Known for his forthright views on cricket Geoffrey Boycott continues to entertain viewers and listeners with his unique analytical foresight of the game he loves and is passionate about. A former England player and captain, Boycott played 108 Test matches scoring an impressive 8114 runs, with a highest score of 246 not out against India at Leeds.
In an exclusive interview with PakPassion.net, Boycott spoke about Pakistan's outstanding recent performances in Test matches under the guidance of Misbah-ul-Haq, his impression of Younis Khan as one Pakistan's top batsmen, gave his views on Yasir Shah and looked forward to Pakistan's tour of England in 2016.
By Saj Sadiq (22nd November, 2015)
PakPassion.net : How impressed were you with the Pakistan Test team during the recently concluded series against England?
Geoffrey Boycott : I thought they played very well. The big difference was that they had some experience and maturity from people in the middle order. When they lost a couple of wickets the captain Misbah-ul-Haq played remarkably well. He has a very simple way of playing and realised that England’s bowling depends greatly on James Anderson and Stuart Broad and England’s spinners are very average. So what he did was blocked seven bells out of the seamers and when the spinners came on he played them easily and knocked them around at will.
In addition Younis Khan played sensibly and in the final Test match we saw the best of Mohammad Hafeez. I’ve always thought that Hafeez is a very good player and he got himself out during the series when he had got himself in. He’s a very talented player and the Pakistani batsmen showed maturity. They always had somebody who showed maturity at the right moment.
I always felt that if Pakistan made enough runs then the Pakistan spinners could create problems for England even though Pakistan’s spin bowling isn’t quite up to the standard of what I have seen in the past. It was always going to be a case of if the ball turns then the England batting isn’t very good.
PakPassion.net : Despite not being able to play international cricket at home, Pakistan have steadily climbed the ICC Test rankings which is quite a remarkable achievement isn’t it?
Geoffrey Boycott : My view on Pakistan cricket has never changed going back to the days when I played. Pakistan has always had youngsters who come through and who nobody has ever heard of, but who have got raw talent. They come from humble beginnings and despite not very good facilities, they have this raw talent and desire to play well and they play very well on surfaces like those in the UAE which are similar to what they have back home in Pakistan. I’m not surprised that Pakistan keeps producing world-class cricketers as the country is very passionate about cricket.
PakPassion.net : I guess a tougher challenge will be presented for Pakistan next year in England?
Geoffrey Boycott : Pakistan like other countries have found that when you go abroad to play it’s not as easy. These days not too many teams are winning abroad and they don’t seem to have the rounded cricketers who can perform on all surfaces and in all conditions.
Pakistan will be thoroughly tested next summer in England facing Broad, Anderson and company who are used to bowling in England and especially with the ball swinging in the air more. I don’t think Pakistan’s seamers are better than Anderson and Broad and if the two experienced England seamers are fit they will be a handful for the Pakistani batsmen. Even when the ball swung in the one-day series in UAE the Pakistan batsmen were getting bowled or lbw straight away and it will do a lot more than that in England as Australia found out.
PakPassion.net : Pakistan cricket was it seemed to be at an all-time low in 2010 but has steadied itself under the leadership of Misbah-ul-Haq. What are your thoughts and opinions on Misbah?
Geoffrey Boycott : I’ve always been impressed with Misbah even though I’ve never met him. I can’t say I’m speaking about a friend as I’ve never had the chance to meet him and talk to him, but I’ve watched his cricket and how he has captained and led Pakistan and he seems to me to be a fairly quiet man who is mentally strong and knows clearly what he wants from everybody. What I like about him is he doesn’t get fussed or upset, he just keeps calm. It’s easy when things are going well, the team is winning, wickets are being taken and catches are being held, anyone can captain. But, whenever things aren’t going well a team looks to the leader and the real tough part is leading when your bowlers are trying but not getting wickets and the opposition is doing well and that’s when you as a captain are on your own and you have to hold it all together. Misbah has been the glue that has held the Pakistan team together since he took over as captain. He’s as good a leader as Pakistan has had for a very long time.
PakPassion.net : As someone who played international cricket after age 40, how tough is it to keep yourself motivated?
Geoffrey Boycott : It’s harder on the body as you get older and you don’t react quite as quickly. If you’ve had a long day in the field you’ll be stiffer the next morning than you were when you were a young man. There are three things which are very important for Misbah at this stage of his career. Firstly does he still enjoy it? When he wakes up every morning does he still want to go to the cricket, is he still looking forward to playing. The day he wakes up and he’s thinking I don’t really want to go to the cricket then he should pack it in. The desire to play is the most important thing. Secondly is his fitness. Does he feel fit enough and well enough to sometimes field all day and then go out and bat the next day. Thirdly, does he still have the ability?
I can’t tell you how he feels when he gets up in the morning and whether he still wants to go to work or not. At that age I did, I loved it and that’s why I continued.
PakPassion.net : Recently Younis Khan surpassed Javed Miandad as Pakistan’s leading run-scorer in Test cricket. He’s been a superb performer for Pakistan over the years hasn’t he?
Geoffrey Boycott : I was partly instrumental in getting him to Yorkshire so I had a chance to watch him close-up and I can tell you firstly that he’s a wonderful human being. You will not find many better people than Younis Khan, he’s a top man in everything he does. He’s polite, courteous, a wonderful batsman, a great slip fielder and he’s good in the outfield and has a good arm.
PakPassion.net : How would you compare Younis Khan to Javed Miandad?
Geoffrey Boycott : I passed Garry Sobers world record of most Test runs. A couple of years later Sunil Gavaskar passed my record. That is the nature of life and sport. If I passed Garry Sobers that didn’t make me a better player than him. With different eras, different amount of Test matches, different opposition, so it’s very tough to compare. All that it says is that you were one of the best and it doesn’t make you better than the man whose record you have just passed.
PakPassion.net : Yasir Shah performed well in the two Test matches that he played against England. Were you impressed with him and do you feel he has the potential to become a top leg-spinner?
Geoffrey Boycott : Forget potential, he’s the finished article and already a very good leg-spinner. I’m not a big believer in potential, he’s a very good bowler now and if he keeps a good head on his shoulders then there is no reason why he cannot carry on and become an even better bowler. He’ll come across conditions and surfaces that aren’t as helpful as the UAE. For example not too many leg-spinners have done well in England and those will be challenges for him but he’ll be alright, he looks a good bowler. The thing that impresses me most about Yasir is that he doesn’t bowl many bad balls. If you keep bowling gift balls then there is no pressure on the batsmen to score from his good deliveries. He looks a quality cricketer.
PakPassion.net : Looking ahead to Pakistan’s tour of England next year. It’s likely isn’t it that the Pakistani players will be under greater scrutiny after the events of 2010?
Geoffrey Boycott : The Pakistani players have behaved themselves and carried themselves very well since the controversy. That’s why it’s important that the leader sets the tone and Pakistan has a very good leader in Misbah. If he comes to England next year then it’s important he stays calm and cool. If he doesn’t come to England next year then the PCB faces a tough task of finding a new leader on a tour of England.
PakPassion.net : Is it fair to say that Pakistan cricket doesn’t help itself at times, particularly the lack of stability?
Geoffrey Boycott : What is important is that there is stability from the PCB Chairman and the committee and that hasn’t always been the case in Pakistan and that hasn’t helped the players. There’s usually been trouble at mill and I’ve always felt that if you were in the Pakistan team long enough you’d get dropped, reinstated and at some stage you would become captain, because at one stage everybody got a chance to become captain and that isn’t a recipe for success. You need to have stability behind the scenes and not have all this in-fighting going on in the background. What is happening behind the scenes is important for what happens on the field. What’s happened at times is that if you were dropped and you had an influential uncle then you’d phone him up and he’d interfere and try and get you back into the team. It’s very difficult when you have all that going on and the environment it creates is not a healthy one. Look at the example of Younis Khan, how many times has he been dropped, then recalled, then made captain. He’s had a very up and down career despite being one of Pakistan’s best players.
PakPassion.net : Surely India versus Pakistan is good for cricket and something that you want to also see?
Geoffrey Boycott : Because of the strength of the Indian economy, the population and interest levels for the game, the BCCI make a lot of money. Everyone wants to play India because they themselves will make a lot of money through advertising. However the BCCI doesn’t need Pakistan. From a cricketing point of view it would be wonderful to see Pakistan and India playing each other as the series is like England and Australia. It’s unfortunate that series between Pakistan and India are so few and far between but I don’t see India changing their mind very easily as they believe they are alright and don’t need series against Pakistan. But it’s not good for cricket that India and Pakistan are not playing against each other.
PakPassion.net : Do you feel that it’s right that Salman Butt, Mohammad Asif and Mohammad Amir have been allowed to resume their careers or should they have been banned for life?
Geoffrey Boycott : I’ve always believed in the rule of law. Match-fixing, spot-fixing hurts the game of cricket. Their bans could have been longer but there again I would have a strong conversation with the judge who sent them to jail. But once they have served their sentence under the rule of law then society says you should be given a second chance. If you are going to give people a second chance then it has to be all-in. Give them a proper chance, get fit, play well and if they are still good enough then give them a chance in the Pakistan team. Nobody should hold anything against Mohammad Amir. In fact this applies to any of them, or favour any of the three in any way. Amir and the other two should only get back into the Pakistan team on merit and ability.
PakPassion.net : Any advice for Mohammad Amir as he embarks once again on his quest to play for Pakistan?
Geoffrey Boycott : Yes. Don’t do it again! If you do, you will never play cricket again.
PakPassion.net : Attendances for Test cricket are dwindling around the world. What do you feel the ICC can do to reverse this trend?
Geoffrey Boycott : ICC should have done something ten to fifteen years ago. However they are too besotted by taking in easy television money. It’s very easy for administrators to wait for television companies to keep outbidding each other for television coverage. While they are doing that, television is killing the game. It’s no good having more and more television money in cricket if people are not attending matches. Crowds are going down and it’s a farce really. It’s going to get worse and if nothing is done then Test cricket will go into oblivion.
Test cricket needs to mirror the times we live in. In years gone by we didn’t have mobile phones and internet and going to the cricket was a big event. Nowadays people want everything quickly and yet Test cricket is still five days long. What needs to be done is to reduce Test matches to four days, improve over rates and the playing hours need to be changed. In the hot countries, part of the day’s play should be at night which would see people finishing work and then going to the Test match. It’s only in England where this could be a problem due to the weather, but everywhere else this should have been tried many years ago.
I keep hearing that the ICC cannot find a ball that is suitable for day/night Test cricket, well they make enough money and if they really wanted to find a suitable cricket ball then they would have invested in research and testing and found the right cricket ball by now. Test cricket could hit rock bottom if changes are not made to the playing hours and over-rates as at the moment the lack of foresight is a recipe for disaster. If the ICC keeps on putting a product out there that isn’t selling then you will go bust and Test cricket will not survive.