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Geoff Boycott on England's youngsters, Hussey's retirement, and how he's changed as a commentator
January 9, 2013
Siddhartha Talya: Hello and welcome to our first Bowl at Boycs show for the New Year. I'm joined by Geoffrey Boycott, who's speaking to us from Jersey today. Geoffrey, it's been a sad couple of weeks in cricket - the passing of Tony Greig and Christopher Martin-Jenkins, people you knew well.
Geoffrey Boycott: Yes. Christopher Martin-Jenkins was a colleague on commentary with BBC Radio, but Tony Greig was a very close and personal friend. Also, I played cricket with him, Test cricket, for England. I stayed with him in Australia, we played golf together. His sister actually lived near me in Wakefield, Yorkshire. She lived about two miles away and was married to the guy who was the president of the MCC last year, Philip Hodson.
So they are close to me, Tony is. I've been talking to him about his cancer since October. He was quite chipper, really. It is difficult. I know more than anyone when you've got cancer it can be a death sentence. I talked to him, he was taking it well and was up for the challenge, and that's what you have to be. You have to be positive in your mind that you're going to give it your best shot, even if you know you may not survive. All of us feel that - even when we're having treatment, there's no guarantee it's going to work. But he was up for it.
I talked to him when I came back from England's tour of India just before Christmas. He was pretty good about it. He had part of his lung taken away and was ready for radio- and chemotherapy. And then, something happened, he had some sort of heart attack and he's gone, just like that. So it's really, really sad. When you've been talking to somebody and you think, well, there's a chance anyhow, that they're up for a fight, and then they go, just like that, it is a shock.
Christopher Martin-Jenkins had been ill quite a while. He did know, I'd been speaking to him a little before I came to India, and when I came back I spoke to his wife. He knew his was a terminal cancer.
ST: Moving on to our questions now. Michael Hussey has played his final Test match. And we have a question about him from Joby in India. He wants to know: Is Michael Hussey among the most complete batsmen we've seen in the last ten years or so, given his success in all three formats of the game?
GB: Yes, I think that's a true reflection of his quality. He's been a wonderful cricketer in all forms, and that's not easy. Ponting and Clarke have got more attention and more publicity because they were, and are, pretty talented, plus they were captain and vice-captain of Australia, and now Clarke has taken over as captain. So you're bound to get lots of publicity if you are exceptionally talented - which those two are - and you're captain of the national side.
But Hussey has been outstanding in everything he's done. It's amazing that he's been so outstandingly good, liked by everybody, supported by everybody in Australia. He seems to be squeaky clean in everything he's done. In this age of huge financial rewards, playing so much T20, and even Test cricket, gives you a lot of money these days. It's taken a lot of courage for him to come out and say he's lost the buzz. Without that real desire every morning to get up and go to work and play cricket, he knows his batting would eventually suffer.
I think it's very brave of him to recognise that feeling in himself, to front up and deal with it in such an honest and straightforward way. Not everybody could or would do that. We all should respect his decision and applaud his honesty and respect his integrity. He loves the game that much, he doesn't want to hurt himself or the game by just turning up to play when the buzz has gone. It's well done, Michael Hussey.
ST: Do you think his achievements stand out more because he's considered to be a late bloomer of sorts? He didn't become a regular in the Australian side until he was in his early-30s.
GB: I never look at ages. Sachin played when he was 16, some people play when they are in their late-20s. Look, as long as you get there… you'd like to get there as soon as you can and stay at the top as long as you can. Look at Sachin, look at Ponting, look at me, we all like to play as long as we can.
It's wonderful. It's the best time of your life. It comes to everybody, the chance to get there, and if you get there to the top, which he has done, and it was late. If you achieve things with distinction, that's all that matters really, to get there. Everybody should have ambition, everybody should strive to be the best they can be, to get to the top. There's no shame in that, no embarrassment, and if you get there, it's a wonderful achievement. He's just been a fantastic cricketer.
ST: England come back to India now, they play the first ODI in Rajkot on January 11. We have a question about that series from Greg in the UK. He says: We may well forget what happens in this series ten years from now, but what are England's chances like in the upcoming ODI series, and who are some of the players you'll be keeping an eye on?
GB: Interesting question. But I don't think any England supporter has any real idea about how we will play in the subcontinent. In Sri Lanka recently, playing the World Twenty20, England were poor. It's a team not fully formed or ready for the World Cup in Australia and New Zealand in 2015. But the selectors are working towards that, and I think that's right. They have selected some young guys over the last 12 months or more who they feel may develop into good players and form part of the team, with some older guys, guys who we recognise as experienced and good. You want to develop a good team by the time the World Cup comes around.
And also, remember, the pitches in Australia won't be like the subcontinent pitches that England and India are going to play on now. So when the selectors have put these youngsters in, they are aware that they don't quite play so well on the slow, turning pitches in India, but it won't be quite the same in Australia. Supporters have to bear that in mind when judging our players' performances or our team's performance.
For me, I'll be watching the youngsters very carefully. I'll be interested in that. Everybody knows the quality of people like Kevin Pietersen, Ian Bell, Alastair Cook, Graeme Swann - they are a given. They may get rested here and there but these are players who you know can perform at the highest level in all three forms of cricket. But I'm watching the development of someone like Jos Buttler. When I first saw him 12 months ago, hmm, didn't do anything special, but now I've seen one or two little innings, cameos, and I say he's got a little bit of something, this lad. I've seen him under pressure, how he uses that situation - can he use it to his advantage, can he help the team, and in doing so help himself? I'll try and watch situations.
We've got a young left-arm spinner who's there - I hope he gets chances - called Danny Briggs. He's quite good. I've liked what I've seen of him. Then you've got a guy called Stuart Meaker, a new fast-medium bowler, he might turn out to be decent. But you never know until you put them in situations where there's pressure, difficult situations, you're under the cosh, you look as if you might be losing, so somebody's going to pull it back for you. How are these people going to react? So I'm watching for the Meakers, the Buttlers, the Briggses, to see what happens, and I hope they get chances.
|"When I first started, I was a bit too strident. I accept that. Probably too frank, too forthright. Commentating had never quite been like that, so I think it would have been a shock when I came on the scene to a lot of people"|
In some ways, you know, India are a bit like that. You started to do the same thing like other national sides, you're trying out one or two new fast bowlers, aren't you? Then you're making Ravindra Jadeja a major spinner; we all know about his batting, and his triple-hundreds, but you make him like a spinner, get some young fast bowlers in, because Zaheer Khan is more or less past it, and I don't think India will be as tough to beat as they were. They'll still be tough in their own country, they've still got a lot of other good players. [MS] Dhoni is a fantastic player, there's [Virat] Kohli - they are good players. It just gives England a bit more of a chance, maybe, but I believe you, India are right to try and plan ahead and move forward.
You've got nearly two years, a year and a half, to the World Cup. You've got to use that time in the one-dayers to form one or two youngsters to go with the experienced guys. You've got to move forward and give these guys opportunities to see how they perform. I like your young batsman [Ajinkya] Rahane, he looks promising. And I know that losing to Pakistan may hurt a lot of supporters of Indian cricket. That's part and parcel of moving forward, trying new guys, moving towards an end product which is the World Cup in Australia. You've always got to remember you are the world champions.
England have never won the damn thing. So we have to move forward, look forward, trying to win it. And you've got to keep thinking about the World Cup in Australia and New Zealand in 2015. We're doing that and I think you're doing that, and that's smart. But we may surprise you because you've got one or two young ones, so it's about 60-40 in India's favour, I would say, in this series to come.
ST: Geoffrey's favourite question for this show is one that seeks to draw on his long experience as a cricket commentator, and it comes from Sam in India. He says: Geoffrey, has your own commentary changed over a period of time? How was it when you started? Did you take time to open up when it came to criticising people who may have been your team-mates at some point? Or have you always been as outspoken and forthright on air as you are now?
GB: Yes, I've had a good look at myself after that question. Yes, it has changed a bit. But even when I started commentating, I had no problems being open and honest. Commentating on friends and colleagues was never a problem, because I was not looking to criticise them. I went to the cricket, then and now, with a view to enjoying the game. Whatever cricket I watch, whatever level, I go there hoping to see good cricket, and with a view to enjoying whatever cricket I'm watching. When I'm watching, I never ever go looking for negative thoughts. I don't look for negative views. That may come if I see bad cricket.
Look, I love the game so much, I want to see people play well, good cricket played. I just don't like bad cricket. I accept we all make mistakes, me included. It's human. It's not a perfect science, is cricket, no ball-game is. But there is a huge difference between watching people do stupid things, or people just making human mistakes.
When I first started, I was a bit too strident. I accept that. Probably too frank, too forthright. Commentating had never quite been like that, so I think it would have been a shock when I came on the scene, to a lot of people. Many of the commentators were diplomatic to the point of not offering [an opinion] or trying to offend no one. I don't think that is right.
To commentate means to comment, to give a view, to have a view. I have always believed the truth is the truth today, tomorrow, next week, next month; it never changes. I always believe, then and now, that most of the people watching and listening to TV and radio have played cricket at school. Others have even played club cricket, so they are pretty good, pretty knowledgeable. Maybe they have watched it a lot. They wouldn't be listening or watching TV and radio if they didn't like the game and have some understanding of it. You can't watch something and not understand it. So I treat people like that, that they know the game. I have never treated them as idiots. I try not to talk down to people. I try to treat them with respect and just try to talk to them, as if they are in my lounge and they're having a conversation and discussing cricket.
Yes, I'm passionate and emotional about it - I am in my lounge and I am on television and radio. But I try never to talk down to people. I'm confident and believe I have a good idea of what I'm talking about. But when it comes to cricket, and only cricket, it's just my opinion, my views. I don't set myself up being a know-all about everything else. Cricket, I think I understand, I have some views, other people have theirs, and I just tell it as I see it.
But I do like to give compliments and applaud really good cricket. If you listen carefully, yes, I may say something when I think somebody's played badly. But also, I think, the easiest thing to do is to say, "Oh, that's a good shot, that's a bad shot, that's a good ball, that's a bad ball." People can see that on television. You don't need to tell them that. The people watching have played cricket, know the game, they can see that. I try to give them something interesting, something to look for, and something to make their watching of the cricket a bit more enjoyable. Same when I'm on radio, trying to give them something of interest, a bit of amusement, occasionally. You're not trying to be a comedian but a bit of laughter occasionally is good.
I think the hardest thing to do on television, when you see somebody playing badly, is [say] how they could have done it better. Now that's the clever bit. It's like when you're coaching; everybody's going to say, "Well, he's not very good, but how can you make him better?" That's the cleverest bit of all. And so I may say sometime when somebody's not done a good shot or played well: but how can he improve on that? And try and show the watcher, or talk to the listener, so you give them something more interesting.
ST: Geoffrey, you've commentated on various streams, radio and television. Which among the two do you enjoy more?
GB: Well, TV pays more money, and it's just a visual effect on our lives, isn't it? Television, since it came in, has had such an impact. You see people who have no real talent but if they come on some kind of reality programme, they're some kind of mini-star, aren't they? So, television is such a huge, huge medium.
I actually like radio. It gives you more time to express yourself, tell stories. On television, I think a lot of people talk a lot, but really, you should try and enhance the pictures by saying something and then shutting up, not talking all the time. I think some people do talk a lot.
Radio, you need to talk all the time. It's because the listener cannot see a thing, so you've got to keep telling him about the game, the field-placings, everything. The commentator does that - I'm the expert and I give them something extra. So in some ways radio allows you to express yourself more, but television is just a huge media in the modern world.
ST: What was your first stint as a regular commentator? When did it start?
GB: When I was playing for England, BBC had all the cricket in England. I broke my finger, I broke my arm a couple of times. They'd invite me on for a day. So I did the odd stint like that. But my first real commentating was the first time satellite TV came into being. Transworld International, TWI, part of the McCormack arm, International Management Group (IMG), did satellite TV, which we all see now, but the start of it was England on a tour of the West Indies in January 1990, and I was invited to take part.
Tony Greig, my friend who you spoke about, who just died, he was the frontman. He was the man leading the show. [There was] Tony Lewis, who did BBC highlights, and there was Tony Cozier of West Indies. We had a fantastic time, really, it was wonderful. It was the first time ever you're getting live pictures [from] satellite TV, ball by ball. That was 22 years ago, and now we take it for granted that in every home around the world, you can see every cricket match if you want. you can watch New Zealand in South Africa, you can watch everything. And it's just unbelievable how its grown in 22 years. India go on tour, you can watch them playing South Africa, New Zealand, West Indies. We take it for granted we can watch every cricket match that goes on in the world because all these satellite companies have now got into it big, and every country you can see, it's wonderful how it's grown. Just 22 years, and that was the first one in the West Indies.
ST: Thanks a lot for that, Geoffrey. We'll remember your conversation with Tony Greig in 1997, about Mark Taylor, when you guys were pointing to something on the screen and Tony said something wrong and you called him a dozy twit. Do you remember that?
GB: [Laughs] Yes, I did, 6ft 7.5in, and I called him a dozy twit [laughs]. A big friend of mine, a lovely man. I loved him.
The nice thing, you know, whenever he said anything on air or even when you spoke to him privately, he always had a little bit of a chuckle at the end of a sentence, didn't he? There was a bit of laughter there, always.
ST: Fond memories indeed. Thank you so much, Geoffrey, for sharing your experience with us today. That's a wrap on today's show. Please don't forget to send us your questions using our feedback form and Geoffrey will be back with us in two weeks' time. Thank you for listening in and goodbye.
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