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Geoff Boycott column: England shortchanged by counties chasing T20 cash

Australia showed the way with a patient approach

By Geoffrey Boycott, The Telegraph Group Limited, London 2018
17:41 January 9, 2018

Money and self-interest are the guiding principles of those who run our wonderful game, not what is best for English cricket. Many counties are on the breadline or in serious debt like Yorkshire. They are trying to survive hand to mouth every year, so whenever the 18 county chairmen meet to discuss English cricket and its future they are only interested in what is good for them. It is why Twenty20 has dominated over the past few years.

Counties want as much international cricket of all types on television because that pays the huge money. All 18 counties get a share of the TV deals for providing the players. But they have now realised they can make even more from big crowds and television by introducing a new Twenty20 competition in 2020, which will guarantee each county an extra pounds 1.3 million for five years. It is a lifesaver for them.

So no wonder the 18 chairmen, who are nearly all businessmen, put money before cricket, even if that competition will marginalise the four-day game even more.

Most people have a mortgage. If you cannot pay it and the only people offering you cash are loan sharks, then you take it because you are drowning. That is what has been happening to our game for years. We are not planning and preparing for the cricketing future. It is all about the here and now and money. When the county season is shoved into early April and late summer, and the prime-time weeks are given over to one-day cricket, is it any wonder we do not have quality Test players coming through and keep losing in tough places like Australia and India?

We are not good abroad and the reason we play well in England is because the Duke ball moves all over the place. We have also had one of the truly great fast-medium swing bowlers in James Anderson with a good backup in Stuart Broad, who bowls match-winning spells so we beat most people at home and everybody thinks that is all right.

But when you marginalise the championship season, you are telling a cricketer the four-day game is secondary to one-day. You are telling him he will earn more money if he plays and concentrates on one-day cricket. His club will value him more as a specialist hit-and-giggle merchant.

We have an increasing number of second-rate overseas players in county cricket as well. It is wasted money that could be better spent on having 18 academies. The counties should have a better breeding ground for youngsters, rather than the millions wasted at Loughborough. It costs a fortune and is not producing the quality cricketers England need to win in places like Australia.

County pitches are a problem. They are too similar. They have to be flat and dry to start. You can tell how worried the England and Wales Cricket Board was because it abandoned the toss to stop home sides from producing green tops. What you really want is pitches so good and dry that they turn by the third day so you force teams to play spinners.

But when one county produces turning pitches, as Somerset did when they played two spinners and won, other counties moan and complain. Some of the pitches are so flat and good, they are too easy to bat on. The technique of batting is poor because, from an early age, counties are teaching batsmen Twenty20 shots. It is about how many sixes you can hit but that does not work in Test cricket.

Australia have shown us the way. Their batsmen have ground out big hundreds. None of them scored quickly with flashy shots. They took a long time over their innings and, whenever anyone got in, they went on and scored big centuries. It absolutely killed us.

James Vince is a typical example, playing nice cameos before a horrible shot. He has had 10 innings, once run out, one magic ball at Perth nobody could play and eight unbelievably sloppy shots to get himself out. I do not mean to be nasty to the lad but he has flattered and failed. Steve Smith, the iconic player of the series, has not scored quickly. He scored steadily, was cautious and in control. He has not made mistakes. That is the key.

In county cricket, there is too much emphasis on scoring rates and balls faced. It does not win Test matches. Batting for long periods wins Test matches. If England score 400 they think they have done brilliantly. But Smith tells Australia to make 600. They only want to bat once. India did exactly the same last winter. It is a different mindset and one you only learn by playing good county cricket.

We also need to find youngsters who can bowl fast. There are people out there. It does not matter if they are wild and do not bowl line and length. You can learn that later on. Steven Finn said when he was a kid he could bowl 90mph but the coaches got to him at Loughborough and told him to bowl off stump, line and length. In Test cricket, pace is the key.

At times, all three Australians in this series have bowled 90mph and their stock ball is just under. It is a different game then. Fred Trueman came to the Yorkshire nets as a wild young kid. He bowled all over the place. When Arthur Mitchell, the coach, asked the players what they thought they said he is fast but wayward. Mitchell said: “Just think how good he will be when we teach him to bowl straight.” Accuracy can be taught, pace is natural and needs encouraging.

The best thing I heard on this tour was Brett Lee talking about Tom Curran. He said he could bowl much quicker. He said he needs to raise his front arm and really pull through hard in his action. You listen to Brett talking and Aussies think pace is everything.

Anderson has stayed fit, bowled well, and sent down more overs in this series than any he has played in before. He has been able to keep control but he has made no impact on winning a Test. He needed English conditions in the day-nighter at Adelaide to look dangerous. Fast medium does not win Test matches on flat pitches abroad.

I know what will happen. We will play at home, with the Duke ball, Anderson will wobble it around and we will win again. Everything in the garden will be rosy once more until we go on the road again. Nothing changes.