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'We're all going to enjoy Australia's lean period'

ESPN staff
March 30, 2013
Geoff Boycott was impressed by Matt Prior in New Zealand © Getty Images
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Siddhartha Talya: Hello and welcome to Bowl at Boycs. I'm speaking to Geoffrey today at the end of an absorbing Test match between England and New Zealand that has just ended in a draw in Auckland, Geoffrey has been watching it all through.

Well, Geoffrey, England just managed to hang on there. New Zealand clearly punched above their weight in this series. Do you think they deserved to win the Test match?

Geoffrey Boycott: It was a wonderful day's cricket, the last day. It was dramatic and interesting. T20 cricket can't give you that. It was about character, it was about talent, mental toughness. T20 is exciting but it doesn't give you all those facets of the game.

"No divine right to be the best" © BCCI
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Quite honestly, New Zealand deserved to win. England haven't played that well in this series. They have been up and down in their batting. Sometimes good, sometimes poor. The bowling has been the same, there's been no level of consistency, and quite honestly New Zealand have surprised England. So England need to go away and do some thinking.

If you need to be brutally frank, England got out of jail. We deserved to lose. In fact, if New Zealand had caught Ian Bell just before lunch… it cost them nearly two hours, they bowled at him for a while, and it cost them 30-odd runs. Had they got Bell, they would have had two hours to bowl at lesser players. Other than that, they outplayed England. They just couldn't make it over the line, unfortunately.

ST: And Matt Prior played an excellent innings, an unbeaten century. He's had this run for a while now.

GB: He's been playing fantastic. His wicketkeeping has been excellent, he got a brilliant catch, his batting has been excellent. He's rivalling anybody in the world at the moment, he's just an excellent player. And he's a very honest guy, very straightforward when he does interviews. When we haven't had a good day, he tells the truth, he doesn't try and hide it. He doesn't try to defend the fact that we haven't played great this series, but that they have played better than us and that we're lucky to come away with a draw.

I thought Bell played well, he changed his game just like Prior. They are both free-scoring, attacking players, and they both tried to play careful and defensive.

Stuart Broad was exceptional. He's had 18 innings since his last fifty, he averages 30, he's played awful. Nothing like he can play. And yet, here he stuck it out, got his head down, battled away. His feet were all over the place because he hasn't been playing well - no confidence. And yet, he just really showed sheer guts and mental toughness. He toughed it out for a long time. I take my hat off to him. I like character in cricketers. It's not just about the great players and wonderful finesse and ability, it's about people who graft and work and show that they've got something about them.

ST: We've had three draws in New Zealand, and four outright results in India, all going India's way for the very first time in one series. We have a question about that from Dave in Australia. He asks: Is it fair to say that the biggest concern for Australia is their difficulty in producing young Test batsmen, around the ages of 20-24? In the past six to seven years, when some greats have retired, we've had a number of guys around the ages of 29 to 30 playing a few Tests. Rob Quiney, Chris Rogers, and Marcus North are some of those who have been tried out. How can Australia address this issue?

GB: I don't think Australia can solve the problem overnight. It's about their selectors identifying youngsters who appear to have special talent, that is 17-18-year-old kids, and it's a judgement really. Then, when you've got them, [it's about] working with them at the Australian academy, sending them on camps abroad to experience conditions in the subcontinent, like India, to England, where it moves around a bit more, to UAE, South Africa. And it's about judgement by your selectors and the quality of help they get at such a young age, and then you have to stick with them.

It's even possible that you have to admit - I know they won't like it, will Australia - that Australia have hit a poor period. It happens to all countries at some time. You just don't have a batch of top-notch youngsters and you've only got ordinary stuff. There's no real reason why Australia should always be the best, or always should be good. You have no divine right to it. And when Australia were good for 10-12 years, you lorded it over everybody else, all the countries of the world, for so long. Some of your players were so arrogant and full of themselves and up their backsides that you weren't exactly nice to the opposition. Some of your crowds weren't nice. I don't mean everybody - lots of good people still - but you took the mickey out of countries that couldn't hold their own against Australia. So I'm afraid when you hit a poor patch now, nobody is going to feel any sympathy for you. Many of your ex-players and the public were gloating and making fun of other countries, so now that you ain't very good, there's no sympathy around. We're all going to enjoy your lean period. Although I've given you a constructive idea, I'm really enjoying you not doing too well.

ST: Geoffrey, just how demoralising can this be ahead of a major Ashes series?

GB: Oh, it's wonderful. The only downside about Australia losing 0-4 in India is that they didn't have five Test matches so they could lose 0-5.

ST: That's just ruthless, Geoffrey.

A question about India from Jaideep. He says: It's the first time India have won a series 4-0. It may have come on pitches that favour them but it's still an excellent achievement. But would you say their fast-bowling department still remains a big worry, especially keeping the South Africa series in mind later this year? Sure, someone like Dale Steyn will give India's batsmen problems, but India, too, need resources to take 20 wickets to win there.

I'm afraid when you [Australia] hit a poor patch now, nobody is going to feel any sympathy for you. Many of your ex-players and the public were gloating and making fun of other countries, so now that you ain't very good, there's no sympathy around

GB: I think India will struggle in South Africa without good seamers. The pitches in South Africa favour batting and seam bowling. The biggest factor is, some of them have bounce, and bounce aligned to pace is a big problem, especially if you're not used to it. It will unsettle the Indians, because no pitch in India has that sort of bounce and carry. Johannesburg can be awkward, it really zips through and carries, and when you are not used to it, I'm sorry, you need plenty of net practice to get used to it, and sometimes that isn't enough. Sometimes, early on, in the first innings in Pretoria or Cape Town, they'll bounce and go through, but then they flatten out. Remember, New Zealand were bowled out recently at Cape Town by South Africa for 45 in the first innings, and then they batted better in the second innings. But early on, there's something there.

You've got to remember that we are all products of our upbringing. The soil in India does not bind well, because it is so dry. The ball turns. As the pitches bake in the sun and crack up, they disintegrate and can turn alarmingly. Indian players get used to this and players from abroad can find it very difficult and have no answer to it, just like Australia have not had. But it's not just having fast bowlers, who are rare in Indian cricket because of the pitches. It's about the batsmen being able to play fast bowling when the ball bounces and moves around. So don't just blame your seamers or fast bowlers. Watch how your batsmen come and handle the different conditions. That will be a problem for them.

ST: Geoffrey's favourite question for this show is about a fellow Yorkshireman. The question comes from Colan Walker in England. He says: Geoffrey, Fred Trueman, your former team-mate, was my dad's hero. Just how good was he as a bowler? How quick was he and what stood out about him?

GB: Fred Trueman was a truly great bowler and I use the word "great" in its proper context - so many people overuse it. He was very fast, nasty, and swung the ball at pace, with the finest, most beautiful textbook action you could imagine. A high left arm, sideways on, he hardly every broke down, unlike a lot of young fast bowlers in the modern era. His power and strength came from a very strong backside and strong shoulders and a narrow waist. The narrow waist allowed him to turn well at delivery point and get outswing.

If you think of a great bowler in recent times, [there's] Waqar Younis, who bowled very fast inswingers. Think of Trueman bowling very fast outswingers. Outswing is much harder to achieve than inswing, and also much harder to play for the right-handers.

Boycott on Trueman: "He was very fast, nasty, and swung the ball at pace, with the finest, most beautiful textbook action you could imagine." © Getty Images
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He was the first bowler to take 300 wickets - 307 Test wickets at 21.57. Okay, facts and figures don't tell you everything, I agree on that. But they also don't lie. To take 300 wickets at 21 runs each is phenomenal. And remember, his first-class record was 2304 wickets at 18.29. Yes, he played for Yorkshire on uncovered pitches, so it was easier bowling, but it's still phenomenal. And as Fred himself used to say, he didn't bowl and take Test wickets against Bangladesh and Zimbabwe either. He bowled against West Indians like Worrell, Walcott, Weekes, Sobers, Kanhai, people like that. So, just remember, he was a truly great bowler.

I asked Peter May when he was alive - he was the England captain for Fred - I said, "Peter, what would you say Fred's greatest asset was?" Besides his action and wicket-taking. Peter said, sometimes in a Test match day, it's hot, sunny weather, everybody is tired, the opposition has done well, they're making runs and you look around at the end of the day, the last half an hour or 40 minutes, who is going to finish off the day for you? None of the bowlers are queuing up because they're tired, it's hard work. And you think: Fred. Although he'll swear and cuss that you've brought him on, at the end of a long day, he's probably bowled 20-odd overs, within two or three balls he's ready for action. Sleeves up and the batsman will get no respite, no easy ending to the day. He'll bowl just as fast at the end of day as he would at the beginning. Just as aggressive or nasty and he wanted, to either knock your block off or get wickets. Great asset that, isn't it?

ST: Geoffrey, you and Fred Trueman played a couple of international series together, but also were together with Yorkshire. Could you share any interesting anecdotes or experiences of playing with him that you think summed him up?

GB: He was not just a great bowler, he was a great raconteur, a storyteller. He was one of my idols, so I used to stand at mid-off or mid-on and listen to his banter with the batsmen. He used to make people laugh. He didn't sledge people off, he made them laugh with stuff.

When he got a wicket, I'd say to Jimmy Binks at Yorkshire, "What did that do Jim? Fred says it swung in, pitched leg stump and hit top of off. That sounds like a magic ball to me." Then you get another wicket, he'd say it swung out, pitched off, nipped back and hit leg. And Jimmy Binks would say, "Nah, it didn't do any of that, it was just too fast for the batsmen, and straight." So Fred was always talking up his wickets - they were magic balls, they were never just straight balls.

One day, Richard Hutton, the son of Sir Leonard, said in the dressing room, "I say Fred, did you ever bowl a straight ball in your life?" And Fred thought for a moment and said, "Aye, I once did in a Barbados Test match and it knocked Garry Sobers' middle stump off." He always had the last word and the last laugh. Great character, truly great bowler.

ST: Thanks a lot for sharing that with us, Geoffrey. 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 joining us again in two weeks' time to answer them. Thanks for tuning in and we'll catch up with you again.

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