Boycott on CricketGareth Bland |
Author: Geoff Boycott
Publisher: Partridge Press
Rating: 3.5 stars
Boycott on Cricket was published in 1990 at the time when, frankly, both cricket followers and media were getting used to the notion of Geoffrey Boycott doing exactly that: talking about cricket an awful lot. The winter of 1989-90 had seen him prepare England’s batsmen for their forthcoming Caribbean tour and then, some weeks later,join Sky Sports’ commentary team on the very same 5 Test series. Striking up an unlikely, effective and popular commentary partnership with his erstwhile England team-mate,Tony Grieg,the sage of Fitzwilliam was catapulted into the unchartered waters of media exposure to which he had previously been denied.
Following his stint with Sky that winter he then went on to work for the BBC during the summer twin series with India and New Zealand, to become, in his fiftieth year, as close to a fixture of the cricket establishment has he can ever have imagined himself. With a national television audience and England’s players absorbing his pearls of wisdom, he has been, in one way or another, a virtual ever present since then; his panama hat and flat, Yorkshire vowels going on to define him every bit as much as the expressions of technical perfection and obduracy out on the field ever did. To a younger audience he is just that: an eccentric, unforgiving, occasionally tactless television and radio critic who can always be relied upon for an opinion where others frankly would not dare.
It had not always been thus, however. Despite his notoriety and dubious “national treasure” status, Boycott was seldom called up for commentary duty. So, for a generation the unmistakable and much imitated voice, so ubiquitous after 1990, had been confined to rare televsion interviews up to then. The great man did have literary form, though. His Put to The Test, the tale of Brearley’s 1978-79 Australian Tour is an excellent and heartfelt, if understandably pained account of that tour. With the death of his mother, the shennanigans swirling around Yorkshire and the county captaincy and his own dismal form,it would take a heart of concrete not to have some sympathy for his plight down under that winter. The follow up book, Opening Up the account of the other Brearley tour of Australia in 1979-80 is equally hard hitting and lacerating, but also shows a keen eye for a player and rigorous analysis of the tour and the post-Packer settlement. The final entry in the trilogy In the Fast Lane covers the 1980-81 England tour of the West Indies. Perhaps more than any other cricket book of the period written by a player, this notebook of Botham’s one and only tour as England captain tells us, the armchair fan, what it was actually like to be out there against the greatest team in the world.
In 1990, Boycott was instantly recognisable on television screens owing to this new dual role: national team batting strategist and televisual pontificator laureate. England came away with a more than creditable 1-2 series reverse in the Caribbean, achieved through a level of preparation that would have been unimaginable under Gower four years previously. England then went through the 1990 twin summer unbeaten, with Gooch now established as England’s on-field overlord. With the reintroduction of Gower in the second half of the summer and the non selection of Botham, it was now clear that, if each was to be selected in future, it would no longer come on their terms. With perfect timing then, came the former opener’s Boycott on Cricket. In many ways this addition to the Boycott oeuvre can be read both as a justification for and vindication of his training and preparation methods and cricketing philosophy. These had, after all, been manifestly rewarded in the West Indies as the batsmen under his charge had not wilted under fire as they had in 1986. It also hit the bookshelves at a time when the era of champagne boom and bust glamour personified by Botham and Gower was being superseded by the overtly utilitarian new order envisioned by Gooch and Mickey Stewart.
On Cricket gives the author the chance to expand on themes he had tantalisingly touched on in his previous volumes: current players, team-mates, cricket governance, the world’s finest and, of course,as always, Yorkshire looms large in the background. It is in the chapters on Gower and Botham that he is at his sharpest. With each man grimly holding on to their Test careers at the dawn of the 90s, Boycott is unsparing on the dynamic duo as he effectively “roadmaps” their international futures. Gower, he tells us, should accept fate and move to the top of the order for the good of the team and to encourage and pass on a legacy to the younger players around him.
One senses a note of envy in the way he perceives Gower to have been favoured by selectors and for his place in the hearts of the nation’s cricket followers. This is odd since Gower had been twice sacked as skipper in under four years and had only recently missed selection for the Windies tour altogether. Moreover, unlike Boycott and Gooch, Gower had not chosen to take the Rand in 1981-82 and had remained an England fixture throughout the difficult early and middle eighties.He recalls the famed “I wish I could bat like you” compliment out in the middle in 1978-79 as Boycott sweated over every run while Gower, then only 21, outscored him without apparent effort. This was, Geoff assures us, quoted out of context and only referred to his own dreadful form at the time. Boycs also argues that Gower should not be able to dictate terms to the selectors regarding his place in the batting order and asks us to imagine the reaction had he requested the same treatment. Again, there is no sense that this may seem a bit rich coming as it does from a man who declined to play for his country for three years. Boycott, we sense, had little truck with Gower; neither having the inclination or empathy to understand the motivations of the younger dilettante; a member of the officer class whose rafish ways must have irked this stolid Yorkshireman no end. Not least among Boycott’s criticisms of Gower is his apparent inability to truly understand the game; the almost total reliance on instinct being antithetical to this most self-made of batsmen.
On the subject of his other former team-mate, Ian Botham, Boycott is kinder. Despite many a pub tale and speaking event at which their apparent polarities of personality are mulled over and ridiculed, one senses, deep down, a kind of kindred spirit between them. Boycott is not slow to acknowledge Botham’s playing abilities and feels the all-rounder was badly humilated by the selectors over his omission from the recent West indies tour. This, Boycott argues was shabby treatment for a man that they have relied on so often in the past, and a criticism of the way in which the selectors had allowed him to think he was being seriously considered for a tour berth. Boycott is also quick to appreciate Botham’s understanding of the game, giving admiring examples of life under the younger man’s captaincy against the West Indies a decade earlier. This is not to be read as Boycott’s encouragement of Botham remaining in the Test team beyond 1990 and beyond. Indeed, in typically trenchant style the Yorkshireman had urged the great all-rounder to accept his decline and reinvent himself for what remained of his career, particularly as a bowler, where Boycott envisioned Botham being effective as a kind of Cartwright/Appleyard purveyor of swing, seam and cut. With this 90s new dawn, the team’s promising start without either of the star players of the previous decade meant that any return on their part would now be entirely contingent and an acceptance of their reduced status.
On the home front at Yorkshire, he is a keen advocate in introducing overseas players and, as has been pointed out elsewhere, he is seen as enthusiastic in providing advice and coaching to Yorkshire’s younger players, a role he had unoffically taken on in the last two years of his playing days. His enthusiasm for his home county’s widening of the recruitment net soon bore fruit with the appearance of a youngster from Mumbai. Introduced to the media in cloth cap and brandishing a pint of ale, Sachin Tendlukar is able to add Yorkshire trailblazer to his momentous list of cricketing achievements. A final note of intrigue is sounded out by Boycott nominating Sobers as the greatest batsmen he had ever seen, beating Viv Richards into second place by “the narrowest of margins’
Boycott on Cricket was not Fiery’s greatest volume but was published at a time when he had come once more to prominence in the national game. It was a timely book presented to a captive audience for whom the corridor of uncertainty had recently entered the lexicon. Despite the controversy created by his surprisingly colourful private life, which had temporarily curtailed his presence in the commentary box, he has been a media fixture more or less ever since. Now at 71 the President of Yorkshire Country Cricket Club, he might at times have to pinch himself to believe it all turned out this way. Then again, he probably thought it would happen all along.
This book should not be confused with a later volume, “Geoffrey Boycott on Cricket”, published by Ebury Press in 1999.