Geoffrey Boycott answers your questions on all things cricket. Send your questions in here.

'Clarke batting at five is nonsense'

Geoff Boycott on the foundation of cricket in Australia, the importance of batting up the order, and why captains are usually batsmen (21:47)

Producer: Raunak Kapoor

July 31, 2013


Bowl at Boycs

'Clarke batting at five is nonsense'

July 31, 2013

Michael Clarke walks off having been given out caught behind, England v Australia, 1st Investec Test, Trent Bridge, 4th day, July 13, 2013
"You have to be tested against the best because you are the best" © Getty Images

Excerpts from the show below.

RK: Let's get into the questions, Geoffrey, and the first one comes from Amit in India:

Why is the batting position of a batsman so important? For example Tendulkar has almost always come in at No. 4 in Tests and Clarke always chooses to come in at five, why is such a big deal made if they are asked to come in at No. 3 or one position lower or higher than their usual position, why are they as hesitant or reluctant? Isn't it just one position up or down the order?

GB: Yes, it is just one position. It's part preference and part superstition, and it's part fear of the new ball. You've got to remember that the higher up the order you get, the nearer you get to the best bowlers when they're fresh with the new ball in hand, and there's a better chance you'll get out. So you find that a number of players in the middle order want to get away from it.

But I think history has shown that every great player in the world has batted in the top four positions. Bradman at three, Viv Richards at three, Greg Chappell at three or four, Tendulkar's at four, Lara at his best batted at three, Wally Hammond batted four for England, George Headley, the great "Black Bradman", batted for the West Indies at four.

I accept if you're a middle-order batsman, opening is a bit different, because it's very specialised. But when you're up there, opening or three or four, what you can do is, you can control the game for your side, and that's not just batting runs, that's being in it, making a statement by playing well, scoring runs, setting it up for the team, and making it easier for other batsmen who technically are not quite as good as you.

And if you work it out theoretically, never mind the practicalities of it, if the best bowlers are bowling, who are the best people to play them? It should be your best batsmen. Simple.

I never understand why they're always sending tailenders in against the best bowlers. There are very certain circumstances where there are only two overs left or the light's bad or the pitch is bad when you send in a nightwatchman. But sometimes they're sending him in with 40 minutes to go, and I go: "Hang on, that's not his job, get the damn batsman in."

So the best players must go up front and dictate the game. So really, Michael Clarke, who is by far the best player in the Aussie team, batting at five is just nonsense. It's absolute rubbish. It's almost as if you're saying, "Well the team isn't very good, we've got to make sure Michael gets away from the new ball because if he gets in then he'll get runs." I don't agree with that, I think you have to be tested against the best because you are the best.

RK: Geoffrey, many experts feel with Michael Clarke that he likes to hold back and react to a situation rather than go out and set the agenda himself. Does that play on a batsman's mind - that he doesn't know what to do when he comes in too early, even if he's as good a batsman as Michael Clarke?

GB: No, I don't agree with that. Look, you go down the order a bit when you're getting older, when your reactions aren't as fast and your footwork is not as good. But if you're the best player, you have to go up front and you have to give the others in the team who are looking up to you that confidence and conviction to follow you. But sending them in as lambs to slaughter while you wait for the ball to get old doesn't work for me.

RK: All right, let's go on to the next question. This one comes from Sumanth Kumar in the United States and there's a little build up to it:

"T20 is a hitting game. It's cricket's answer to baseball. In Test cricket, a quick 20 won't win you the game. Watson's been doing that since ages for Australia; he isn't winning them any games"

"I am following cricket for the last 20 years. I find that the cricketing world has always snubbed bowlers when it comes to captaincy. Look at the Sri Lankan team at the moment, for example. They have always given batsmen a chance to try their hand at captaincy. Although I don't have anything against batsmen, but just think about Murali, who did not get that chance. Currently I believe Malinga is as qualified to captain Sri Lanka as Dinesh Chandimal. But many countries don't favour captains who are bowlers. Currently in international cricket, almost none of the Test captains are bowlers. Why do teams think bowlers don't make good captains?"

GB: I'm just going to be careful when he says that Malinga is as "qualified" to captain Sri Lanka as Chandimal. What qualifies you? There's no qualification, so I think that's a misuse of the word. Malinga's not qualified, nobody's qualified. To me there are two facets of captaincy.

One is having the cricket knowledge about tactics, getting the tactics right in difficult conditions. Then there is the other part of captaincy, and that's the leadership of men. How to lead different types of people in the side. Some are outspoken, some quiet, some chatterers, some are introverts, some are extroverts.

When he says many countries don't favour bowlers as captains, yes, I agree. Why is that? I think on the whole, when you're bowling, particularly quick bowlers, you're all hot and sweaty and you need lots of energy to do that. Then when you finish your over you've got to go and stand somewhere, and you go down to fine leg, just to get a bit of a breather. Now if you're captain, you can't do that. You've got to go to mid-off or mid-on and set the field for the other bowler and you've got to be on the ball all the time. Now that takes a lot of energy and fast bowling is one of the most difficult things. So it's not that the guy doesn't know tactics or isn't a good leader of men, I think it's more practical.

RK: Time for the question of the week and it comes from Aditya Deuskar in India:

Following Australia's slipping fortunes in the last six months or so there has been a lot of debate regarding the failure of the Australian system to produce good young players, but it might be the case that there aren't any talented players in Australia at the moment and consequently the system can't do much. What role does a cricketing system in a country play? Does it produce great young players or [does it] simply sharpen the skills of players who are already born with cricketing talent?

GB: Excellent question. Especially because Australia aren't batting very well. Their batting is rubbish. Their technique is shoddy. I think you've hit two nails on the head. One is maybe there aren't that many talented players in Australia. Maybe they've just hit a period where they've got some very average players. There's no crime in that, it happens to all countries. You're not going to get a system or a country where you're always producing very very talented cricketers.

But I do think the system that you put in place helps develop players. When Australia was beating everybody at World Cups and Test matches for about 12 years, everybody was focused on what Australia was doing at their academy in South Australia, and people believed everything Australia was doing was very good. I disagreed. They still have their academy but the quality of the cricket they're playing has changed. They've shifted their focus to the Big Bash T20 and when you do that you're relegating the proper cricket that breeds Test match cricketers.

T20 is a hitting game. It's cricket's answer to baseball. Stand and deliver and hit home runs, fours and sixes. In Test cricket, a quick 20 won't win you the game. Watson's been doing that since ages for Australia; he isn't winning them any games.

Last year, they had more T20, more focus on the Big Bash. Last year their domestic 50-overs game was shortened to 45 overs of two innings per team. So even when a batsman got in, he had to stop at the halfway stage and then come back and start again. How does that teach batsmen on how to play a long innings and develop it? And also, some of the leagues in Australia followed suit with the states, so then you were getting club cricketers doing the same thing. It's absolutely ridiculous.

Brisbane Heat celebrate with the BBL trophy, Perth Scorchers v Brisbane Heat, BBL final, Perth, January 19, 2013
The Big Bash is entertainment. It will not produce Test match players" © Getty Images

We ex-players keep telling our country, the English cricket board, that it's not good to reduce the four-day game. That's what produces the quality international cricketers, that then earn England the right to be on the top of the tree.

A bad Test match side like Australia, who can't bat for toffee, is not good for the national cycle. I don't care how many people go and watch the Big Bash. T20 is fun and excitement. I've got nothing against it. I love watching the IPL and I'd love to come and see it live. It's fantastic entertainment. But it's entertainment. It will not produce Test match players. You have to have a fair amount of good, solid cricket to breed the players that can bat for long periods, and that was the thing about Australia.

The administrators, right from the chief executive, the chairman, all the main committees of the Australian board, have to accept a lot of responsibility. They wont. The fact is if they keep giving the Australian cricketers more and more T20 and making that the main focus of their cricket, then the standard of batting won't improve.

RK: Thank you very much for your time, Geoffrey Boycott.

Don't forget to fill in our feedback form with your questions and Geoffrey will be back in two weeks' time to answer them.

*As at the time of recording, early on July 30, 2013

Posted by DrDirkWellham on (August 5, 2013, 9:23 GMT)

Hello Geoffrey - good to read your currency. Keep it up - all the best from Dirk Wellham in Brisbane, from a fair while ago.

Posted by nzcricket174 on (August 1, 2013, 15:26 GMT)

The best players bat where there team needs them. Rahul Dravid sometimes opened and had success there. VVS Laxman opened occasionally too, when his team needed him. Steve Waugh batted at five, but he already had great players in front of him. Michael Hussey mainly batted at six, but he too was behind great players. He batted at four quite a bit.

Another more recent player, Ross Taylor, was told to bat at three a few years ago in ODIs, so he could transition to the spot in all forms. It did not work, so he moved back to four. Don't know what the relation between this and Clarke is.

Posted by jimbond on (August 1, 2013, 13:26 GMT)

Boycott's opening the innings was always rubbish. He slowed down the innings and once he got out he put pressure on the batting coming down the order. Pieterson at 4 is also strange, he should ideally come at 2 or 3. He should have ideally played at 4 or 5. Bradman too should have opened. What was he doing hiding down the order? Good logic - isnt it? I suppose there is something like a preferred batting order- at which people tend to perform better. It is certainly not cast in stone and should change for 5he benefit of the team. Clarke has been among the world's best batsmen (currently) at 5 and is the only class batsman around in the Australian team. Any good reason why he should be disturbed from there? The task now is clear for Australia- they now need batsmen at all other positions apart from 5. Good chance for Smith, Silk, and the other young guys. Please Boyce, dont try to misguide.

Posted by IPSY on (August 1, 2013, 13:11 GMT)

It is my view that a batsman is only a genuine batsman when he has proven that he can bat at any position in the batting order, and still produce excellent results. Hence, I am always bemused when I hear or see some of these guys talikg or writing about "great batsmen", the name of Rahul 'The Wall' Dravid's name not mentioned early on the list; while at the same time, names that he has played against, and in my estimation, was the better player are always introduced!

Posted by   on (August 1, 2013, 12:35 GMT)

what is this fuss about clarke's position. At no 5 he made to double centuries (200-250), one 250+, one 300+ in the space of one year. So its not like this position is hindering him from making massive scores. Don't fix it if it is not broken.

Posted by   on (August 1, 2013, 11:53 GMT)

Steve Waugh batted at five and his decision was widely respected. But I suppose that was in a much stronger team and there's an argument Clarke should 'lead from the front'. That said--the important thing is getting runs wherever you bat and none of the Australian batsman have been doing that, which tinkering with the order won't help.

Comments have now been closed for this article

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