No 26: Geoffrey Boycott

October saw the 73rd birthday of Geoffrey Boycott. There are people far more able than I who are able to explain in depth the quality of the man as a cricketer – but I shall briefly make an attempt.
Our Geoffrey had a defensive technique that at times was nigh-on impenetrable, with his forward defence stroke becoming something of a trademark pose that was to gain him both plaudits from cricket purists and derision from those wanting a more expansive approach to batting. However, while he may have been one of the finest defensive batsmen in the history of the game it would be unfair to cast him completely in a negative light. For a start his cover-drive was a as sublime a cricket stroke that has ever existed and his on-drive had a power and precision that many stroke players would froth at the mouth at. However, many people that know better seem to forget the last point.
Geoff ‘s Test career lasted for 108 tests in total where he amassed a total of 8114 runs and finished his test career with an average of 47.72 – making him currently 4th in the all-time list of England players. In the whole of his Test career he scored  22 centuries, a record for his country that he holds jointly with Wally Hammond and Colin Cowdrey. It is also safe to say that he would have become the first Englishman to pass 10,000 Test match runs if it hadn’t been for his self-imposed exile from International cricket after a falling out (now go figure that) with the authorities. It is widely assumed that the problem was because he was angry when Mike Denness, and not he, was the man chosen to succeeded Ray Illingworth as England Captain. For a man in his cricketing prime to miss approximately 30 Tests it meant meant that his true greatness was never quite to be acknowledged – after all, it’s always rather easier to malign a cricketer who is the 4th highest, rather than the absolute highest run scorer in the history of his country.
I will be honest, during my formative years he was never one of my cricketing heroes – I was more of a flashing and charismatic Tony Grieg fan. I was possibly too young to appreciate the sheer stubboness and application of Boycott’s style of play. I was completely unaware of his reputation for putting in hour upon of obsessive practice of his technique in the nets, often after the rest of his team mates had departed for the bar. However, he does play a part on one of my most treasured cricketing memories – for I was one of the lucky few to be at Headingley in 1977 to witness the return of the England prodigal son to his spiritual home.
It really wasn’t much of a decision to make for me when I was told by a mate of mine at school that his dad had obtained through various nefarious means in the pub the night before, two extra tickets to see the opening days play in the 2nd Ashes Test at Headingley. I was a cricket-mad 11 year old – did I want to go to my first Test match, did I ever??!!!
In all honesty, I cannot remember much about the morning of that day’s play. I was adrift and lost completely in a complete haze of excitement amongst the 22,000 who were also there – many of them to see Mr Boycott. I was completely unaware of the importance that his return in the first Test had signified (where he had scored a century) – To be honest, acquiring Derek Randall’s autograph during the player’s warm-up had already sent me into the adrenaline stratosphere and had meant that the day for me was complete. I DO remember the moment when Geoffrey entered the field to bat with Mike Brearley after we had won the toss – I had been to to Elland Road to see Leeds Utd play in front of crowds of 50,000, this was something else.
Once again, the memory of that 11 year old’s experience for the rest of the afternoon is rather cloudy. The recollection of it being bloody hot and sweltering is pretty strong, and with it are the gallons of coke that we shared. I certainly don’t remember the play being that exciting as our Geoffrey continued on his usual methodical way of avoiding risk at all costs. However my memory does seem to recollect the crowd if anything getting bigger in size after Tea – and with it my mate’s dad getting more and more excited as Boycott edged nearer and nearer what would be his 100th first class 100.
What I will certainly NEVER forget is the moment that he finally hit the four runs needed off the bowling of Greg Chappell, because what happened next was incredible – and that isn’t hyperbole, because is was indeed incredible.
Pandemonium erupted as hundreds of rather excited Yorkshiremen ran into the field. I wasn’t one of of them and neither was my mate – but his dad was! These hundreds of fans completely swamped Boycott who after raising his arms in celebration then went into self-preservation mode. At one point I can remember saying to David ” I think that your dad is trying to hoist Boycott onto his shoulder” He didn’t manage it. Even when David’s dad and his fellow legion of adoring fans were finally persuaded to leave the field the noise from the 22,000 plus fans continued to echo around the ground for an age. That pitch celebration and the look of my mate’s dads face of utter joy and ecstasy  when he returned will stay with me forever.
Geoffrey Boycott divided opinion then and still does to this day. He was never popular amongst his fellow players due to his self-obsession with his practice, technique and application. Indeed, many have called him far too self-absorbed ever to be regarded as a true team player……..and yet the incredible statistic that out of his 108 Tests, only 20 of them ended in an England defeat – and most of them were as a result of his failing to accumulate any score of note should be the truest testimony as a value to any team.
I could spend some time writing about his contribution in the media as a commentator and pundit – but that is a long piece for another time as his quotes and Boycott-isms are enough to fill a dozen blog entries.
What I will end on is this.
After the chaos and noise of him reaching his 100th 100 finally abated, play was still held up for a further 10 minutes. For during the pitch celebrations one of his adoring fans (not my mate’s dad I may add) had nicked off with our Geoff’s hat and scarpered back off into the crowd with his prize. Geoffrey being Geoffrey, refused to carry on until it was returned, which it eventually was but only after a plea from the Yorkshire chairman over the ground loudspeaker. If only for that act of refusing to play on until he got his hat back, I’ve always loved the guy.
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