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Boycott inspires England team to lift their game

By Simon Hughes

12 March 1998

THE blunt tones of Geoffrey Boycott may not be currently audible on the public airwaves, but they are in England's hotel team-room, doing an extraordinary thing: lambasting himself. England's latest motivational video features the usual upbeat sequence of players crashing boundaries and shattering stumps set to their favourite music. But to add a bit of levity to pre-match build-ups, these cathartic moments have now been interspersed with clips of the team's harshest critics commentating on their own blunders.

So there is Boycott inexplicably pulling the last ball of the day from the West Indian Keith Boyce straight down deep square-leg's throat, with his observations from a recent Test match overlaid. ``This shot is one of his failings'', Boycott says as the catch is snaffled. ``That's why he's not a good opening batsman''. Next, he is heard saying: ``That's really a poor dismissal, both feet stuck in the crease'', as he, with boots of lead, is himself trapped palpably lbw. And after Viv Richards has smote a ball from Bob Willis over the sightscreen, Willis drones: ``Oh, you can't bowl that with the batsman on 128 not out. Look, his body language is all wrong''.

Top sportsmen are notoriously sensitive to criticism (Alan Shearer recently complained to the BBC after Barry Davies had justifiably drawn attention to his gamesmanship), so it is a source of great pleasure when players see their sternest judges come a cropper.

There is an entertaining programme to be made, in fact, superimposing ex-performers commentary on to their own cock-ups. Alan Hansen's ``That's absolutely shocking defence'' would go neatly with the time he accidentally nutted the Scottish goalkeeper allowing Russia to score, and there are any number of Bill Beaumont slips and stumbles to go with his frequent laments about ``poor ball'' at the back of the scrum. Fred Trueman's ``I don't know what's going off out there - three lions on your chest is all you should need to be totally committed'' would work well over one of his failed attempts to stop a boundary with cursory use of a size-12 boot. We all tend to forget that talking a good game is far easier than playing it.

Trueman has often led the chorus of disapproval about such modern accessories as motivational videos, but the England team are universally in favour, even players like Angus Fraser, reared on the beers-in-The-Bull type of preparation. ``Watching colleagues doing well and seeing the emotion in their faces is exciting and brings you closer together,'' he says. ``You can relate to it and it lifts you. Mind you, seeing the footage of me before my injury nearly freaked me out - I hardly recognised myself. Sometimes I sneak into the team room on my own just to look at it again.'' Nasser Hussain has also said he felt more comfortable in the side once others had seen some of his career highlights.

The company who produce the films, Sharp Focus, have won such credibility in this field of mental invigoration that they have been employed by the England and Wales Cricket Board to rejuvenate cricket in schools. A two-video pack aimed at staff as well as pupils is on its way to all Britain's 5,700 secondary schools, only 1,000 of which actually teach cricket. Accordingly, the first of the set - Teach Cricket: You Must Be Joking, voiced by Rory Bremner - attempts to banish the negative perceptions many teachers hold about cricket.

Instead of boring lectures and people rehearsing the forward defensive, it illustrates simple fielding routines and enjoyable team games on rough fields with plastic chairs as wickets, underlining the fact that you don't need elaborate facilities or hours of spare time to play. Alongside this is Cricket - That's Wicked, an aspirational film for kids that zips between exciting Test-match action, England players remembering the backyards where they learnt the game and a few basic tips from Darren Gough. The Oasis soundtrack was provided free.

Hugh Morris, retired opening batsman and the ECB's new technical director, hopes it will particularly appeal to those 4,000-plus schools not interested in cricket. ``They're not technical videos,'' he says. ``The idea is to enthuse those teachers and children who aren't familiar with the game, show it's fun and encourage them to give it a go.''

Meanwhile, Sharp Focus are continuing the daily chore of producing the monthly video magazine Cover Point, an extensive review of all international cricket, featuring in-depth profiles and analysis of new players. As the subscribers include Shane Warne, Steve Waugh, Ali Bacher and Brian Lara, who all use it in their strategic planning, you might say the company are inadvertently working for the opposition.

Source: The Electronic Telegraph
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Date-stamped : 12 Mar1998 - 14:41