World Cup mavericks: Geoffrey Boycott, the bowler

The English batter got both Chappell brothers in the 1979 World Cup

51-Geoffrey-Boycott Illustration: Job P.K.

Geoffrey Boycott played the very first ball in One-Day cricket. There is no footage to check, but it would be safe to say he blocked or left it―he had a penchant for dead-batting.

Boycott had his spleen removed when he was nine, making him more prone to infections. Perhaps this led to the doggedness to protect his on-field life at any cost. Let’s just say a Boycott innings is to a T20 fan what a silent film is to a TikToker. The Yorkshire man gathered more than 8,000 Test runs and retired with one of the most impenetrable defences in cricket.

He also retired as a character who polarised the cricketing world. While some admired him for his skills and no-nonsense demeanour―he was a northerner and the son of a miner―there were others who called him a selfish player who cared only for his own runs.

But his batting or attitude are not why he is on this list. It is his work as a medium pacer in the 1979 World Cup. As a batter, he got only 92 runs in five matches. But, he took five wickets. In the match against Australia, Boycott got 2-15 in six overs, without even removing his cap or sweater to bowl. To be fair, his run-up was just a few steps and he was more Chris Harris than Shoaib Akhtar. He got another two-fer against Pakistan and one against New Zealand. It is amusing to think that one of England’s premier batters ended up doing more with the ball!

Almost 50 years on, and Boycott is seen, at least by some of the younger cricketing minds, as that cantankerous old man who refuses to keep up with the game. “If you’re going to just entertain, they might as well be a circus, that’s it. Go, be a professional circus around the world.” This was him tearing into Bazball, the new English way of batting aggressively in Tests.

Perhaps the most succinct way to sum up Boycott is this: On a clip from the touring show An Evening with Boycott and Aggers, English broadcaster Jonathan Agnew, who worked with Boycott for 20 years, said the most common question the audience wanted him to ask the batter was this: “Geoffrey, why are you such a difficult bastard?”