Think of anybody born and bred in Yorkshire and one of the first names that spring to mind is the cricket legend and broadcaster, Geoffrey Boycott, whose gritty batting style and forthright views on the sport epitomises the county of his birth. Throughout his career, stretching from 1962 to 1986 he played 108 test matches for England and made 609 first class appearances for Yorkshire, of which he was captain from, 1971-78. During his career he became the then highest test match run scorer for England and scored 100 centuries in first class cricket.
Boycott was born on 21st October 1940 in the village of Fitzwilliam, which lies nearly halfway between Wakefield and Doncaster. He attended his local primary school and soon shone on the cricket field, taking five wickets and scoring forty-five runs in a school match, which won him the Len Hutton Batting Award. Encouraged by this he joined Ackworth Cricket Club where he quickly shone as an exciting talent. After completing his education at Hemsworth Grammar School he pursued his cricketing career, playing for Barnsley Cricket Club, alongside Dickie Bird and Michael Parkinson. Here he was noted for his intense powers of self-belief, concentration and technique by Clifford Hesketh, part of the Yorkshire Cricket Club Committee.
Boycott was invited to play for the Yorkshire Second XI in 1959 and in three years topped the averages for any teams that he turned out for including Leeds CC and the Yorkshire Colts. Ultimately it was only a matter of time before he was given an opportunity in the Yorkshire first team, which came in June 1962 against the touring Pakistani team, where he scored four in both innings.
A debut in the County Championship soon followed against Northamptonshire, but a series of low scores in his inaugural season led many at the club to wonder whether he was good enough to play at first class level. However two things aided Boycott’s eventual success. Firstly was his decision to wear contact lenses instead of glasses, due to his poor eyesight and secondly a change in the Yorkshire captaincy, which saw Brian Close replace Vic Wilson. Another was practice, practice practice and lots of hard work. Close persuaded the Yorkshire committee to keep faith with the young prodigy and in June 1963 this was repaid when Boycott scored 145 runs in the Roses match against Lancashire sharing a record breaking 249 run stand for the fourth wicket in the process. He cemented his place in the side that season with several important contributions including 165 not out against Leicestershire. Boycott ended his first full season scoring 1,146 runs with an average of 46.64.
It was not long before his country also came calling and in 1964 he played his maiden test for England in that years’ home Ashes series, which ended up with Boycott scoring a total of 291 runs during the series, including his maiden test ton at The Oval.
Boycott was a right-handed opening batsman, who was often criticised for his slow scoring rate and a perceived tendency to bat for himself, rather than for the good of team, when the situation required a faster run rate. Ironically when Boycott achieved his highest Test score of 246 not out against India, in front of his home crowd at Headingley he was sensationally dropped for the next test, because it was deemed that he had taken him too long to compile his innings. Indeed it had allegedly taken the whole of the first day’s play to make 106 runs and in the process had sent half the Headingley crowd to sleep and those sat in the press box. Despite a more attacking second day, where he had managed to hit 140 runs in four hours, and England’s subsequent victory by six wickets the knives were out for the belligerent Yorkshireman. He returned to the fold for the final test of the series at Edgbaston and was selected for the winter’s tour to the Caribbean.
One of Boycott’s finest hours for the White rose came in the 1965 Gillette Cup Final at Lords. His blazing 146 not out against Surrey paved the way for a comprehensive 175 run victory. The fact that he hit three sixes and fifteen fours showed that he could bat freely when the situation allowed.
In 1971 Boycott was made Yorkshire’s captain, which proved to be an unpopular decision among some of the other players. While his personal batting form and average went from strength to strength, regularly averaging over 60, the team as a whole failed to perform and they slumped lower and lower in the County Championship as the Seventies wore on. Things came to a head in 1978 when several committee members and players spoke out about their declining form.
In September 1978 it was decided that John Hampshire should take on the captaincy permanently with Boycott returning as a normal player, which he did after much thought in the following 1979 season. He broke several county records, including the most number of centuries for the county of 129, previously set by Len Hutton and finished the following season with an average of over 50 runs for the eleventh year running.
From 1974-77, Boycott had concentrated solely on captaining his beloved county by placing himself in a self-imposed exile from England duties and “a loss of appetite for test cricket.” However he returned in the summer of ’77 for the home Ashes series, in which Ian Botham also made his debut. In the fourth test at Headingley Boycott was at the centre of one of the most famous cricketing moments, when he hit his 100th century in first class cricket, the first to achieve this feat in a test match. On this occasion the fact it had taken him five hours to do it was briefly forgotten by the adoring Yorkshire cricketing public and even the Southern press!
Boycott briefly captained his country on a winter tour to New Zealand, but eventually the reigns were passed to a young Ian Botham. These two however would combine more positively in the famous 1981 series, when a stubborn partnership between Boycott and Peter Willey in the second innings at Leeds laid the foundations for Botham and Willis’ subsequent fireworks with bat and ball to win the match for England against the odds. This famous Ashes series also saw Boycott become England’s leading run scorer during the sixth Test at The Oval. By this time he had reached the age of forty and the winter tour to India would be his last, during which he passed Gary Sobers’ record of becoming the highest ever run scorer in test matches.
In 1983, Boycott was still playing for his home county. Having been stripped of the captaincy, five years previously he came into conflict with some of the other players and members of the committee. This friction would eventually lead to the committee refusing to offer Boycott a new contract and two factions at the cricket club emerged, those in favour of reinstating their most famous son and those who wanted rid of him altogether. In 1984 Boycott was offered a new contract, which prompted the resignation of several Yorkshire CC members, notably fellow legend Fred Trueman, and he continued playing for another two years. By now he was forty-six and the emergence a crop of new younger players, such as Phil Robinson and Martyn Moxon meant that Boycott finally hung up his cricket whites for the last time in September 1986, after twenty- four years at the top of the game. In total he scored a total of 32,570 runs for the White Rose, with a batting average of 57.85. For England he amassed 8114 test match runs, at an average of 47.72.
Boycott has continued his life as a well-known and opinionated commentator on Sky, Channels four and five plus BBC Test match Special. His familiar Yorkshire accent and blunt appraisals of a sometimes failing modern England team are a constant feature of an English summer. In 2002 he survived a throat cancer scare and seven years later was inducted into the Cricketing Hall of Fame. Boycott has continued to have a strong influence on his home county and was elected president of the club in 2012, until he was replaced by Dickie Bird in February 2014.
Geoffrey Boycott is a true Yorkshire legend, who was never afraid to stick to his own beliefs and who has helped retain Yorkshire’s presence on the cricketing map both in this country and throughout the world.