Geoffrey Boycott

Geoffrey Boycott feels that there are a couple of the South African players who are coming towards the end of their career and the Pakistani spinners can exploit that © Getty Images

By Saj Sadiq

Former Yorkshire and England batsman Geoff Boycott had a prolific playing career from 1962 to 1986. He established himself as one of England’s most successful opening batsmen and since retiring as a player, he has found further success as a renowned cricket commentator.

After 108 Test match appearances for England, Boycott ended his international career in 1982 as the leading Test run scorer with over 8,000 Test match runs earning an OBE for services to cricket

In 1965 while still a young player he was named as one of five Cricketers of the Year by Wisden, and he was inducted into the International Cricket Council’s Hall of Fame in 2009.

In an exclusive interview with PakPassion.net, Boycott spoke about the Pakistan versus South Africa Test series, Pakistan’s young batsmen, the IPL, the World Test Championship, day/night Test cricket, his fondness for Pakistan cricket and much more. 

Excerpts: 
 
PakPassion.net (PP): Your thoughts on the Pakistan and South Africa Test series in the UAE?

Geoffrey Boycott (GB): Conditions will be much more helpful for Pakistan than for the South Africans. Although South Africa are the number one Test side in the world at the moment, there are a couple of the South African players who are coming towards the end of their career and the Pakistani spinners can exploit that. 

There are some injury doubts over Graeme Smith and Jacques Kallis is the other one who I think is coming towards the end of his career. Kallis has been an outstanding player over the years, but like all of us you get older and you’re not quite the force you once were and I think Pakistan can take advantage of that.

PP: Could Pakistan’s spinners be the difference between the two Teams?

GB: The wickets are good in the UAE for batting but if you can start to get the ball to turn then Pakistan have a very good chance of defeating South Africa. Pakistan’s game plan should be to stay level with or as close to the South Africans for the first three days and then Saeed Ajmal and Abdur Rehman come into their own. Pakistan has the edge in the spin bowling department whereas the South Africans are limited in their spin bowling options. The longer each Test goes on, the better the chance for Pakistan to win.

Pakistan’s batsmen will have their work cut out despite the nature of the pitches but the key for the Pakistani batting line up is to match South Africa in the first innings and stay as close as possible to South Africa’s first innings totals, then unleash Saeed Ajmal and the other spinners on the South African batsmen. 

South Africa definitely has the edge over Pakistan in the batting department, the seam bowling and the fielding and in Dale Steyn and Morne Morkel their new ball options are excellent, but the pitches in the UAE will nullify the effectiveness of Steyn and Morkel and I feel those two pace bowlers could struggle to make an impact on a series that should be dominated by the spinners.

PP: The majority of Pakistan’s batsmen continue to struggle for consistency and form. What are the issues and what do they need to overcome the problems?

GB: The problems with the Pakistani batsmen barring Younis Khan and Misbah-ul-Haq aren’t technical issues. It’s more to do with what’s between their ears. With some of them, there is nothing between the ears!

Batting is not only about footwork and technique but also about thinking — cricket thinking. The Pakistani batsmen have the ability to do some extraordinarily stupid things. If you tie them down, stop them scoring for a while then suddenly they get nervous and tense and feel they have to ‘beat the ball’ instead of playing their way out of a difficult situation.

Sometimes cricket is like a game of chess, where the match situation has ebbs and flows and it’s cat and mouse at some points. Sometimes you have to just accept that a session was won by the opposition and accept that the opposition was very good, but what you have to do in those sessions is to hang in there and not do anything stupid, not give wickets away or bowl badly and end up giving 120 runs away in a session.

The problem with the Pakistan batsmen is that they will suddenly explode and do something daft and get themselves out by playing irresponsible shots. That’s more due to the playing conditions back home in Pakistan, where they get away with playing sloppy shots, but you don’t get away with such shots so easily when the opposition is of a higher quality and the bowling is very good. The Pakistani batsmen need to think better in the Test series against South Africa and beyond that series, particularly in difficult situations and when the going is tough. In situations where run scoring isn’t easy, they need to learn to hang in there and have the patience and the levels of concentration to stay at the crease — instead they give it away too easily.

PP: What can the up and coming Pakistani batsmen learn from Misbah-ul-Haq and Younis Khan?

GB: You have to watch these players and you have to talk to them and learn from them, but you can only learn from them if you take it in. If somebody tells you something and he has to tell you the same thing three or four times then it’s like Fred Trueman said “it’s like pi**ing against the wind and you’ll get wet through!”

It’s a problem if you haven’t got the brains to take in what you are being told. Some people listen but they don’t really hear it. You can talk to people and you can tell sometimes that they aren’t listening and you may as well talk to the wall and that is what I feel is happening with some of these Pakistani batsmen.

Younis Khan’s been around a long time, he’s a lovely boy. He’s a beautiful fielder and a lovely batsman. He’s not perfect but then none of us are, but he’s a very very good player and he would always help anybody. Younis was brilliant at Yorkshire, the team adored him, even if he made nought. It’s easy to be helpful when you’ve made a hundred but even when he was out cheaply he was always available to the youngsters and always giving them advice and encouragement, boosting up their confidence and he was an absolute dream of a team man. 

You couldn’t get anybody better than Younis for your team. However, you can only tell people so many times and if they are really not listening then they aren’t hearing what you are saying and it’s not sinking in.

PP: Pakistan is currently starved of international cricket. Your memories of your association with Pakistan cricket and a message for fans of Pakistan cricket longing to see international cricket return to their homeland?

GB: I’ve always enjoyed playing cricket in Pakistan, against Pakistan and watching Pakistan. I have many friends in Pakistan cricket and people I have a lot of respect for. Wasim Akram and Waqar Younis are two of my favourite bowlers and the last time I met Waqar I said to him that I wouldn’t have had any problems facing his bowling as I would have just made sure I took a single off the first ball and watched from the other end.

I hope international cricket returns to Pakistan during my lifetime as I would love to go back there and watch cricket again. It’s a passionate cricketing nation. Its people love cricket and they understand the game well. 

PP: Lalit Modi has recently said that the IPL has been of harm to international cricket. Do you agree with Lalit?

GB: Poacher turned gamekeeper ! The question you have to ask is hey Lalit you were instrumental in making the IPL happen, so what has made you change your mind? Is it because you are not involved any more, is it sour grapes or have you genuinely come to a conclusion that we have spawned something here which is making millions of dollars for a number of people, but is it really doing cricket a good service? Now I don’t think Lalit conjured up this thought when he came up with the idea with his friends and colleagues.

I like Lalit, he’s a very engaging individual and he’s always been very amicable with me but it’s always easy to stand back and say well I’m not involved any more so I can criticise it can’t I? I’d be very careful believing someone who was once the gamekeeper and now he’s the poacher.

PP: The World Test championship is set to be launched in 2017. Do you think it can prove to be a success?

GB: Test cricket needs a shot in the arm and I think having the Test championship is a good idea. We’ve had the IPL, the Champions League, the Big Bash League, Twenty20 tournaments appearing all over the world. In fact there are that many Twenty20 tournaments I hear they are now looking to host one on Planet Mars! 

We seem to be marketing twenty over cricket everywhere but cricket’s administrators don’t seem to be doing a lot for Test cricket. They seem to think that because it’s being going for two hundred years it will serve itself but that’s not true, you always have to keep selling the product and you have to make it available to people and you have to keep telling everyone how damn good the product is.

We’ve let Test cricket slip because the people that run the game have gone gooey-eyed and seen the cash registers full and money coming in particularly from twenty over cricket and one day cricket over the last twenty years. They’ve been selling the shorter formats like mad and done nothing for Test cricket.

Twenty years ago I said why don’t we play Test matches at night like we do one day internationals. The public can come home from work and go and watch some Test cricket, they don’t have to take the day off work and they can take their families to a Test match. It would be marvelous to watch Test matches around the world at night particularly where the climate supports such a venture. You would get youngsters to watch Test cricket with their family members and they would also get interested in Test cricket. In this way, the next generation will be brought up to enjoy Test match cricket. But we’ve not done any of this and we keep talking about the fact that we can’t find the right type of cricket ball for Test cricket at night! Nobody has suggested that for Test cricket at night you have to have a ball that has to last 80 overs. Infact, why not be flexible and for day/night Test cricket and reduce the number of overs when the ball can be changed to perhaps 40 overs? 

There have been petty reasons for the non introduction of day/night Test cricket which is nonsense. Starting times can be flexible, the ball change rule can be amended for day/night Tests and as for the issue of dew, why not pick venues where dew will not be an issue. There have been too many excuses regarding some innovations in Test cricket. 

Test match attendances have been going down for the last twenty years. If you carry on in this manner, regardless of whatever money the broadcasters pay you, if there’s nobody watching Test matches then what’s the point of playing it? Playing any sport when there’s nobody there to watch it is soul destroying for the players and you cannot just play for television because if there is nobody in the stadium then the interest will wane totally and the money from television will disappear. If the administrators aren’t careful in thirty or so years there will be nobody watching Test cricket.

PP: Your thoughts on DRS particularly after the controversies during the Ashes this summer?

GB: Hawkeye and the line decisions seem to be very accurate but how we interpret the whole DRS is the problem. A discussion needs to be had about DRS. 

Even us ex-players have very different views on when a ball is hitting the stumps half and half. Infact, most bowlers would say hang on, the ball is hitting the stumps even if it’s slightly touching the stumps and that is out because it would dislodge the bails. What we see is that when the umpire has given it not out and the ball is seen to be still hitting the stumps, but it’s less than half the ball hitting the stumps it remains not out! Now in my opinion in that instance there is a debate to be had. That’s not a problem with Hawkeye, rather it’s how we as humans are interpreting this, namely cricket’s administrators.

I like Hawkeye, but the Snickometer evidence takes too long to interpret. It’s accurate but it simply takes too long to set it up and they need to speed that up. It takes almost the time for three deliveries to be bowled before Snicko’s results are revealed and that’s far too long. We cannot wait for that. 

As for Hot Spot, well it’s a joke! It works sometimes and then other times it doesn’t. You cannot have something like that which only works sometimes. 

You don’t expect perfection with DRS. Anyone, like the Indians, who want perfection, is just silly as you aren’t going to ever get it to be 100% perfect. It’s fine as as long as you are getting an accuracy rate of 97 per cent to 98 per cent. That’s as good as you are ever going to get.

PP: Going back to the Stuart Broad controversy when he did not walk after he had clearly edged the ball, do you think he was within his right not to walk or should he have walked?

GB: Everybody has to do what they are comfortable with, within the laws of the game. The laws say it’s the umpire’s opinion. Technically when you know you are out you should walk to the pavilion but the laws of the game say it should be the umpire that gives you out, so a batsman shouldn’t give himself out, but batsman do and have done over the years when it’s so obvious. 

I recall an incident in South Africa when Eddie Barlow was batting, he nicked one to the wicketkeeper early in his innings but the local umpire gave him not out and he went on to make 140. He was asked at the end of the match if he had nicked the ball and he didn’t deny it and he said “look I wait for the umpire and he never gave it out.” But when Eddie got a rough decision that was the true Test and he just walked, he never said anything and just walked off and I respected that. You can’t expect the umpire’s decision to go your way and complain when you are given out when you shouldn’t have been.

The Australians made such a fuss of the Stuart Broad incident, but they’ve not walked over the years and have always believed it’s up to the umpire and they’ve been brought up that way. I’m not sure what all the fuss was about, I could go through history and pick out such incidents. For example, Bradman in the 1946 Test in Brisbane nicked one to slip when he was on 28 runs and he didn’t walk and he went onto make 170 and won the match for Australia. 

If everybody walked apart from one person, then it falls down and if that person says I never hit it and everybody else said you did, then you need a neutral umpire to decide. There was an incident with Simon Hughes when he was batting in a County match and the opposition went up for an appeal and off he walked. When he got to the dressing room, his team mates asked him did you nick that, he said I don’t know but they all went up so I thought I’d better go. I mean how daft is that! It was a case of you are frightened to stand your ground in case someone calls you a cheat.

PP: We’ve recently seen Afghanistan qualify for the 2015 World Cup. Do you think enough is being done to support Afghanistan and other Associate nations in their development?

GB: In principle the major Test playing nations have to help the Associate nations and should help them. In practical terms it’s not possible. They will talk and say that they want to help but then when you get down to the practicality and if you ask current players and most ex players in private, they would say that there is too much international cricket being played. 

So if teams are playing too much international cricket because it makes lots of money from television rights and sponsorship and if they are going to play more and more, a lot of countries are going to rest a lot of players for some of the matches. It’s getting to a stage where it’s a squad system like football. It’s impossible for a player to play in every single one of the matches and not to be exhausted.

Cricket adopted the squad rotation policy a couple of years ago because players were playing too much cricket and were overburdened. So if we have too much international cricket and teams are resting their best players and teams are trying to keep them fresh for the biggest games, then how the hell do you fit in the big nations playing against the smaller nations? 

The practicality is the chicken and egg scenario — which comes first and how do you do it? I don’t think it’s going to happen. They’ll talk the talk but I don’t think they will be able to walk the walk, because even before the IPL started we still had too much cricket then. The players were telling their cricket associations that they were being asked to play too much cricket, but as soon as IPL came along and the marvelous money with it, everybody shut up about playing too much cricket as they wanted the money to fill their pockets. We stopped hearing the players saying I’m a bit tired and need a rest because if they did that, they’d be told don’t play in the IPL and no players wants that to come back and haunt them. 

I really don’t see how the Associate teams are going to get a look in and receive too much help from the major cricketing nations. We could do with England playing Ireland and Scotland more often or even the Netherlands, but it’s not going to happen because they are too occupied making their own money.

India, Australia and England are going to play each other more and more because they can make lots of money from the sale of television rights. Is that wrong, is it evil? Well who can say that it’s wrong to make money, but it’s not good for cricket in the long run and it’s not helping the game of cricket.
 
(Saj Sadiq is Senior Editor at PP, from where the above article has been reproduced. He can be followed on Twitter at @Saj_PakPassion)

Pakistan vs South Africa — Live on Ten Cricket