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'Difficult for South Africa to be a long-term No. 1'
Geoff Boycott on the challenges ahead for South Africa, England v New Zealand, and why ground fielding has improved over the years (14:03)
Producer: Siddhartha Talya
February 28, 2013
Related Links » News: 'England can clean New Zealand up' Players/Officials: James Anderson | MS Dhoni | Jacques Kallis | Graeme Smith Series/Tournaments: Australia tour of India | England tour of New Zealand | Pakistan tour of South Africa Teams: Australia | England | India | New Zealand | South Africa
Bowl at Boycs
'Difficult for South Africa to be a long-term No. 1'February 28, 2013
Siddhartha Talya: Welcome to another show of Bowl at Boycs. I'm Siddhartha Talya and speaking to me today from Lake Taupo in New Zealand is Geoffrey Boycott. Geoffrey, we've just seen Australia being beaten quite comprehensively in the first Test, in Chennai. Was the result along expected lines, given they were batting on a turning track?
Geoffrey Boycott: I didn't expect India to win so comfortably. I thought they were a slightly better side than Australia at home. There have been quite a few changes in recent times in both teams. I always felt the Australian batting is a bit wobbly. It's not that good compared with the past. I think the Australian spin department is quite weak. I did feel Australia had an advantage in seam bowling. But when it came to spin bowling, turning pitches, in their own country, you've got to put your hand up and say India.
From a long way away, MS Dhoni's innings of 200-odd must have been outstanding. That must have been a real Man-of-the-Match performance because it swayed the contest by a long way.
ST: It was some double-century, and he got the runs in quick time as well, to change the match completely.
GB: You know my view. I've said it before: I think he is a fantastic character. I don't know him, I hardly ever speak to him, but I'm looking at it professionally. I like his spirit, his attitude, his character. There is something about his batting that is very effective. There are plenty of players that are more aesthetic-looking than him, but it's his effectiveness. It's no good having somebody who looks good in the nets but can't produce it in the middle. It's what you do in the middle and what you do under pressure in the middle, what you do in tight and difficult situations for the team, like his World Cup performance in the final. That's what makes an extraordinary cricketer. It's not just how you look. He seems to deliver when it matters.
Another thing I've said about him: he carries the pressure and the difficulties of captaining India so well. You think of the weight of expectation by people and the difficulty of handling the Indian media when the team doesn't do well. My God, any weak man would just fail under the pressure of it. But he's not [weak], he's a very strong personality. Being captain of India, especially when they don't do well in any matches, it's like doing a job with a sack of coal on your back. It's just going to weigh you down, but he seems to have the character, the heart, the temperament and mind to just take it all in his stride. Good luck to him.
ST: Coming to the questions, the first one is from Ashton in England about the series going on in New Zealand. He says: England's new-ball attack has impressed in the one-day series and Joe Root has looked superb as a batsman. England start favourites in the Tests but are there any areas in which you think New Zealand can pose a challenge?
GB: No. Man for man, England are far superior. If New Zealand are to shock England and win, I believe they have to play out of their skin, or they have to look at the weather conditions that affect the pitch and give New Zealand a big advantage, or England have to get complacent and bat very badly.
I watched New Zealand recently in South Africa. During the Test matches I was surprised by their poor batting technique against, let it be said, high-quality South African seam bowling.
England have quality bowlers. James Anderson is a superb craftsman, and Steven Finn, off a new, shorter, run, is very accurate, with great height and a tall, high action. He's been getting the ball at pace at an awkward height at the batsmen in the one-dayers. If he gets pitches with any bit of help in terms of pace and bounce, it's going to cause enormous problems for them. If they pick a slow and low type of pitch that we keep playing on, then the bounce, or the lack of bounce, will help the New Zealand batsmen contend with him. But if there is any bounce or pace, England can clean them up.
I haven't seen anything in the New Zealand bowling to concern England. I'm quite aware that New Zealand, at the moment, have one high-quality cricketer in Brendon McCullum, the captain. I think he is a very top-class cricketer. They are lucky to have Ross Taylor back - he is a good batsman. But having said that, New Zealand are going through a period without any high-end players. In the past they have had players like Richard Hadlee and Martin Crowe, who made a difference in the side. This set of players is very good, hard-working; they are decent cricketers. But for a country - I always say this - of five million people, they are doing splendid. But just at this moment, they are a more average side. They work hard, they'll compete hard, they are very good competitors, they'll field very well. But really, in terms of ability and technique, I would expect England to win.
ST: Coming to South Africa now, who've beaten Pakistan 3-0 in the Test series. The question is from Nilesh in India. He says: South Africa seem ruthless at home, and they have won away as well, though not as ruthlessly as they have done in home conditions. The subcontinent remains a challenge but is this team set for a long haul as the best Test side in the world?
GB: South Africa are the best Test side in the world. They have superb seamers and many different types of quality batsmen. In South Africa, they are always going to be difficult to beat, because their pitches don't favour spinners. Seam-up is the key, and good technical batting, because some of their pitches, like Johannesburg in particular… Pretoria as well, and sometimes you can get pace and bounce in the first innings in Cape Town and Durban. That suits the make-up of their team, with strong seam bowling - Morkel has got bounce, Steyn is the best seam bowler in the world, Philander has been a revelation, and they've got one or two guys who can slip in and help them out when anybody's injured.
|"In the short term, South Africa have all the attributes to stay at the top in Test matches. They are a very good fielding side, determined, but spin is always going to be a problem. It's about the pitches in South Africa. Who wants to bowl spinners on unreceptive pitches?"|
Spin has always been a problem for South Africa and it is a problem now. They struggle to be as dominant in the subcontinent because of their lack of quality spinners. The balance of their team has been held for the best part of 20 years by the outstanding talent of Jacques Kallis. When Kallis plays, you have a quality, excellent seam bowler as well as an unbelievably top batsman. A good catcher in the slips as well. At the moment he is getting older, his bowling stints are shorter, he doesn't bowl as much, doesn't bowl as quick, but he is still giving them a bit of balance, a bit of extra seam, and picking up the odd wicket. But the crux is going to come when Kallis goes, Graeme Smith, the captain, goes, who bats up front. In maybe two years' time you're going to see one or both disappear. It will affect them a great deal.
So a long haul? No. In the short term, they have all the attributes to stay at the top in Test matches. They are a very good fielding side, determined, but spin is always going to be a problem. It's about the pitches in South Africa. Who wants to bowl spinners on unreceptive pitches? The kids in South Africa will learn it's a waste of effort, waste of time, so they revert to bowling seam-up. If they want more spinners, they'll have to give some encouragement to young kids. But in the short term I'm not sure a lack of spin is going to hurt them, except when they go to Sri Lanka and India, that's possible. They are so good with the seam-up and so good with the batting, they can perhaps get away with it a lot of the time.
ST: The unfortunate thing, Geoffrey, is that South Africa don't play Tests for a while now - not until November when they take on Pakistan in the UAE.
Coming to a technical question now, it's from Kiran in Australia. Kiran says: Geoffrey, I'm a pace bowler and I need your advice. My coach said when I release the ball, I bowl it out of the back of the hand instead of cocking my wrist. How should I fix it?
GB: How can you be a pace bowler with the ball coming out of the back of your hand? That's what I want to ask. I haven't seen you, I am just reading the words. Legspinners bowl it out of the back of the hand. So your coach is right.
First of all, the grip is vital. The first two fingers of your bowling hand, one either side of the seam, the thumb underneath resting a little to the side of the seam. Hold it in those three digits, lightly but firmly. Lightly but firmly, I repeat that. Do not keep it too tight or you will not be able to release it [properly]. And, as you bowl, the key to it is try to keep the wrist firm-ish, so that you propel the ball to the batsman with the whole of the palm of the hand facing the batsman. I repeat that: propel the ball with a firm-ish wrist, but the palm of the hand has to be facing the batsman. Practise it without a batsman. You don't want the discomfort [of thinking] that the batsman is going to whack the ball for four in the nets. You just need to practice it without him. And do it at medium pace. Don't try to bowl too quick. It will feel funny at first because you've not been doing it right. But back of the hand, won't work.
ST: Geoffrey's favourite question for this show comes from Gul Laghari in Pakistan. It's about fielding. Gul says: The quality of ground-fielding has improved exceptionally over time. What would you put this down to? Is it better fields to dive on, or more athleticism in the field, generally?
GB: I think it's definite that the quality of ground fielding has improved out of all recognition because of one-day cricket. Let's be clear, I say ground-fielding. Slip catching, close-in catching of any kind, was always of a high standard in my career and, from what I understand, it's been pretty good throughout the game. For a long time, maybe not in the 1890s or the early 1900s, but going through the '30s, '40s, '50s, '60s, right through it's been pretty good, of a high standard. But for fielding, ground fielding, in the outfield, one-day cricket can take all the credit for the brilliant athleticism that has evolved and improved over the years.
Going back to my playing days, when I started playing cricket, it was frowned upon if you had a grass stain or a dirt mark on your creams. You should always look immaculate, you were told, so nobody dived around, nobody got dirty or got grass stains on. Only by accident. How times have changed.
With fielders trying to save runs, that puts batsmen under pressure. Batsmen try to play a good shot. If a fielder can stop it, [the batsman] is under pressure; he is not scoring in a one-day match. If you save runs on the boundary or anywhere, it can help win matches by a few runs. That has been the norm through one-day cricket. It has just got better and better.
It has now become vital that bowlers have to be as good as batsmen [in the field]. This has been a huge and outstanding improvement in cricket. There is talk, in the 1930s, going through the '40s, Bill Bowes, playing for Yorkshire, he was a fast bowler, 6'6", he used to stop the ball with his boot on the boundary. And then pick it up and throw it in. That's never going to happen now. You've got some brilliant fielders around. James Anderson of England, as a fastish bowler, lively fast-medium, he's not slow, not real out-and-out fast, he's quite sharpish… he is a brilliant fielder anywhere - catching, slip, outfield, dives around. He is the best athletic fielder I have ever seen [among] fast bowlers. It's become a norm now that everybody has to be able to do it. So one-day cricket can take the credit.
ST: There you are Gul. Thanks a lot for that Geoffrey, that's a wrap on today's show. Do keep sending us us your questions using our feedback form and Geoffrey will be back with us in a couple of weeks, from Wellington. Thanks for joining us.
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