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'Australia need to prove that they are better than this'

Geoff Boycott looks at Australia's and England's chances in the upcoming Ashes, the role of coaches, and the format of the ICC Test Championship

Producer: Raunak Kapoor

July 5, 2013


Bowl at Boycs

'Australia need to prove that they are better than this'

July 5, 2013

Shane Watson drives during his brisk start, Worcestershire v Australians, Tour Match, New Road, 1st day, July 2, 2013
Shane Watson: needs to convert his starts into big scores so he seals up one end for Australia © Getty Images

Raunak Kapoor: Hello and welcome to another show of Bowl at Boycs here on ESPNcricinfo, I am Raunak Kapoor and joining me once more is the star of the show, Geoffrey Boycott.

So Geoffrey before I get into the questions, I must ask you, are you excited about the Ashes?

GB: Yeah, I'm ready for it. I didn't commentate on the Champions Trophy, I just wanted to be fresh for the Ashes series, not because I don't like the Champions Trophy, just that there's that much cricket around these days. And for the English and Australians, the Ashes is big; and they come quick these days, they have five Tests in about seven weeks, where before you used to get ten days off in between Test matches. The players did, the commentators did, the public, did now you don't. They come thick and fast.

So you want to be fresh, alert, ready and up for it. I didn't want to be tired having too much cricket and too much travelling, so yeah, I'm ready for it.

RK: So Geoffrey Boycott is ready for the Ashes, the world is ready for the Ashes, and we'll begin this show with an Ashes question for you, Geoffrey. This one comes from Rubin Vakil in India.

Goeffrey, the build-up to this Ashes has been surrounded by a lot of trouble that Australian cricket finds itself in. Now most people back England to romp Australia in the upcoming Ashes.

Rubin asks: Do you believe that this is perhaps the weakest Australian side ever to take on England in an Ashes series? If so then why is this team as poor as it is, and if not then what do England need to watch out for from this Australian team?

GB: Well, it's difficult to say if this is the weakest Australian Test team, because I haven't seen them all. I've only seen the 25 years when I played and about 20 years commentating. They've been playing each other for 200 years.

Why is this team so poor - because they don't bat well enough. That's the key. Everybody talks about bowlers taking 20 wickets and having bowlers to win matches, but look, if the batsmen don't put you in a position with enough runs for your bowlers to take 20 wickets, then you're not going to win, you're always going to be up against it. And that's the problem with Australia: the batsmen just don't make enough runs.

The Australians have good seamers. I think some of their bowlers are really good. I think Pattinson's a good bowler, hits the deck. I think Mitchell Starc's very good. Left-arm swing, he's quite sharp. I think if you give him confidence he can bowl. We had him at Yorkshire last year and he's a wonderful guy, wonderful cricketer, I think he can come up leaps and bounds. Siddle will be the workhorse.

They've had one or two good ones who have always been injured as well. So they have some good seamers and seamers in England win Test matches, not often spinners. Spinners win matches in the subcontinent.

But you can have all the seamers that you want and all the quality bowlers, if you're always struggling for runs to bowl at. Ask any club bowler: if I put vast amounts of runs on the board, then he feels he's got something to bowl with. I think their batting has too much reliance on Michael Clarke, who is a superb batsman. And the opener, Shane Watson, is a good batsman, but he gets plenty of starts and doesn't go on to make hundreds. I'm sorry, it would be much better if he made nought occasionally and then went on to make a hundred than 30-40, because then he seals one end and makes sure people can play at the other end and then you can get decent totals. You don't have to get huge totals, but you want to get something near a 400, something like that.

There's a time in Test cricket where even when you have good bowlers, maybe the batsmen get in, maybe you can't get anybody out. But when you've got 400 you can almost guarantee that it's going to be four sessions-plus. So you can have a poor session or a moderate session. You can have a session where you don't get wickets, even with decent bowlers. But when they have a rest at lunch, tea, end of play, they regroup, come back and you can hit the opposition hard, and with 400 runs, you have room to manoeuvre.

If you keep getting out for 200, sorry, you've got no room to manoeuvre. You're always struggling and up against it. And I'm sorry, besides Clarke, and Watson to a point, you're not sure what you're going to get from the rest of the batsmen. So that's their biggest problem. Their offspinner's not going to frighten anybody. Swann's better than him for England. But it's really going to be the seamers and the batting.

I think the Australian seam bowlers are capable in five Test matches, ten innings, say, of bowling England out. Maybe twice for decent totals, reasonable totals. Then it's up to the batsmen, but if the batsmen can't bat, doesn't matter what the bowlers do, you're not going to win.

I think from England's point of view, they are favourites on paper, but England need to be aware of complacency. Any thinking by the players that all they have to do is turn up and they'll win would be dangerous, and it's a recipe for losing.

Favourites don't always win in horse-racing, that's why bookies make money.

RK: Speaking of Test cricket, and there's been some news on the ICC Test Championship. It is confirmed now. The Test Championship will come into effect from 2017 - it replaces the ICC Champions Trophy.

Geoffrey, there's a question regarding the Test Championship and it comes from Prateek Rana in India.

There are still doubts on what the best format for the Test Championship should be. It is suggested that only the top four teams will participate in what seems to be a knockout type format, as including all the teams would make the event go on for too long. All this is initial reports, of course. There are also doubts as to how the "winner" of a drawn Test, or rather which team advances, should be determined.

Prateek asks: Knowing that you favour the idea of a Test Championship, what would be your ideal format for the same so as to ensure the best possible result from an event such as this?

GB: Hell, you're asking me to do it at the top of my head. Look, they're going to have a group of people - I suppose some ex-players and some administrators sit down and discuss this, because you're right, it does need working out, but I think the most important thing is that we do need a Test Championship.

Whatever the rules, we need one because cricket audiences going to the ground are reducing all the time. Unless you've got an iconic series like India-Pakistan or England-Australia, you'll see the crowds in Test cricket are going down. And it needs a shot in the arm, with huge publicity, to try and offset the declining crowds. I mean T20 has taken over - you get huge crowds, huge publicity.

Test cricket needs something, it could have done with it now, not in four years' time, but there you are. Administration and administrators, it's not easy to do things and they're never quick to do anything. I think just simply, you make a date to start and you make a date to cut-off, over maybe two years up to two months before the Test Championship is due to be played in England.

And in that period you've got to find a format of so many points for a win, which is quite a lot, and a small amount for a draw, nothing for losing, I don't believe in giving anybody points for turning up. I mean. it's about winning.

And unfortunately, we don't have a series of Test matches where everybody plays everybody else and it's equal. We play them three times each, say, or five teams each and it's equal home and away. If we did, it would be very simple, but it isn't.

So you don't want a situation whereby a good team can play Zimbabwe and Bangladesh and keep beating them easily and getting their pot full of points and getting into the semi-finals, then really it's a bit unfair to the other teams. You know at the moment India are strong, South Africa, England, Australia, if those four keep playing each other then you're not quite sure who is going to win.

In India, India would be favourites, but abroad, these other teams might. South Africa have seamers and it seams in South Africa. England are tough to beat at home, India are tough to beat at home. So you're going to have to have points, and somebody is going to have to sit down and say, "Hey, when you play Zimbabwe-Bangladesh, we're only going to give you x points. If you beat South Africa, we're going to give you 3x, if you beat England or India, we're going to give you 2x or 3x, whatever it is."

"The Australian players in that squad got Mickey Arthur the sack, and the way they've been performing, they can get anybody the sack"

Because that's the only fair way, you can't just give equal number of points for winning if you're not playing everybody equal number of times. Now that is going to be the problem. The start of the point system, the end of the cut-off, that's not going to be difficult, but you're going to have to find a way where the points equate to the best four teams getting to the top.

You can only afford two semis, first plays fourth, second plays third, two semis in England. I suppose they can come and play a couple of warm-up four day matches, then they play the two-semis, they have three days off and then they go to the Mecca of cricket, Lord's, and they play the final. It won't work if you have any more games than that.

Because, remember, if it's four teams in the semis and it's played in England and England isn't part of it, then you wont get as big a crowd. Same in India. Four years later, after 2017, in India, 2021, you get four teams playing and one of them isn't India, you're not going to get huge crowds. It's a fact of life. It's the same with Australia, same with South Africa.

So you can only afford two semis, played more or less at the same time, and a week after, the final. But the point system is going to be awkward, it's not going to be everybody's cup of tea, what they work out, but the main thing is they're going to do it. They have to do it and not waffle about "Oh, the points aren't fair" and this and that.

You've got to do it, you've got to get Test cricket some profile, a huge profile on TV, media, everything, cause at the moment T20 is outgunning Test cricket by light years.

RK: Geoffrey, what about the idea of a possible qualifying round for the Test Championship, apart from just the point system. It used to happen in the Champions Trophy, where the top two teams qualify automatically and three, four, five and six get into a knockout or a playoff, to give more teams the opportunity to play. The only reasons that I suggest this is, firstly, because it has been done in the Champions Trophy before, and secondly, it can perhaps give a side like Pakistan the opportunity, who would probably be five or maybe six, to possibly qualify for a big event such as this, which could then give us the potential spectacle of Australia-England-India-Pakistan…

GB: No, we can't. It won't work. A Test match lasts five days, it's not like a one-day match. And you'll get Pakistan playing, I don't know, West Indies somewhere in England, sorry, there just aren't enough Pakistanis and West Indians to make it work financially in England.

It's just going to over-burden the system. They need to play better in the two years up to the cut-off point. So you've got a year and a half, or two years, whatever they make, as long as it's fair, as long as they do something about the point system, the top four teams will come out.

They'll all have the opportunity to play well, if they don't play well in Test series against different countries then they won't get into the top four. So why should they have a playoff?

RK: Right Geoffrey, I don't know about the West Indians but we have seen a huge number of Pakistanis in England in the past showing up…

GB: Yeah, but they don't turn up. We had Pakistan versus Australia at Headingley, we took it on. We had a big Pakistani contingent all over the county, probably as many as anybody outside of London, and they didn't turn up at all.

RK: Geoffrey, there's a second part to that question, which includes how we decide which team advances in case of a drawn Test..

GB: Or rain, you're going to get rain in England. It is going to be a ticklish problem. I don't have an answer to that. It is going to be ticklish. We have the D/L system for rain in knockout competitions, they'll have to work out something similar.

And whatever they work out, for rain and the draw, it won't be perfect. No, it won't. There's no such thing as a perfect rule or a perfect system. All you've got is do the best you can and work something out, and for god's sake, let's get on with it.

RK: Do you like the idea of a timeless Test, Geoffrey? One that goes on until we get a result, regardless of rain or anything else.

GB: Well I played in one of those, I played in a six-day Test in the West Indies. I don't think they're very good, cause what happens is, the team that wins the toss often says, "All right, we'll bat as long as we can and make sure we get runs." That's not what you want. You want a spectacle. Preferably if it finishes with not too many runs, 350, 370, 380 and it finishes in four days it will be even better than a tedious seven-day Test match.

RK: It's time to move to the question of the week and this is Geoffrey's favourite question and it comes from Ishan Joshi in India.

Now Geoffrey, build-up to the Ashes again, or at least part of it. Mickey Arthur, the Australian coach, or the former Australian coach, now was sacked at a time which surprised many, considering it was prior to a major Test series. He's been replaced by Darren Lehmann and sections of the media and a number of ex-players seem to welcome this decision.

Geoffrey, Ishan's question is: How important a role does a coach play in international cricket today and how does changing a coach just days before a major Test series benefit a team?

GB: Well, I know Mickey Arthur a little bit. He's a good, decent fella. I don't know him a lot, but I do know him a bit. And when you say most ex-players and media have welcomed this, have they? What have they welcomed? Have they welcomed Mickey Arthur's dismissal or Darren Lehmann's appointment?

What I seem to feel is, they're not actually saying Mickey Arthur should have gone or is a bad manger or a bad coach, they're actually saying that they like Darren Lehmann. That's very different.

But I think there's a danger here, and I've always believed this. Whomsoever is coach, I've never felt that role has such a big effect on a team. A good one can help guys in a team. It can help you with your bowling and batting, he can talk to you, give you confidence, this and that, but look, the coach can't bat or bowl or take wickets or make runs. He's not on the field doing the business. I think there's too much importance that's made of coaches and managers, call them whatever you wish.

Whenever the team does well, the coach tends to get lauded by some people, but when the team's doing badly, well, then they say, "Oh, the players are playing bad."

Hell, for the best part of 200 years, we didn't have coaches, we didn't have any batting coach, bowling coach, fielding coach, any physios, any mental gurus, no doctors. All these things and paraphernalia that they have, and teams seemed to do okay, they seemed to produce some great players, great cricket.

Now, I'm not saying that things shouldn't improve, cause I'm open-minded to more professionalism. I was a consummate professional myself. And I think when you get people who specialise, then they can help the players.

But look, I don't care how good the batting coach or the bowling coach is, or the wicketkeeping coach or the fielding coach, the physio, the doctor, the mental guy, in the end, you know, when you walk to the wicket, you the batsman have got to make runs. They aren't going to bat for you, and when you mark your run-up, they aren't going to bowl well with the new ball.

So they aren't so good that they can make average guys play great. Get real, that isn't going to happen! And it makes me cross this, this is where I do feel very much the same as Ian Chappell. I know he's very anti this whole "Coach is a great guru" business.

Darren Lehmann and Michael Clarke survey proceedings, Somerset v Australians, Taunton, 4th day, June 29, 2013
"Whenever the team does well, the coach tends to get lauded by some people, but when the team's doing badly, well, then they say, 'Oh, the players are playing bad'" © Getty Images

I think changing the coach near the Ashes series, I've no real problem with it. It's not for me to say what's going on, but obviously they're not a happy bunch. Something's not right, but in the end, you know, whatever the coach is, he can be a brat or he can be good, the fact is the Aussie players have got him the sack. Yeah, they did, the Australian players in that squad got Mickey Arthur the sack, and the way they've been performing, they can get anybody the sack!

Their poor performance has caused it. They need to get their finger out and prove to themselves and the Australian public that they're better than what they've been delivering.

RK: Well finally then Geoffrey, let's just put this one to you: would you want to be an international coach in this time?

GB: Would I, hell! Why would I want my reputation, my credibility, to rest on 11 other buggers going out to bat and bowl and not doing the business? No ways.

RK: All right, so you've heard it from Geoffrey Boycott in typical Geoffrey Boycott style. Don't forget to fill in our feedback form to send in your questions to Geoffrey.

That's all that we've got time for on this edition of Bowl at Boycs. Thank you very much to Geoffrey Boycott and he will be back in two weeks' time in the midst of the Ashes to answer your questions.

This is Raunak Kapoor signing off. Thank you very much. Goodbye.

*As at the time of recording, early on July 3, 2013

Posted by armchairjohnny on (July 5, 2013, 14:51 GMT)

It's incredible to think that League Two football club sides in England attract larger numbers of spectators than the England cricket team does in an Ashes series. The UK badly needs an MCG style cricket venue that can hold huge crowd capacity. Whilst you're at it, try lowering the ticket prices and doing away with so many ridiculous rules and regulations. A Test Championship will be worthless, both in spirit and financially if played in front of sparse crowds.

Posted by   on (July 5, 2013, 10:47 GMT)

We don't really need a Test Championship to know that SA are currently number One .. England probably second .. All Test sides rise and fall .. WI and Oz have had their periods of dominance .. They can only improve ..

Most Test spectators probably budget for one day per series .. A proliferation of matches will not necessarily induce them to watch two unless ticket prices are at least halved .. so profits will be no greater ..

It's the old 'Less is More' .. Quality v Quantity argument .. Aim for Optimums not unreachable Maximums ..

Unless Sky are willing to pay inordinate sums I cannot see a Test Championship being profitable ..

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