The matches that made Sir Geoffrey Boycott

In his latest book, a diary of his 108 Tests, Geoffrey Boycotts remembers the moments that shaped one of cricket’s great careers – with remarks from his co-author Jon Hotten, based on conversations with the former England captain.

‘Humiliated, dropped… and hung out to dry’

June 8, 1967: England v India, First Test, Headingley, 25th cap

Sir Geoffrey Boycott

The facts are that I scored 106 runs having batted through the first day, and England were in a strong position at 281 for three. After a night’s sleep and with the confidence of runs on the board, I was able to bat with a weight off me and score another 140 runs in three-and-a-half hours. England could declare and make India follow on, and ultimately win by six wickets.

I was dropped from the next Test as a disciplinary measure. The precedent had been set by Doug Insole nearly two years previously when he did the same to Ken Barrington. The newspaper writers knew it was a better story than the cricket, and ran with it for days putting pressure on our selectors. Insole was never going to miss out on any opportunity to bang his drum from him re ‘Brighter Cricket’. He put a stain on my character and my cricket I could never get rid of.

Being dropped this way was the deepest wound, and I knew it would label me for life. Wherever I went and whatever I did, that disciplinary measure would follow me. That is why I have no time for Insole. It’s common for some people to say you should never speak ill of the dead. That sounds fine if it’s not you that have been criticized and condemned. What should I do? Lie or avoid the subject? I wo n’t do either to save his memory of him. He did and said plenty at the time when as a player I was tied under Cricket Board Rules and not allowed to defend myself. Even if I had been allowed to say anything in my defense would I have dared to disagree or complain? He was influential at MCC and as Chairman of Selectors in a position to never select me again.

I try to be frank, forthright and truthful, and I am aware it has got me into trouble in the past. I have to live with that but I won’t try to hide the fact I was hurt at the time and the pain of that decision has never gone away.

Jon Hotten

Brian Close wins the toss and elects to bat first. There are fewer than 5,000 people on the ground to watch England play a poor India team. You open with John Edrich, who soon feathers one to Farokh Engineer from the bowling of Rusi Surti, dismissed for one. You and Ken Barrington survive the next hour. If India bowls a half volley, it seems to always be at Ken. If you play an attacking shot, it always seems to find the fielder. All you can do is hang in, fight, and you do… Even when you go scoreless for 45 minutes and it would be easier to play a daft shot and sit in the pavilion. That’s not you, never has been. You fight. Fight the bowlers. Fight yourself.

Fight until lunch. 25 not out.

After the interval, Rusi Surti gets hit on the knee and can’t bowl. Bishan Bedi pulls a thigh muscle and can’t bowl. India’s captain Tiger Pataudi leans on his spinners Chandrasekhar and Prasanna, who will send down more than 100 overs across England’s innings.

Between lunch and tea, you add another 50 runs to your score. Ken is run out for 93. Tom Graveney joins you. The hours as you approach your century become tortuous, you have to tear every run from the bowler’s hand. Cricket as battle… Batting as war…

But you win this siege, win this battle with the game and with yourself. You win, undefeated at the close and you sleep well with those three figures next to your name.

What was lost is back, and in the next three-and-a-half hours you score 140 more runs, batting through to England’s declaration at 550-4. Close is the other not out batsman, and he puts an arm around your shoulders as you walk off, ‘making it obvious,’ The Sun newspaper writes, ‘that he was not dissatisfied with either his team or his number one batsman’.

You have a couple of days in the field while the storm gathers. India are rolled in their first innings but when they follow on, Tiger Pataudi makes big runs and England are required to bat again, to score 125 to win. You’ve turned an ankle and so Closey asks Ken Barrington to open and you sit and watch as England win by six wickets, all of those runs you scored key to the result, a victory that comes with hours of play to spare.

The selectors meet. Doug Insole, Peter May, Don Kenyon and Alec Bedser all vote to drop you. Brian Close tells them he’ll give you a right bollocking and make sure it doesn’t happen again, but he is outvoted.

You are in Abergavenny playing for the International Cavaliers when the team is announced. You sit at lunch, speaking to no-one, no-one speaking to you, feeling like a leper until Lance Gibbs takes you to a quiet corner and says: ‘Hold your head up. You have nothing to be ashamed of. The selectors must be crazy. If you made those sort of runs for West Indies, you’d be a hero.’

It’s a PR move from Insole. You know it. Lance Gibbs knows it. Both teams know it. Closey knows it, too. Many years later he will write about how much he admires the resilience you show in the days that follow.

But Doug Insole has put this stain upon you.

Selfish player, selfish man. Not true. Not true at all, but you are stained. marked. Humiliated and dropped. Hung out to dry by Doug Insole and his Brighter Cricket.

You will never forget it.

They think you are a machine, just because you don’t show your emotions out on the field. But you don’t eat, don’t sleep. It gets inside your head, makes you question everything about who you are, the way that you play. England win the second Test inside four days, Ken Barrington moving up to open with John Edrich (the irony, the irony… Ken the last player dropped by Doug Insole for slow scoring), but for whatever reason, the selectors drop John and recall you , move Ken down to number three and recall Colin Milburn to open with you.

‘The greatest moment in my career’

August 1977: England v Australia, Headingley, Fourth Test, 65th cap


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