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'Cook should concentrate only on Tests'

Geoffrey Boycott analyses the Indian pace attack for the England Tests, and offers his thoughts on cricket in the Olympics (20:36)

Interviewer: Vishal Dikshit

July 2, 2014

Vishal Dikshit is a sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo


Bowl at Boycs

'Cook should concentrate only on Tests'

July 2, 2014

Excerpts from the discussion below.

Alastair Cook chopped on against Nuwan Kulasekara, England v Sri Lanka, 1st Investec Test, Lord's, 1st day, June 12, 2014
"Alastair Cook wasn't positive enough in his captaincy against Sri Lanka" © Getty Images

Vishal Dikshit: Sri Lanka won a Test series in England for the first time, New Zealand beat West Indies in West Indies after 12 years. And now India are in England for a five-Test series. Can they take the away advantage too, or will England prove that they are still strong at home? This is Bowl at Boycs and with me, as usual, is Geoffrey Boycott. All geared-up for the five Tests?

Geoffrey Boycott: Ya, more or less. Weather's been pretty good which means the pitches should dry out and India will like to get spin into the game so there's a good chance the pitches might turn a bit.

VD: Our first question of the day comes from Girish in India. He says: What are your thoughts on Indian fast bowlers? Will they trouble the English batsmen in the coming series? Who do you think will be the players to watch out for from both teams? Lastly, what is your prediction for the series?

GB: Well, predictions aren't easy. But the way England are batting any bowler who's worth his salt will fancy a little bowl at England because they will trouble England. England just look so vulnerable. With [Jonathan] Trott going, [Kevin] Pietersen going and then the captain who's out of form, if you are an opposition bowler and you look at the England batting line-up, you'd think, "Wow! There's a team ready for the taking. There's nothing there to worry me."

[Ian] Bell's the best player but he does daft things and gets himself out. So we've got [Gary] Ballance, the new kid, [Sam] Robson the opening batsman is new, [Alastair] Cook can't make a run, [Joe] Root looks good but he's a young kid making his way down the order. You look at everything and you'd think you can see positives as a bowler and how you might get them out and win the game. The Indian seamers are good enough to inflict serious damage on the England batting because the England batsmen are capable of getting themselves out as well as being bowled out. Ishant Sharma has been around a long time. I know he's got a few no balls but everybody gets after him from time to time. The fact is he should be able to bowl [well]. He's tall. In the England conditions you don't have to bowl at express speed, you have to get the ball in the good areas - that's the important thing - [Mohammed] Shami's got a bit of pace. In England it's not about bowling as fast as you can, it's bowling fairly sharp, but slightly within yourself and having great discipline, and having patience to bowl around the off stump.

You have to keep telling yourself where to bowl, which is off stump, fairly fullish in that corridor of uncertainty and don't bowl short. Bowling short in England, the ball sits up, it's like India. Keep it simple and stick to that, don't bowl on the batsmen's legs, make him feel for it around off stump. If you can keep the England batsmen under pressure... they've got a lot of young kids, all pretty good players, but they're making their way in Test cricket. With England like they are, they look really wobbly. England are ready to be taken. India have come to England and played some very good England teams recently, so they won't get a better chance to beat England than now because our team is in flux.

England just lost to Sri Lanka, that didn't go down well. We should have won at Lord's, we weren't good enough and bowled our overs too slow, Cook wasn't positive enough in his captaincy. If India win and Cook fails twice with his batting, I think he's gone. India could topple the England captain and then we would be in a worse disarray. I'm not sure, it's always possible that England could come out and play well and these young kids could step up but there are a lot of question marks. I think the selectors and the hierarchy knew that when Trott went, Pietersen they dispensed with... there were going to be problems. They expected Cook to play well but he ain't. So the moment is now India's.

VD: Geoffrey, the second part of the question was who do you think will be the players to watch out for. Do you have some names in mind?

GB: I ain't a clue, no good asking me for predictions. I'd be very surprised if some of the Indian batsmen don't do well. I think the pitches will be good, the drainage is better than ever now. Millions of pounds are being spent on drainage on our Test-match grounds which means they soak out the moisture from deep down below and all the pitches around. The covering is brilliant, they've spent fortunes on these hovercrafts to keep them really dry and nice, there's no sweating anymore with tarpaulin. So there's no sweating overnight, there's no rain, there's no dew. They are very dry surfaces now, which is very good for batting. As an Indian batsman there's nothing to be afraid of.

Upto 1979 we had uncovered pitches. If it rained on it, you played with rain on the pitch and it zipped around all over the place. And then we had tarpaulins on and they made it sweat overnight so early on it would still do a bit for a while. It would keep all the rain up but moisture in it, but they got rid of that now. Pitches have just got better and better, there are no excuses. Indian batsmen used to come to England and be a little bit wary, they were never afraid but wary of their movement.

"If India win and Alastair Cook fails twice with his batting, I think he's gone"

VD: The second question is from Harsh Dang in Canada. He says: Geoffrey, we have seen Alastair Cook struggle in the recent Test series against Sri Lanka. Do you think he should step down as England one-day captain and concentrate only on Tests? Sometimes captaincy can affect different formats and England have also struggled in one-day cricket. He should still be in the team but do you think it would help him if he steps down?

GB: Well, I disagree with you. I don't feel he should be in the one-day team and that was before he was out of form. He's a natural opening batsman for one-day cricket. If he plays and he's in good nick, he'll make some runs because he's a good player. But England have better openers for one-day cricket. ODI cricket has moved on from when it first started in 1971. I played in that era, and Sunil Gavaskar [came] after me. There were no restrictions on bowlers, no restrictions on field placings for the start. That's all changed. There are fast starts now, boundary shots are needed by players at the top of the order and with so many restrictions on field placings, you need top-order batsmen who are naturally more aggressive. I don't mean you have to just slog the ball. But when you have fielders in the circle, you'll see teams get off to flying starts.

Cook is not a naturally aggressive batsman and so he's always having to attempt big shots. That makes scoring runs pretty difficult because that's not his natural game so it becomes tough, unless balls are bowled on his legs or short outside off stump. It's not his natural game to hit good-length balls and take a slight chance or two. But there are quite a lot of batsmen in England who do that and do it well. I would prefer him to concentrate on Tests where he is a very fine batsman. I understand for nearly a year now he has been out of form but that can happen to a lot of players. We have all been there, it's human, it doesn't mean you can't bat, it doesn't mean you can't play, it doesn't mean he's lost it all together. He's mentally not in a great place, he's having difficulty with criticism of his captaincy, so he's at a pretty low ebb.

ODI cricket becomes very difficult to play when he's out of form, almost impossible. But I feel confidence, form help you play one-day matches where you have to take a chance and little bit of a risk. He'll never step down, I don't think he'll step down willingly because he will see it as a sign of weakness. He's a stubborn bugger and it's part of what makes him a good player that he's stubborn but maybe he's not always the best thinker of what's best for his cricket. If he doesn't buck-up shortly, I think somebody is going to make the decision for him about the one-dayers. The selectors will have to eventually make the decision. But I don't think he's the best man for one-day cricket.

VD: Continuing with Cook and captaincy, the third question is from Maurice Jamall from Japan, who says: Given all the debate and discussion surrounding Cook's captaincy, do you think opening batsmen should ever be picked as captains. It strikes me that after a long day in the field with all the pressure that goes with it, a chap having to dash off, get pads on and then face the new ball is a recipe for disaster. Other times the captain is doing TV interviews moments before having to open. Again, not the best way to start your innings. Surely choosing a middle-order batsman or a bowler as captain would make more sense.

Ishant Sharma's first four-over spell cost 41, Leicestershire v Indians, Tour match, Grace Road, 3rd day, June 28, 2014
"The Indian seamers are good enough to inflict serious damage on the England batting because the England batsmen are capable of getting themselves out" © AFP

GB: That's a very good question and I'll tell you why. First of all captaincy in any era is about the man, not the position he bats. Some people, I believe, are born with leadership skills, not made. Maybe they don't realise it there but when they are given the opportunity they rise to it, they flourish as a captain and as a leader. Going back many years when there was no media intrusion, quite a number of famous people were opening batsman - Len Hutton, Bill Woodfull of Australia was opening batsman through he Bodyline series, Graeme Smith, who just retired, was a very good captain. Then you had Mark Taylor not too long ago, Bob Simpson of Australia, Jackie McGlew and Trevor Goddard of South Africa. Now what has changed is the media. When these guys were captains all they had to do was turn up, toss up, go back and just get on with the cricket. They didn't have to give interviews. But I do agree, and I've said this for a long time, that in the modern age of media there are so many more duties for captains - interviews at the toss for TV and radio, interviews at the end of the match, before the match. People are always looking for the captain for a line or two. And we have more TV and more radio and then it gets bigger all the time. First you're at the toss, then you have to run into the dressing room after giving interviews, you hardly get time to get changed, get padded up and rush out to bat. And it's not conducive, it's not the ideal preparation when you're playing any cricket, never mind a Test match.

But years ago there was no TV at all, radio was in its infancy. In recent times it's got worse because the administrators of cricket in all countries give way to TV stations and it's now become accepted practice. The administrators don't have to bat, they're not the ones having to do interviews and then rush to the dressing room. And the media wants more. It pays big dollars, big money for cricket and it keeps on asking for more - more interviews, more players. And they get it because nobody, none of the administrators draw the line to TV and say "no". We've got cameramen running onto the ground to get close-ups of batsmen who just got out, who are very disappointed and upset and they poke their lenses into the face. Nothing is sacred anymore, it's too intrusive. And captains are expected to be at the media's beck and call. I don't agree with that.

The administrators take the money and agree to almost everything. And I think it's too intrusive on the players, it's not right. I remember Andrew Strauss at Headingley not long ago was going to toss up, the rain came and he was back in the dressing room. When the rain stopped he had to go out, he had 15 minutes to toss up, then he had to do interviews for Sky and BBC Radio, then he had to go in and get padded up. He came out and he was out second or third ball for nought. And that's a perfect example of your point, it's not fair on him, it's not fair on any cricketer. I've come to the conclusion as the media has grown alarmingly that the game has changed. I think if you have an allrounder who can do the job well, he's in the best position to see batting and bowling. Imran Khan was a brilliant leader, Richie Benaud, Ray Illingworth were all allrounders. In the end it's about the man, has he got leadership qualities.

VD: The next question is more at a macro level of cricket. David Doss from India says: My question to Geoffrey is about Cricket in Olympics. a) Is the ICC right about being reluctant to introduce cricket in Olympics? b) What are your views? Would it not help to spread the game globally in terms of popularity?

GB: Unless there's some reason why we're not in the Olympics, I don't know, maybe there's something we haven't been told. Yes, I would like to see cricket in the Olympics. I don't think it's really an Olympic sport, there are so many sports in Olympics like golf - there are multi-zillionaires playing. I think Olympics are more about athletics, about wrestling, about swimming. When the Greek started it all, they did athletics and that's what it was about. If you got to go in the Olympics, I think it'll be nice to have a new format. We know how successful T20 has been. I'd produce something like a T30 - 30 overs a team. Just have a new format on the good format of T20. Thirty overs, it will be just for the Olympics, great quick entertainment to capture new viewers around the world, introduce cricket to people who don't know about cricket, who haven't seen cricket before. I think that could help. I wouldn't have Test-match cricket, I wouldn't have 50-over cricket. I think it's too long for people who are looking at cricket first time around the world. And we could get new audiences and new interests but there must be something why it's not there in Olympics. If you've got a product, and you can get in on television, and you can find millions of people watching that product, you have a chance of selling that product. And that seems the place to be - the Olympics - because they are giving you free publicity. But there must be some reason the ICC doesn't do it but I can't believe it why they don't.

VD: That's the end of this episode then. The Indian team is in England for five Tests, South Africa are in Sri Lanka for a few limited-overs matches and a couple of Tests. Send in all your feedback and questions via our feedback form on the website and Geoffrey Boycott will join us again in two weeks, we'll try to take as many questions as we can. Till then, goodbye and good luck.

Posted by Priyantha_P_Gunaratna on (July 4, 2014, 5:14 GMT)

Stumpedlloyd, to talk about Sri Lankan cricket, you should be following SL cricket over a certain period of time at least. It was same Mr. Geoffrey Boycott who stated that even his Mum could bowl out Sri Lanka when they were forced to follow on 350 behind with more than two and half days left in 2006 series, first test. In the end SL batted 199 overs, scored 550 for 9 and saved the test. Although they lost the second test they came back to win the third and level the series. I agree that Angelo messed up the third test against Pakistan here in Sharjah by adapting negative tactics. Yet he was quick to learn from his mistakes. The fact that English bowlers did not know to bowl proper lines and lengths is not our problem. They should know how to bowl in their own back yard. Ian Bell daft things to get out is not my remarks, it was Geoff who stated that.

Posted by stumpedlloyd on (July 4, 2014, 2:55 GMT)

@Priyantha Gunaratna: Ian Bell does do daft things to get out. Cook is woefully out of form. Just because Boycott didn't mention Sri Lanka doesn't mean he didn't think they deserved to win. If you had bothered to listen to Boycs on BBC during the test series, he praised Angelo Mathews' innings. I thought Angelo's innings was brilliant and I hope this is the turning point for him, for I always viewed him as a very selfish player and a lousy captain, especially the way he got the team to behave during the Pakistan test series in the UAE when Sri Lanka lost that test match. That was utterly disgraceful. Here's hoping he has matured.

Posted by Cricket_theBestGame on (July 4, 2014, 1:37 GMT)

T30 is a interesting concept..but not for olympics...for olympics its got to be T20...they should keep T20 for olympics and get rid of 50 overs and replace it with T36ers (36 overs a side). a perfect balance between T20 and 50 overs and a very marketable name too. what do you think Geoffry?

Posted by EdwinD on (July 3, 2014, 23:58 GMT)

Not sure how Boycs or Vishal missed the obvious - 20/20 cricket for the 2020 Olympics !!

Posted by AmarH on (July 3, 2014, 22:15 GMT)

Absolutely love Geoffrey Boycott you will never get such insights, stories, and views like this ever again. I also love that he is always brutally honesty, pure legend !

Posted by   on (July 3, 2014, 20:34 GMT)

Mr sri lanka you are bang wrong. We messed it up, should have declared earlier and would cleared your guys up at lords. And were on top then collapsed at headingley then nearly survived last day. Your lot would of been easily beaten by a form county side. We both looked poor sides

Posted by 2MikeGattings on (July 3, 2014, 14:08 GMT)

Cook should not be in the ODI squad, and neither should Anderson or Broad who could use the rest. England also need to find come with a replacement for Prior because they can't carry him in his current state of form. Moeen has done enough to continue as test spinner, but Cook has to bowl him more.

Posted by   on (July 3, 2014, 12:55 GMT)

All this nonsense about Cook's batting form and his captaincy. No word of praise given to Sri Lanka for coming from behind and winning the Headingly test and thus the series. Not a word about Angelo Mathews's superlative effort of creating a winning position out of nowhere. When England are outplayed there are various excuses, they are a team in transition, Cook is out of form (how can someone be out of form for a year?), Ian Bell does daft things and gets himself out. No credit is given to the other team. England were beaten by a much better team led from the front by an excellent captain. Their test bowlers were getting used to the conditions in the first test. Otherwise they would have earned a much more comfortable draw at least.

Posted by   on (July 3, 2014, 10:45 GMT)

30 overs for Olympic? Seriously? If cricket can fit in the Olympics, the only way is either a 10-15 overs a game or something like Hong Kong sixes.

Posted by   on (July 3, 2014, 7:07 GMT)

I remember the incident Geoffrey Boycott is talking about Andrew Strauss. This was on the first day of the Headingley Test in the 2009 Ashes series. The England players were woken up from their bedrooms at about 4:45 a.m. due toa fire alarm in the hotel. And then just before the toss one of the England players, I believe Matt Prior had an injury and there was some doubt about he playing. In the midst of all this, Andrew Strauss had to give an interview, come out to toss, decided to bat and then had to face the first ball of the match from Ben Hilfenhaus. He survived the first ball, a confident shout for leg before but did not survive for long, getting out very soon. And yes, England went on to lose this Test match after their horrendous collapse on Day one.

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