James Lawton: Boycott keeps his finger on the pulse of English cricket

Former batsman's biting comments suggest he could be after Yorkshire presidency - and even a stint at the helm of the national game
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The Independent Online

Geoff Boycott is in brilliant, pulverising form. His criticism of English cricket has gone to the bone. He has savaged its lack of proper leadership, the self-absorption of experienced players who should be helping their younger colleagues rather than gazing at their own navels, its all-round ineptitude - and a total failure to act for the common good of the game.

One theory is that Boycott is in a mood of such thanksgiving after his bruising but successful battle with throat cancer that he is offering himself up as cricket's saviour.

This idea, however, is not being countenanced, for the moment at least, too strongly in his native county. The overwhelming reaction to news that Freddie Trueman had invited his former team-mate to lunch - over which they could discuss some plan of resurrection for the game that made them - has been greeted with a degree of cynicism. "That's all very well, tha knows," said one insider, "but which of the buggers will pay?"

I suppose even those of us who have long treasured Boycott's rough but wonderfully acute capacity to get to the heart of a cricket matter - and who still believe that the speed with which he was jettisoned by broadcasting organisations and the establishment was a scandal greater than anything that emerged clearly in a French courtroom five years ago - have to be honest. Altruism has not always flowed strongly through his veins.

Indeed, one veteran cricket man was yesterday insisting that there was nothing apocryphal about the story which is supposed to sum up the Boycott approach in his own playing days.

You know the damning tale? It happened in the 1970 Ashes tour when John Gleeson, the Australian spinner, was tying down the English batting. Gleeson wasn't devastating England in the fashion of Shane Warne. He wasn't unleashing the kind of "flipper" which distorts the dreams of Mike Gatting. But England just couldn't get him away. Gleeson had been a problem from the start of the Test series, but then Basil D'Oliveira came to join Boycott at the wicket at Melbourne and both batsmen began to play him with a degree of assurance. While they were doing a little horticulture in the middle of the pitch, D'Oliveira couldn't contain himself. He said, "Geoff, I've worked him out". Boycott is alleged to have replied, "I can see that - but don't tell the others".

No, perhaps this doesn't sit too well with the thrust of Boycott's latest epistle to the lost tribe of English cricket, in which one of his most trenchant criticisms is that the young Lancashire fast bowler James Anderson, a star in Australia and the World Cup, went utterly without guidance while bowling "rubbish" in the two Tests against South Africa. Did he expect an "old sweat" at Lord's to offer something that he failed to produce in Melbourne all those years ago - a sense of team, a belief that hard lessons won, and of great benefit to your own batting average and future career prospects, should be ungrudgingly passed on?

Charitably, you could say that Boycott was young then and too deeply embedded in that Yorkshire imperative that if "thy do owt for nowt, do it for thissen". An exaggerated reflection of attitudes in the Yorkshire dressin-room back in the Sixties and Seventies? Maybe, maybe not. It is true, though, that as the team contemplated the next stage of their travels around the counties, there was, during an evening's drinking, a spirited debate about carpool expenses and those who were not paying their way. The dispute was not about payments for petrol but oil.

One current Yorkshire theory is that Boycott, after an enforced spell of introspection, is hungry to express himself again not so much in commentary, where his views have been bitingly relevant but largely ignored for so long, but in the politics of cricket. There is a feeling that the potential partnership of Boycott and Trueman, who was conspicuously praised for his hard work and professionalism when Boycott discussed Anderson's problems and the downgrading of county cricket by the Duncan Fletcher-Nasser Hussain regime at the weekend, could lead to a bid for the Yorkshire presidency.

Yorkshire today, England tomorrow? No doubt it would cause mayhem in the Long Room, but at this point in the sad decline of English cricket who would care about that?

Boycott's voice, blessedly restored, is the outstanding one in any discussion on the plight of his game. It carries authentic rage and is informed by the certainties which come with outstanding success. So he told D'Oliveira to keep his trap shut. The point is that, thankfully, he has managed to grow older - and, whatever they are saying in Yorkshire, very much wiser.