South Africa, Australia - sorry, he's not going to win many matches. Orthodox left-arm spinners don't. They play a part, they pick up a wicket or two, they're not going to [win you games] in South Africa, where there are seaming pitches. England, mainly, it's won by seamers. Spinners will play a part but it's seamers mainly. And Australia? Left-arm spinners winning a Test match in Australia - find out when was the last time that happened.

So you're going to put a huge burden on him if supporters judge Rangana's bowling and wicket-taking ability against Murali's. It's an unfair comparison, it will put enormous pressure on him, and it will hinder his bowling. He can't live up to that. It's an impossibility, nobody can.

"We just went as professional people to earn our living, like lawyers, accountants, bankers, all sorts of people went to South Africa. We said, 'What is different?" Why do you make sportsmen different? Because we're an easy target?' That was all. Simply that"

ST:: A question from Akash in India, Geoffrey, and he wants to know why did you participate in that tour of South Africa in 1981-82, with a few other England players, which came in for a huge amount of criticism at the time because the apartheid regime was still in place?

GB: Yeah, but this was the point: we thought it was double standards, so we wanted to earn some money. The money we got [in England] was pathetic. In principle, it's the same as today: kids want to play the IPL because of the money - they don't want to play the IPL because they think it's better cricket than Test cricket, you know? They play it purely for the money.

And we were earning such pathetic money, and there was so much double standards going on. Barclays Bank and people… British Airways were flying to South Africa. yet they're telling us we can't go and earn a living. Hang on. How does that work? British Airways flies there every day and earns a fortune. There's banks and people out there, there's the diamonds, the gold, all from South Africa, so why are we, sort of, made the scapegoats? That's what politicians do - they pick somebody easy.

We were just not getting any money, nothing at all. It's the same thing what happened with Packer. The only reason people went to Packer was not because they liked Kerry Packer, not because they liked his cricket of playing under floodlights - they didn't even know what type of cricket; the first year it wasn't under floodlights. There was no one-day cricket for the first year. It was purely money. You offer them £25,000 pounds, in the winter - sometimes we didn't have winter tours so there was no money. When we did have a winter tour, we got about £3000 for a winter tour. So we were all going to get £50,000 each. I played my Test match in 1977, when I got my 100th hundred, a week's Test match, a day of nets and five days, I got £400 for the week. So four years later if someone says we're going to give you £50,000 for a week's work, a Test match, you bet we were interested.

It wasn't about whether we liked apartheid or anything - that's nonsense. Nobody agreed with apartheid. We were all of the same view. Nelson Mandela summed that up when he came out of jail. He went to the House of Commons in England in 2004 and said, "Racism is a blight on the human conscience." Simple. He's a great man, and we all felt the same.

But when other companies were doing that [trading with South Africa], it seemed ludicrous. Why the hell couldn't we earn some money?

ST: Did you think you had a greater responsibility, in the sense that you were representing an English team?

GB: Not at all. We were just individuals, like anybody else. The West Indians went next, Sri Lanka…

ST: Although the tour was ruled as an unofficial series…

GB: Doesn't matter. We were just individuals, we had no official status, we didn't even go like that. What the South Africans wanted to call us was not our problem. We just went as professional people to earn our living, like lawyers, accountants, bankers, all sorts of people went to South Africa. We said, "What is different?" Why do you make sportsmen different? Because we're an easy target? That was all. Simply that.

ST: Coming to the question you've picked as your favourite for this show - it comes from Paresh in India. He says: Martin Crowe wrote recently that he batted in tens, while attempting to bat long and bat big, setting small targets along the way. How did you approach your batting, mentally, when trying to occupy the crease for an extended period of time? How should upcoming, young batsmen, train themselves for the same?

GB: You can practise and practise, but just practising alone is not enough. It's the quality of practice which is the key, and you can help train yourself by having perfect practice.

A lot of people go to the nets and the batsmen usually get sloppy and a little carefree after about ten minutes. Why? It's because if they play a bad shot, they're not out. If they make a mistake, nick it or get a pole knocked out, they just put it back up again and carry on. They're probably allotted 15 or 20 minutes to bat and they just take the next ball, or the next bowler, and carry on.

That, in my opinion, is not good practice. If you are sloppy and carefree in practice, and slacking everything you do when you go to the nets, I think there's a good chance you'll play something like that when you're in the middle. I would get three or four bowlers, tell them I would bat for 40 minutes - that's a hell of a long time in nets. And I would play properly, carefully, as if I was starting an innings, and then I would increase or expand my range of strokes the longer I batted, until I was looking to be positive and get on top of the bowlers. The key is, I would try to make absolutely sure I didn't get out at any stage. I try and make no mistake while batting, even though I'm trying to play like in the middle. Start steady, play my way in, increase my shots and so forth. And that's how you bat in the middle - you make one mistake and you're out.

Put yourself under pressure like in the middle. Get used to it. Get used to batting, concentrating, not making mistakes. By all means change your gloves, change your bat, but it's about trying to do the same things in the middle. That's the best way to get your mind right.

And another game I play: I put money on my stumps. I give the bowlers an incentive to get me out. "So, listen, I don't think you lot can get me out, so I'll give you a fiver if you do. I don't think you are good enough." By taking the mickey out of them, by saying they're not good enough, they try like hell at me, they run in to try and knock my block off. So what that meant was, I got real, hellish, tough practice, didn't I? They gave me a good working over, just as good as I could get in net practice, as near as I could replicate in the middle. They bounced me and everything. And if I clipped it for what would be a two, I said, "that's four." The bowlers are going mad: "That's never four, you never hit that hard enough." We would have this chit-chat, and I would stir them up a bit, wouldn't I? And I would get them playing.

Shane Watson bats in the nets, Perth, November 28, 2012
"Don't make practice easy. Make it hard, difficult like it is in the middle." © Getty Images

And I would try whenever possible to get harder, better balls, because as an opening batsman, that's all I see. Spinners with an old ball, I mean, I'd have runs on the board before I saw them in most conditions. So the newer ball, the good ball, with seam movement, nip back, nip away, swing a bit, bounce a bit more, would be a better ball. I tried to make it harder to play well in the nets and not get out. This business of not get out was because getting out is sloppy. Most times people get themselves out, you know. Not often that magic balls bowl you out; only occasionally.

Don't make practice easy. Make it hard, like it is in the middle. Try and replicate the middle as much as possible. Hold your concentration together. And Martin Crowe is right. Create small targets when you are batting. You can't say you're going to bat all day. Yes, that's your intention. But it's a long way away, is six hours. You've got to say, I will bat till drinks. Purely drinks, bat and be 20 not out. Bat till lunch, 45 not out. Start again and bat. Or you could look at the clock. If there's a big clock, bat by the clock for an hour. You can do all sorts of… play little games. You've got to want to stir yourself up and practise properly.

And I think it's this business of perfect practice, not practice alone. Really, if you practise and you're doing something wrong, you're just going to ingrain it wrongly. If you practise sloppy cricket, you're just going to ingrain it, aren't you? Anybody out there who practises golf, why do you practise golf? To get a better swing, so it comes naturally? It repeats itself? If you're going to practise badly, you'll just end up repeating the bad shots. It doesn't make any sense to me. It's perfect practice that's the key.

ST: And also, desire Geoffrey, just to bat long. Do you think people who approach batting with that kind of a mentality place a higher premium on their wickets than some of those who go for attractive shots?

GB: Attractive shots are lovely but you've got to be aware that in cricket, it's as hard a game, batting, as you could actually wish to get. Why do people play golf? More people have grown into golf over the last 20-30 years than any sport. Do you know why? One simple reason. It's the only sport I know where the worse you are, the more hits you get. You keep getting a hit at the ball. The idea is to have less hits. It's the other way around. So they're all in the game, they're hitting it in the bushes, the long grass, but they're hitting it, they're in the game.

You go and play cricket and get out first ball for nought and have to stand at fine leg fielding for three hours. Is that fun? I don't think it's fun. I don't think many children think it's fun. You play football, you're not very good, and every time the ball comes to you, you lose it to the opposition, your mates are going to stop passing it to you. So it is difficult in cricket to get it into your head that one mistake ruins your day. Now that should not stop you totally from playing shots, but you have to marry defence and attack. Attack without defence is stupid. If you can't stay in, you can't get runs.

ST: That's an invaluable piece of advice for you there, Paresh, and I'm sure it's something you'll remember for a long time to come. 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 Geoffrey, we'll see you again in two weeks. Joining us from Jersey?

GB: Hope so.

ST: Okay, thanks a lot for joining us.

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