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The summer Geoffrey Boycott arrived as a Test batsman – Almanack

Geoffrey Boycott
by Bill Bowes 6 minute read

It did not take long for Wisden to spot Geoffrey Boycott’s potential. After his first summer as an England player, he was named a Cricketer of the Year in 1965.

In 1963, his first season of county cricket, Geoffrey Boycott, Yorkshire opening batsman, scored 1,778 runs at an average of 41.34 an innings and was elected the Best Young Cricketer of the Year.

Less than 12 months after becoming a professional cricketer he was chosen to open for England against Australia. He finished second in the England averages with 291 runs at 48.50 an innings, scored his first Test century in the Fifth Test at the Oval; for his second season’s work he could point to 2,110 runs at an average of 52.75 an innings.

These were figures which placed him fifth in the all-England averages. He was selected to tour South Africa with MJK Smith’s team, not as an encouragement but because he had established himself as the rightful No.1 batsman.

His success was not that of a naturally gifted batsman with the good fortune to play on wickets suited to his style of play. At a very early stage in his career he showed the ability to fashion an innings to suit the occasion and the state of the game.

The only thing the critics needed to know was whether he could battle through a bad spell of low scores; the phase that comes to every batsman when fieldsmen seem to catch the impossible, a direct throw at the stumps catches him six inches out of his ground, and a slight error in timing of the strokes undermines confidence.

All the indications were that Boycott could battle through such a phase. He is ruthlessly dedicated to the job of scoring runs, analyses his own game, and takes the trouble to learn about the others.

Cricket for him is an all absorbing occupation and in Yorkshire, where they expect a 100 per cent effort, he caused an uplift of eyebrows prior to the start of the 1964 season, when he gave up his job as a wages clerk earlier than the county authorities demanded, attended the Yorkshire Schoolboys practices in the mornings, stayed for the Colts and the senior coaching classes in the afternoon, and then left for the Headingley ground in order to join evening practices with the Leeds club. He had four sessions of net practice each day and regretted he could not get more.

Geoffrey Boycott was born at Fitzwilliam, near Pontefract, on October 21, 1940. He was the first of three boys to a miner. His brothers, Tony (21) and Peter (16) play for Hemsworth Colliery CC. Young Geoff attended the Fitzwilliam County Primary School and when only 10 years old he had early encouragement by winning a Len Hutton bat in a newspaper competition; he scored 45 out of a team total of 52 and followed by taking six wickets for 10 runs.

This performance prompted an uncle, Mr Albert Speight, to suggest to the various members of the family that each should put 2s. 6d. into a kitty to pay for a winter’s coaching at Johnny Lawrence’s Indoor School at nearby Rothwell. This was his 11th birthday present and it was renewed yearly. So the former Somerset all-rounder had much to do with fashioning the play of the young Boycott.

Geoffrey captained his school team and he captained the South Elmsall & District Schoolboys’ XI, with whom he averaged 70 in his first season, and when only 13 was chosen occasionally to play with Ackworth, a senior team in the Yorkshire Council.

At 15 he captained the Yorkshire Schoolboys; was chosen to play with Barnsley in the highest grade of Yorkshire club cricket, and he was invited to attend the Yorkshire nets for coaching. At 17 he had the highest schoolboy honour in being chosen for the Yorkshire Cricket Federation tour of the Midlands. With seven subjects in the GCEs he took a post in the Ministry of Pensions office at Barnsley.

Playing for Barnsley against Leeds in 1959 he scored 88, a display which brought him selection as twelfth man for Yorkshire Colts against Cumberland at Harrogate. This innings had further consequences. A former Yorkshire captain, WHH Sutcliffe, saw it and was most impressed. He was Leeds captain, too. In the following season of 1960 when Boycott was unable to play cricket because of a pulled hamstring muscle, Sutcliffe suggested that when he did start he might join Leeds. He would look after him!

So in 1961 Boycott went to Leeds and Sutcliffe was as good as his word. Boycott became an established No.1 batsman; playing for Yorkshire Colts against Cumberland he scored 156 not out, his first century, and he finished at the top of the club averages.

The successful story continued. Boycott began the 1962 season with another three-figure score, 126 not out, for Yorkshire Colts against Cumberland and received his second team cap. He followed with 32 and 87 not out against Northumberland and 104 not out against Lancashire 2nd XI. This splendid start earned him a place in the Yorkshire XI against Pakistan, but he was out for four in each innings.

Games against Northamptonshire, Derbyshire, Essex and Kent followed. In nine innings he scored 150 runs for an average of 21.28 an innings, but with the second eleven he finished with 586 runs, average 45.07. He was strongly in line for a first-team place when a vacancy came along.

It came sooner than expected. Yorkshire released one of their regular opening batsmen, JB Bolus, to play with Nottinghamshire. R. Illingworth returned from the MCC tour of Australia with an ankle injury and Boycott, after a couple of failures, hit the headlines of almost every newspaper in the country with a century against Lancashire in the Whitsuntide game at Sheffield. He did the same in the August Bank Holiday game and made it three in a row the next season. Everything went right for him.

As an opening batsman, he has one telling shot that he plays better than anyone else in the game. He can hit the just short-of-length ball, coming close to his body, as well as most batsmen can play a square cut to a ball wide of the off-stump. He moves into a defensive position right behind the ball; then, with the stroke, pulls his body away from the ball to take runs anywhere in the arc from cover point to third man. Most opening bowlers are accustomed to seeing this delivery played with a dead bat.

Although he seldom hooks, Boycott has most of the shots. He shows no limitation because he wears spectacles. His limitations are self-imposed and, at the start of an innings, these are designed to give the least encouragement to the opposing bowler.

Temperament and ability stamp him as a fine player. Experience and careful application may make him a very successful one for Yorkshire and England.

Prescient words. Geoffrey Boycott went on to be one of the most successful – and controversial – batsmen of all time. In all first-class matches he scored 48,426 runs at 56.83 with 151 centuries.

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