February 16, 2001

Boycott inspires Pakistani cricketers

Geoff Boycott
Sprightly Geoff Boycott demonstrates some foot movements
Photo CricInfo

Geoff Boycott, in Lahore on a McDonalds-sponsored coaching stint, has decided to stay quiet and not talk about his assignment, or anything else for that matter. The only way of knowing how he went about his business was to converse with someone who has been with him. A former Pakistan cricket captain and now a much-respected commentator on satellite television was with Boycott day after day, and has seen him scrutinise the technical flaws in our young batsmen who badly needed his input to remove the chinks from their armour. That person is Rameez Raja, and in this enlightening chat he tells of Boycott's methods and the world of good that he feels it is going to do to our upcoming batsmen as they mature, come through the ranks and ultimately serve the cause of cricket in Pakistan.

Following are the excerpts:

Q: What are your views on the contradictory news reports, one of which said that Boycott was not here to work with senior players while another mentioned that he had theoretical and practical sessions with players like Inzamam-ul-Haq, Saeed Anwar, Azhar Mahmood and others before they departed for New Zealand?
A: Our arrangement with Geoff was that we would give him three batches of players to look at, identify and point out their shortcomings so that each player knows which are the grey areas and how to go about improving those. One was our younger lot of international players, such as Shahid Afridi, Imran Nazir, Saleem Elahi and Imran Farhat. The second batch was of the probables, the fringe players who could be pressed into duty in the first team whenever the need arose, while the third was that of under-15 and under-17 players.

Geoff Boycott
Geoff Boycott lecturing Shahid Afridi while Ali Zia looks on
Photo CricInfo

As to why Inzamam, Saeed and others approached Geoff for advice, for the seniors it was optional and they briefly chatted with him if they felt they had any problems.

As far as we were concerned, the emphasis obviously was on the under-17 and under-15 batch, where Geoff also thought that he could really make a difference, for these were the players who could really mould their game after a set of instructions from him, and who without his input would get set in their flawed technique. Their sessions with Geoff have definitely assisted them in eliminating those elementary problems and would consequently optimise their level of skill and performance.

I have said this before, and I would say it again, that the results of this effort and the subsequent ones which are in the pipeline, may not be forthcoming immediately; they might take years to materialise, but the process had to be started somewhere by someone, and we have initiated that process.

Q: The PCB chairman, Lt. Gen. Tauqir Zia, had said that Boycott would give pointers and leave while the other coaches would work on removing the imperfections. Who are the other coaches who attended the sessions, and what do they think about the exercise?
A: Other than myself, who remained there all the time, there were eight coaches who attended various sessions. They were Mohsin Kamal, Ali Zia, Mudassar Nazar, Sikander Bakht, Azhar Khan, Agha Zahid, Zaheer Abbas and Abdul Qadir. And all were very much satisfied with the quality and volume of the work that was put in. It was a great learning process for them all.

Q: Is 15 days enough for coaching around 60 youngsters?
A: Only time will tell. But look at it from this perspective: you bring in one of the technically most knowledgeable cricketers in the world, introduce him to the youngsters and with those coaches who are working at the grassroots level, make videos of all the players, identify and show the batsmen what is good and what is wrong in their style and technique. This is bound to make an impact.

Geoff Boycott
Geoff Boycott and Shahid Afridi share a lighter moment
Photo CricInfo

Look at it from another angle. Most of the youngsters that we brought in for observation had never seen a video of their batting, and they were really wonder-struck when they were shown their flaws as well as the merits in their technique.

As Geoff said, "video doesn't lie". The state-of-the-art facility that we had, with split screen showing side-on and front-on views, revealed that the foot movement of 90 per cent of the batsmen was wrong, and while going for the drive on the front foot, they were dragging the back foot, which resulted in off-balance. Such things were very revealing to the youngsters, and I'm sure most of them are at the age where they could learn and mend their ways.

Geoff Boycott
Geoff Boycott reviewing action video close-ups
Photo CricInfo

And since Boycott is exceptionally good at identifying technical faults, and communicating with the youngsters with the assistance of electronic tools, it was a learning experience for all.

Above all, now we have a video library of all these youngsters, one which we will be able to consult and see which of the boys have really learnt and practised what they were taught, and whether they have improved or not.

Q: Boycott insists on liking the Pakistani flair and natural style. Don't you think that over-coaching by him and others could kill that natural flair?
A: Geoff hasn't asked a single batsman to curb his natural instincts, neither has he asked anyone not to go for his shots. All he has done is point out the flaws, and has motivated them not to throw their wickets away in a fit of over-exuberance. He showed them, that perhaps because of the wickets on which they play, they were predominantly front foot players, and he has highlighted the importance of the back foot. He told them that a good defence, regardless of the form of the game, is fundamental; that if they used their innate cricketing sense, they would be far more consistent than they presently were.

In fact, Geoff compared Michael Slater with Afridi, telling the latter that if he improved his defence and was mentally and technically stronger, he could emulate the Aussie Test opener.

Q: At the moment, openers are a weak link in the Pakistan team. Do you think that after Boycott's advice to Afridi, Imran Nazir and Saleem Elahi, there would be some immediate dividend for the national team?
A: I hope so. They were all very impressed with Geoff's evaluations.

Q: Can you share with us Boycott's views on Afridi, Imran Nazir, Saleem Elahi and Imran Farhat?
A: Geoff thinks that Imran Farhat is a real star in the making; he doesn't have the most common flaws that our batsmen have, and he is a good judge of the length of a delivery.

Geoff Boycott
Geoff Boycott explaining a fine point to a trainee
Photo CricInfo

Afridi has tremendous hitting power, but lacked in temperament and technique. Geoff exhorted him to try staying on the crease, and let the innings gain momentum instead of going for his shots too early. He was told that he could be an outstanding batsman only if he could cool it. "Try making a hundred in four to five hours and you can become a good test batsman," he was told.

Of Elahi, his bat is angled when he goes for a drive, and that has caused his fall on many an occasion. He was advised to play straight, and instead of cover and point to go for straight shots, into the 'V', between mid off and mid on.

Imran Nazir, is exceptionally talented, but he too has to become mentally tougher, and not throw to the winds as often as he does. He has instinctive flair, but his tendency for unnecessary aggression has been his undoing too.

Q: You've mentioned that the kinds of turf on which they practise and play are the cause of technical flaws in our batsmen. Are we going to improve the wickets on the domestic circuit as well?
A: Well, that is a natural corollary. In the next season, starting September 2001, the wickets will be different, and a number of coaches will be keenly watching the results of the work we've put in on the youngsters.