Geoffrey Boycott’s long TMS innings comes to a welcome end

Former England batsman is a mess of contradictions and won’t be missed on the radio

Geoffrey Boycott won’t be part of the BBC’s cricket coverage this summer. Photograph: Adrian Dennis/Getty/AFP

Geoffrey Boycott won’t be part of the BBC’s cricket coverage this summer. Photograph: Adrian Dennis/Getty/AFP

 

The 11th and last time that Geoffrey Boycott ran out his Yorkshire teammate Richard Lumb was in the second innings of a County Championship match against Gloucestershire at Park Avenue in Bradford in 1982. It was the second time Boycott had done it to Lumb in that same match and afterwards Lumb sat in the dressing room with his pads on waiting for his partner to come back in from the middle.

When he did, Lumb, usually a quiet man, shouted: “What do you think you’re doing? Twice in the match? That’s 11-0 on run-outs now.” Boycott apologised. “I must be bad at it, what should I do?” he said. “You should piss off,” Lumb told him, “like you should have done 10 years ago.”

Seems like people have always been trying to get rid of Boycott, bowled, caught, dropped, sacked, run out, on one famous occasion, by his own England teammates.

Last week, Boycott finally went. The BBC announced its roster of cricket commentators for the summer, and he wasn’t on it. He explained that his contract expired last year, and, since he’s 79 and recently had a quadruple heart bypass, the Covid-19 pandemic had taken the decision about whether or not to carry on out of his hands.

Being Boycott, he couldn’t help himself but enthusiastically retweet a message sent by one of his fans: “White, male, straight, Tory and knows about cricket. Surprised he lasted this long at the BBC.” “Absolutely right,” Boycott added, though, with one eye on the prospect of coming back as a guest analyst, he later deleted the tweet.

Geoffrey Boycott on England duty in the West Indies in 1981, aged 40. Photograph: Adrian Murrell/Getty
Geoffrey Boycott on England duty in the West Indies in 1981, aged 40. Photograph: Adrian Murrell/Getty

Boycott is right, it is a surprise he lasted as long at the BBC as he did. A surprise he lasted 22 years after he was convicted of assaulting Margaret Moore. A surprise he lasted nine years after he appeared to make fun of Michael Yardy’s mental health on air – “He must have been reading my comments about his bowling,” he said when Yardy pulled out of the 2011 World Cup because he was struggling with depression. “I’m sorry he’s not good enough at this level.” And a surprise he lasted three years after he said he should “black me face” to get the knighthood he was so sure he deserved, because the honour was “handed out like confetti” to West Indian players.

Even now, Boycott has soured his farewell column in the Daily Telegraph with a lengthy explanation of why he believes women are incapable of doing his job, “because to provide expert analysis you need to have experienced the heat of Test cricket”. As if Charlotte Edwards, say, learned nothing about “what it takes to succeed” when she was leading England to victory in the World Cup, the World T20, and back-to-back Ashes series. As if Sarah Taylor discovered nothing about the “pressure, emotions, and technique” of international cricket while she was fighting her anxiety to become, according to better judges even than Geoffrey, “the best wicketkeeper in the world”.

Yes but, yes but, yes but. There are always “yes buts” with Boycott. He’s a man who wrote about how much he loathed apartheid in his autobiography but helped to organise and lead a rebel tour to South Africa. A man who joked about blackface and denigrated the achievements of black cricketers but whose friends and colleagues insist is adamantly anti-racist (“He may be rude, bitter, mean, and many other things,” one told his biographer, Leo McKinstry, “but he is totally colour-blind.”) A man who is often described as a bully, but who inspires such loyalty in his friends they stand by him through all this, a man who is damned as one of the most selfish men ever to play the game but who has raised millions for charity.

He is a man who knew as much about cricket as anyone who ever played or watched it and yet cloaked that knowledge in tired cliches and tiresome barbs.

And he is a man who was convicted of assaulting Moore, and lost his appeal against the verdict, but whose insistence he is innocent is supported by evidence and expert testimony that the case might have been a miscarriage of justice.

Jonathan Agnew and Geoffrey Boycott (R) on TMS duty at Lord’s in 2017. Photograph: Gareth Copley/Getty
Jonathan Agnew and Geoffrey Boycott (R) on TMS duty at Lord’s in 2017. Photograph: Gareth Copley/Getty

When the judge who convicted him, Dominique Haumant, recalled the case in an interview with the Guardian last year, she still seemed indignant about how obnoxious his behaviour had been during the trial. “Definitely not a gentleman,” she said, “vulgar”, “arrogant,” and with “a deplorable attitude”. Like almost everyone else who’s ever met, watched, or listened to Boycott, Haumant made up her mind a long time ago and isn’t about to change it now.

He is a mess of contradictions. The last of them that a man who is so complicated should be so blunt in his views, that a man who has so often been given the benefit of both sides of the argument has made such a point of painting the world in black and white.

Which is why, in the last, it’s fair to say it was long past time for Boycott to go and that his particular style of commentary is out of place and out of time in an era when the game is trying so hard to broaden its appeal.

He won’t much care anyway. “I also wish to thank all those who have said how much they enjoyed my commentary,” he wrote at the weekend, “and for those who haven’t – too bad.” - Guardian

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