Yorkshire CCC and England legend Sir Geoffrey Boycott uses positive thinking as he bats towards another century
SIR GEOFFREY BOYCOTT turned 80 on Wednesday – four-fifths of the way to yet another hundred.
Boycott, who scored 151 of them during his first-class career, the fifth-highest aggregate of all-time, has done remarkably well just to get this far.
Eighteen years ago, he was diagnosed with throat cancer – and given three months to live.
“I asked the surgeon, ‘What happens if we do nothing?’” he recalls. “He said to me, ‘You’ll be dead by Christmas, or just after’.”
Boycott underwent gruelling chemotherapy and radiation treatment to tackle a tumour the size of a 50p piece.
Then, around five years later, he got the all-clear after winning the greatest battle of his life.
“Getting cancer was like a death sentence,” he says. “It is a death sentence for so many people. So I’ve had 18 more years and they’ve not been quiet ones. It’s always been a rollercoaster life.
“Look, if I go tomorrow, I can’t complain. Everybody wants to live forever, but that’s impossible, so you can only make the most of the time that you’ve got.”
Boycott, the miner’s son from Fitzwilliam who grew up to become one of the greatest batsmen in the game’s history, is in reflective mood as he ponders his birthday milestone.
Anyone who knows him, or knows anything about him, will realise that he is unlikely to be satisfied by simply getting to the 80s.
Deep down, Sir Geoffrey – the great survivor who also underwent quadruple open heart bypass surgery two years ago – will surely want another hundred, and the accompanying telegram from Buckingham Palace.
“Well, you never know,” he laughs. “I’ve always believed in the power of positive thinking. I think that’s what helped me with the cancer, and it certainly helped me when I was batting.
“When you’re batting you have to believe. You have to be strong mentally. You have to believe that you’re going to score runs.
“It’s like when people refer to the nervous 90s. It’s a load of old rubbish. You shouldn’t be nervous in your 90s. You should be in control, in charge. You should know the pitch. The bowlers shouldn’t worry you. So it’s not a problem.
“You should be nervous on nought. I’m nervous going out to bat. I’m nervous the first 10 runs. That’s when you’re nervous.”
Eighty though he is, Boycott still sounds like a man who is playing today, as if he is preparing to craft his next innings.
He once wrote – poignantly and tellingly – that he would willingly exchange the rest of his life for five more years of playing for England at his peak, emphasising his absolute dedication to cricket.
Yet for all his hundreds (including 103 first-class for Yorkshire), and for all his runs (48,426 first-class, the eighth-highest all-time total), this most forthright of knights does not go in for dewy-eyed nostalgia.
Consequently, he is not to be found of an evening at his grand home in Boston Spa, near Wetherby, which he shares with his beloved wife, Rachael, who helped him through his cancer ordeal, looking back on the highs of a stunning career.
“I don’t look back,” he says. “I remember occasionally when people ask me things, of course I do, but I don’t sit there in the chair looking back at all the hundreds I made and things like that.
“I mean, I made 100 hundreds that were non first-class, outside of bloody first-class. I know that because I’ve got a record of about 70-odd of them. But I don’t see the point in looking back all the time.
“Look, I had 25 years of playing and loved every minute. I had 30 years of commentating and loved every minute. Yes, there were lows, but you have to accept the lows. You don’t like them, but you have to accept them and go through the lows to get to the highs.
“I always say to people, you can’t get much lower as a batsman than getting out nought first ball because you live for a day or two stuck on a pair. It’s a nightmare. The ignominy of getting a pair in cricket is huge.
“But if you avoid going in second innings under that pressure, you’re not going to make a hundred, are you? It comes back to mental strength. That’s more important than technique or anything.”
As a man born into the harsh realities of World War Two, and who lived in a house with an outside toilet until he was 25 years old, Boycott has a perspective on life to go with the toughness.
It is why he takes the current impositions caused by the coronavirus pandemic in his stride, despite being classed in the vulnerable category as an octogenarian.
“Look, I accept it,” he says. “It’s happened, it’s sad, but there’s no point complaining about it. It’s here, and I don’t think it will go away until we get a vaccine.
“Until we get a vaccine then people will be under pressure – they’ll be under pressure of staying alive, under pressure of keeping their jobs and their businesses. That’s the reality.
“There’s people blaming the government for everything and their response to the situation, but we haven’t had anything like this for over 100 years – not since 1918 and the H1N1 virus.
“Nobody has experience of it, and if you want to blame people for not having enough masks, not having enough respiratory apparatus, then blame previous governments who didn’t stack up the bloody stuff because you can’t make those overnight, can you?
“Listen, I think we should be careful about blaming all the time. It’s a rare situation. It’s bloody difficult. This government is trying to keep people alive and also jobs and businesses at the same time.
“But what good is a job or business if you’re six-foot under? It isn’t much bloody good, is it? I’m not here to say what the answer is. I don’t know. But I do know it’s a very difficult conundrum for whoever’s in charge.”
When lockdown struck, Boycott was at his second home in Paarl, South Africa. He was supposed to be going back there this month but instead faces the rarity of a winter in England.
“It’s not a rarity I’m looking forward to,” he chuckles. “I’ve always liked the heat. Most winters I’ve been away. I’ve not been in England. The one winter I spent here was when I had cancer. Other than that, I’ve always been abroad, either on tour or I’ve gone on holiday. I like the heat. I love the heat. I love England, but I love its summers better than its winters.”
Boycott is missing his golf – “I haven’t played since February/early-March time” – but keeps fit by walking in his village and also on a treadmill.
“I have a walking machine at home, a running machine, and although I don’t run on it now at my age, I still walk on it,” he says. “Certainly three or four times a week, I do a mile-and-a-half or something like that.
“I feel good. I can’t complain. Touch wood, I haven’t got Covid and I’ve been trying to be careful and sensible, listening to all the government advice.
“Obviously I’m 80 now, not 36 when I was getting my 100th hundred, so there’s a difference in energy levels and so forth. I certainly can’t run like I did up and down the pitch at Headingley all those years ago. But my brain’s as sharp as ever, and I still watch the cricket. I watch it all the time.”
Boycott was sad to lose his spot on Test Match Special this year, an egregious decision in the eyes of his many supporters.
But he still has his Daily Telegraph column and a pragmatic outlook.
“Yes, I miss TMS,” he says. “I miss Jonathan (Agnew). We like each other and take the mickey out of each other, and he’s still a good friend of mine.
“It’s sad, but there’s no point dwelling on it. You’ve got to live life. We’re actually on this Earth a very short period of time, you know. When you think of how many millions of years the Earth’s been going, and we live 60/70/80 years. Wow. It’s a pinprick. It’s an infinitesimal point in the scheme of the universe.
“We’re a small piece of the universe, and we’re not here for very long. We’re like a flower that flowers in the sunshine of the day and, at night time, it cuts back, goes to sleep.
“If we’re lucky, we get 60/70/80 years. Not many get to my age, do they, and I’ve had all sorts – bloody back injuries, brokens arms, had my spleen out when I was nine, so many things.
“You’ve got to live life because it comes and goes so very quickly.”
Support The Yorkshire Post and become a subscriber today. Your subscription will help us to continue to bring quality news to the people of Yorkshire. In return, you’ll see fewer ads on site, get free access to our app and receive exclusive members-only offers. Click HERE to subscribe.