Geoffrey Boycott - The Greatest Living Yorkshireman

Speaking to Benjie Goodhart in 2004, Boycott looks back over his distinguished cricketing career and reveals the difference between success and failure
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Christened Sir Geoffrey by his adoring legions in Yorkshire, Boycott was one of England’s longest-serving and most successful batsmen. It’s now over 40 years since he made his Test debut, against Australia at Trent Bridge. All these years later, does Boycott, not exactly known for lacking self-confidence, remember any hint of nerves on the big occasion? “Of course,” he says. “You’re always nervous when you’re going into something new like that. I was nervous when I made my England debut, and when I made my Yorkshire debut. Anybody who says they don’t get nervous in a situation like that is a liar. The difference between success and failure is being able to control your nervousness.”

So how did he control his nerves? “Well, when I played for Yorkshire for the first time, obviously not very well. I only made four and four. I improved a bit when I played for England. I made 48 in my first Test match, on a sporting pitch. We played on uncovered pitches back then – players today can’t even comprehend what it was like – high quality bowling on a pitch which was touched by rain. When I say it was sporting, I’m using a euphemism. It was very, very challenging.”

Nervous or not, Boycott’s career blossomed, and he played first class cricket for a staggering 25 years. In that time, two achievements in particular stand out in his mind. “There was my hundred in the Gillette Cup Final of 1965, when Yorkshire beat Surrey. I made 146 on a wet pitch. It’s still the highest score in a final, and Yorkshire won convincingly. So that one, and I think my return to Test cricket in 1977. It was a real test of character and concentration. I’d been out of the game for three years, of my own choice. I was 36, an age when most people are retiring. Steve Waugh’s been one of the best players in the last 20 years, and he’s retired aged 36. So to come back to Test cricket at that age wasn’t an easy thing to do. I came back, and I made a hundred, and then 80 not out, and we won the Test match by seven wickets.”

In a long and distinguished career, who were the best cricketers he played with or against? “Three of the all-time great fast bowlers were Malcolm Marshall, Michael Holding and Fred Trueman. Garfield Sobers and Vivian Richards were two outstanding batsmen , and probably the greatest wicketkeeper ever was Alan Knott. And people don’t realise what a fantastic bowler Derek Underwood was.” And of the fast bowlers, who was the quickest? “If you asked each one of them, they’d all say they were. They were fast, as was Jeff Thomson. Those four bowlers were faster than anyone playing today. Now players think 90mph is fast. We didn’t have the speed gun when they bowled, but if Shoaib Akhtar and Brett Lee can get up to a hundred, I reckon Holding and Thomson were 110mph.”

Finally, looking back over a long, successful career, but one that was often smothered by the fog of controversy, does he have any regrets? Would he change anything? Anyone expecting Boycott’s famous bullishness would be surprised at his answer. “There are many things I’d change. Anybody who says he hasn’t got regrets, who says he’d do everything the same again, I think is an idiot. It means he’s learned nothing from his life, has he? As we get older and wiser and more experienced, of course we should learn things from life. Unfortunately, we can’t go back and do it again – you can’t put that old head on young shoulders. But I’ve made many mistakes in my life.” Such as? “I wouldn’t want to spell them out. But if I could go back again, I’d do many things differently. You should learn, if you want to be a good human being.”