Countdown to Varsity vs Exeter (A):

Geoff Boycott: Prophet or Plonker

Monday, 17 August 2015

On a quiet day at my summer internship, I tuned in to Test Match Special to take my fill of the day’s play. TMS is a joy to experience; in recent years, I have favoured the azure corporately organised Sky Sports: suited men talking properly and succinctly about the game of cricket unfolding beneath them. How sedate. How appropriate. How banal. TMS on the other hand is vibrant, vivacious, enthralling.

On a quiet day at my summer internship, I tuned in to Test Match Special to take my fill of the day’s play. TMS is a joy to experience; in recent years, I have favoured the azure corporately organised Sky Sports: suited men talking properly and succinctly about the game of cricket unfolding beneath them. How sedate. How appropriate. How banal. TMS on the other hand is vibrant, vivacious, enthralling.

"I find Boycott’s eternally negative, dismissive and often rude commentary to be quite disheartening."





I put it to you, my dear reader, that there are few pleasures greater in life than listening to Henry Blofeld describe how he was defecated upon by a flock of seagulls in what he described as a “hailstorm”. Phil Tufnell’s attempt at fluent Spanish (the solitary word “si”) brought tears to my eyes, prompting a colleague to ask me whether I should really be having that much fun at work. Then we come to Geoffrey. Geoffrey who repeatedly quotes Fred Trueman like a motivational speaker repeatedly quotes clichés, who refers to rhubarb and grandmothers and has a certain grumpy charm to him for some people. I am not such people.

Mock Geoff Boycott discussing issues on TMS.
Courtesy of Flickr/BadgerSwan.

I find Boycott’s eternally negative, dismissive and often rude commentary to be quite disheartening. Give me the effervescence of cheeky Tufnell or the intelligent, humble opinions of Glenn McGrath any day, but please don’t ask me to listen to Boycott. Therefore, it was in a state of quasi-concentration akin to that during a lecture on Middle English grammar that I thought I overheard Boycott suggesting that “Test matches should be cut down to four days”. Pardon? What was that? Did Geoffrey just advocate change to the game of cricket? Sadly I can find no record online of that sound bite and this article is founded on my memory of him saying it and my disbelief at hearing it, so hopefully he’ll say it again at some point so I can be vindicated.

What would be the benefits of a four day test match? Boycott’s argument was that very few test matches last the full five days these days, owing to the attacking mentality cricket several countries have adopted, so we should just eliminate the fifth day to move with the times. Having done some research, I have found that in 2014 28 tests lasted the full five days, 14 tests lasted four or fewer. So far in 2015, 14 tests have lasted five days, 9 tests have lasted fewer than five. You have to go back to 2013 until you find a year in which five day tests were outnumbered by four day or fewer tests, and that was only 23 to 21.

Looking at all these statistics, it seems that Boycott has fallen foul of what I call the “Curse of the Sports Fan”. This is the global, indiscriminate phenomenon whereby sports fans react violently and passionately to a short term negative setback.

The “Wenger Out” campaign is a perfect example as fans flock to a bandwagon, which struggles to roll along under the weight of middle aged, often podgy men in replica Arsenal shirts, after one negative result then wholeheartedly adapt their position when Arsenal start winning again.

Similarly nonsensical were the comments on the BBC website when Jonny Bairstow was dismissed by one of the best balls bowled in this Ashes series, saying that he wasn’t good enough and should be dropped. Sport, by nature, is ephemeral; form is too. My point is, this “Curse” condemns long-sightedness and balance in favour of overreaction and vehemence. I find this immensely frustrating.

Another benefit of a four day test match? The reason cited above seemed to be Boycott’s only argument. Meanwhile, shortening test matches would reduce revenue for grounds, would change a historic feature of the game (though this argument is really quite a poor one: women used to lack the vote, things change; homosexuality was illegal, things change) and would mean more no-result games if the weather or light intervened. Even if the fifth day remains unused or underused with a few overs being bowled, there can also be hugely dramatic matches which escalate in tension over the course of each day.

Perhaps the strongest argument for those who enjoy the test matches as much as the limited overs cricket is that shortening the matches would encourage more aggressive batting and would decrease the likelihood of classic and hard-fought innings: when a batsman toils for hours at a time and takes 250 balls to score a century. This might not be visually spectacular, but the astonishing feat of mental strength and concentration that this requires is as laudable as scoring a century from 60 balls.

The deteriorating condition of the pitch is another fascinating element of test cricket which would be diminished by a reduction of game length. The need to have a balanced team of bowlers to acknowledge the fact that, come day five, the pitch would feel totally different to day one, would be lost. This would lead to more uniform pitches and, while not negating the art of spin bowling, would significantly nullify it.

So that’s my opinion. I never thought I’d see the day when comparing myself with Geoffrey Boycott would lead me to conclude that I’m the old fogey.

Jonny Gould

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