Bowl at Boycs January 24, 2013

'I put my money on South Africa'

ESPNcricinfo staff
Geoff Boycott on Pakistan's challenge against pace, why Dhoni is the right man to lead India, and facing Devon Malcolm

Siddhartha Talya: Welcome to another show of Bowl at Boycs. I'm Siddhartha Talya and speaking to me today from his house in Cape Town in South Africa is Geoffrey Boycott.

Geoffrey, England are 1-2 down in this series, and the fourth ODI is happening as we speak. England have scored 250-odd, do you fancy them winning this?

Geoffrey Boycott: Not sure [laughs]. Listen, I won't be putting money or my house on either of them because they're not quite at their best yet. Both of them have quite a bit of work to do, they really do. There are some good things about both teams, they have about two years now, give or take, until the World Cup in New Zealand and Australia in 2015, so in that sense you don't expect the finished product. I think both sides will be a little bit up and down.

ST: Let's start with our questions for today. The first one comes from Roger Sawh in Canada. He says: Greetings Geoffrey! Seeing that you had such a long career as an England international, you must have played many tour games against local sides as warm-ups for upcoming series. Have any of these games been particularly memorable? Have any players from them that didn't go on to the international arena remained in your memory?

GB: Good question. Two players, really. One of them was in Bermuda's side. I was a young kid, went with Yorkshire to America, Canada, and Bermuda in 1964. Yorkshire were very good then, with personalities like Brian Close, Freddie Trueman, Ray Illingworth - and we were the best side in England playing championship cricket.

A tour was organised. I was a young kid and went on it. We played against a guy called Clarence - I've forgotten his surname. Clarence, a tall, gangly left-arm spinner, almost like a faster version of Derek Underwood; he bowled cutters [Boycott may be referring to Clarence Parfitt, who played against Garry Sobers in 1966]. We played some matches on matting - matting over concrete - and he was very, very difficult, he bowled it very quick. We even had [Garry] Sobers guesting and playing for us, and even Garry thought he was a damn good player. Bermuda haven't gone much further and he [Clarence] didn't progress. In fact, I was there recently with MCC and people remembered him. I've forgotten his surname but he was very good.

Actually the most spectacular unknown player I've ever played against was Devon Malcolm. Amazing. Yorkshire, in the early eighties, were playing a practice match against the Yorkshire leagues - that's the best players out of all the best league teams in Yorkshire, in a team that had big cities like Leeds, Doncaster, Sheffield, York, Scarborough. We played at Castleford and this big, black lad ran up and he bowled a most fantastic yorker, spread-eagled my stumps. He did that to Richard Lumb, the other opening batsman. He got snapped up by Derbyshire straight after it and he went on to play for England a number of times.

I see him occasionally, even today, and I love him to bits. He is the most gorgeous guy, big smile he has. "Hi Boycs," he'll say, and I'll say, "God, I must have made your career, you spread-eagling my stumps", and he laughed like hell. I said, "You must have a photograph of bowling me out above your bed head." He said, "I do Boycs, I do Boycs", and he laughs all the time.

His first [second] series was in 1990 in the West Indies. I always remember it. In the first Test in Jamaica, go look, he knocked over Viv Richards, the best batsman in the world, and Desmond Haynes, very good player, close friend of mine, and England won the Test match.

Good company: Lumb and I got bowled out with great yorkers from a fast bowler and he dismissed the best player in the world at the time. Devon went on to have a pretty good career; he played quite a few times for England. Remember, he destroyed South Africa at The Oval, bowling like the wind. There was aggression, pace, and he was almost unplayable on a fast, true, bouncy pitch.

ST: A touch of history to our next question. It comes from David Boshier in the UK. Geoffrey, he's someone who's watched you bat at Bramall Lane as a boy. He says: If you look at films or books from the 1960s and before, umpires are crouched low over the stumps. Today they stand upright. Any idea about at what stage this change occurred - was it a conscious decision taken by the ICC or did it just happen spontaneously? Did you notice the change as a batsman? And was their ability to decide on lbws influenced positively or negatively?

GB: David, I loved Bramall Lane. That's the home of Yorkshire cricket. Yorkshire cricket started in Sheffield, Bramall Lane, in 1863, and it was the headquarters of Yorkshire cricket for 30 years before it moved to Leeds.

Yes, I do remember in the early sixties when I played that the umpires were all ex-players, and they bent down so they could get a better idea of the bounce of the ball. Remember, if it hits the batsman in front, and it'll be an lbw because it's knocking the stumps down, you've got to look at height as well. We've seen now with the review system that quite a number of balls hit batsmen absolutely plumb in front, but when we see the actual trajectory of the ball it's actually going over the top. By bending down and getting just above the height of the stumps, you get a better idea of the height.

I think it has changed because the ex-players knew this, and nearly all the umpires in England in those days were ex-players. Nowadays there are not a lot, not in international cricket. Many of the umpires who've been ex-players, they just don't want to tour the world everywhere - they've done enough of travelling, they don't want to be away from home, family, friends and the wife, so they don't do it anymore. I think that's sad.

With respect to the umpires who haven't played first-class cricket, I think an ex-player does have an advantage. I don't mean that disparagingly to [those who haven't played first-class cricket] but I think [ex-players] do have an advantage of knowing all the dodges, having been there, done it themselves, and I think it gives them a big plus.

Personally, when I am commentating I really don't like being in these commentary positions which are right up in the gods. People say, "Oh, you must have a fantastic view." I say, "No, I'm too high." The best place I've ever commentated in my years - I love going to Port Elizabeth. You're almost just above the umpire's heads. And Durham. You go to Durham in England, again you're low down, just above the umpire's head, and you get a very good, clear view of the bounce of the ball.

I thought the old umpires who did bend down, I thought they were right. Their experience, their knowledge, their maturity… it came to pass that they realised they've got to get down a bit. Umpires just don't do it now. I don't know how it happened or when it happened, but it just changed.

"You want his passion, you want his emotion, you definitely want that from your players, but, I'm sorry, you want a cool head at times. That's what Dhoni has, and Kohli hasn't got a cool head."

ST: Not the best of times to be captain of India right now. Hari Pulakkat has a question about that. He says: What can the selectors do in a situation like now, when the current Indian captain has been losing Test matches for over two years but nobody else is performing well enough to be a certainty in the side? Should the captain be an automatic choice in the team? Or should they bring in someone purely based on leadership qualities?

GB: The first thing I'd day about that, I'll give you your quote back. You say, "The captain has been losing Test matches", and I would ask you the question, Hari: Has he been losing Test matches? Do you judge captains on their win and loss ratio, or do you take into account or consideration the quality, or lack of quality, in his team? If you're thinking about India, there's a lack of quality at the moment, lack of quality seam bowling, lack of quality spin bowling, and in some cases your best players are beginning to retire after getting past their sell-by date. Aren't they? Dravid and Laxman are gone, Tendulkar hasn't got any runs recently, so is it his [Dhoni's] fault?

I don't think so. I don't judge people on the loss and win ratio of the team. You have to look at the team. You are damn lucky you've got MS Dhoni. I think he is a brilliant one-day captain. Like a lot of people, I think he has good leadership skills of the players, but tactically, in Test matches, there's quite a bit to be desired. But you haven't got anybody else you can call upon. The fact is, I've been in that situation with Yorkshire, when we had a very moderate side.

A nice set of lads, but in terms of other quality sides around the world, you are very average and you are not going to win with average teams. And the captains always get blamed. Captains tend to get plaudits when the team wins, which I think is unfair. It's grossly overrated, is that. But secondly, the captain always gets the blame when you lose. It's like in the war - losing generals always got the sack. It's like that with Dhoni; because India have hit a sticky situation, with some of the best players retiring or getting to the end of their careers… Zaheer Khan's gone, Harbhajan's gone, Dravid and Laxman have gone, Sachin is towards the end of his career. It's very difficult to replace players like that with young kids and do well, and Dhoni's getting the flak for it, he's getting the blame. I don't think it's Dhoni's fault. So you've to be careful about blaming people for the lack of quality in the side.

ST: The point he's also trying to make is that people like Sehwag and Gambhir, who earlier would have been considered captaincy replacements for Dhoni, are themselves not doing too well right now.

GB: Sehwag is lucky to be in the team, really. He's an explosive, fascinating, unpredictable, brilliant batsman, absolutely keeps you on the edge of your seat. But I'm afraid, Father Time comes to everybody, and he's getting towards the end. And Gambhir, he seems to have played so much one-day cricket that his technique has suffered. He's getting himself out. I don't think he's the force as a player that he once was. As a batsman he is still a good player, but his technique has suffered. I've watched his footwork and everything. He's making mistakes, so it's not going to help putting himself forward as a captain, as a Test player who can be certain of his place in the side.

ST: And Kohli is still too young, Geoffrey, do you think, to take over?

GB: Oh yes, he's too much of a firebrand and all. You want his passion, you want his emotion, you definitely want that from your players, but I'm sorry, you want a cool head at times. That's what Dhoni has and Kohli hasn't got a cool head. He's got aggression, passion, emotion, they are all pluses. On the negative side, he loses his cool. You can't have the captain losing his cool. He is the one person. He might be on fire in the heart, but the head has to stay cool, because he's got to think of the team, not himself; 11 players, not himself. Kohli has got a bit to learn yet.

ST: Coming to Geoffrey's favourite question for this show. It's from Andrew Rowe in the UK and Rizwan Bashir in Pakistan. Both of them want Geoffrey to take his pick for a big series coming up, between South Africa and Pakistan in South Africa. They also want to know if you think Pakistan's bowlers, the likes of Junaid Khan and Saeed Ajmal, can hold back South Africa's run machine of Amla, Kallis, and Smith.

GB: Good question, but I would turn it around a different way, Andrew and Rizwan. Can Pakistan's batsmen hold back the seamers of South Africa? That's where the crux is. It's not Pakistan's bowlers against the South African batsmen. The South African batsmen are good - there's Kallis, Amla, Smith, there's AB de Villiers, who is a fabulous player as well. But it is not that that would worry me if I was Pakistan. Can Pakistan's batsmen bat against the best seam-bowling attack in the world? They are definitely going to come at Pakistan really strong. They have also got reserves. Morne Morkel is bowling well, Dale Steyn is the best bowler in the world, and the guy who is injured at the moment picks up wickets every time he bowls, doesn't he?

ST: Philander.

GB: Philander. Where the hell has he been all our lives? He just gets hold of the ball, it just goes a little bit out, a little bit in, it swings a little bit, he nips it around at pace, gives very few balls to hit. Pakistan have got to get runs. That's the key - the South African seamers against the Pakistan batting. Not the other way around. South Africa's bowling is the best in the world, by far. [Philander] would be a cracker-jack bowler in any era, any period, any team, let me tell you. The other two aren't behind - they are very good indeed, so I put my money on South Africa.

I like Pakistan. I like the fact that whatever trouble they have, whatever happens, if they are fighting among themselves, or politicking, or what have you, switching captains, there are always some young kids with talent who come along. Unknowns come along and play well. But the fact is, when you are playing with the best seam-bowling side in the world, that's going to be tough. Especially in their own backyard. The pitches here are a little bit quicker than in Pakistan. Remember, Pakistan pitches are a bit like Indian pitches. They don't turn much in Pakistan. But in terms of the pace, or lack of pace, or the lower bounce, that's what they have in Pakistan. It's easier to play the seamers and the newness goes off the ball quicker.

The newness does not go off the ball so easy in South Africa. And if you play in Cape Town or Johannesburg, the ball whistles through. You've got a Test at Cape Town, for sure. The ball carries, it carries higher, and it demands better footwork, particularly on the back foot, and this is what will test the Pakistan batsmen more than ever.

ST: The first Test gets underway on February 1, so we'll look forward to that. Thanks for joining us Geoffrey. That's a wrap on today's show. Don't forget to send in your questions using our feedback form and Geoffrey will be back with us in two weeks' time. Goodbye.