GEOFFREY BOYCOTT picked up the phone at home in Boston Spa, resigned to the inevitable question.
Was he in trouble?
“It wouldn’t be the first time,” he replied.
It was the interpretation put on something he said to VIPs at a £300-a-head hospitality event during last week’s test match against the West Indies at Edgbaston that had caught him out this time.
A knighthood? “I’d better black me face,” he had said, referring to the 11 West Indian cricketers with “Sir” before their names.
In contrast, the last English cricketer to be knighted for services to the sport had been Sir Alec Bedser, in 1996.
Boycott, who is known affectionately to many as Sir Geoffrey, had fielded the question during a Q&A session hosted by Gary Newbon of Sky Sports.
An actual knighthood had been denied him twice, he lamented, though he was awarded the OBE for services to cricket.
Reported by the Mirror, his remark caused predictable indignity.
“We can do without dinosaurs like him spouting rubbish,” an unnamed source told the paper.
“I’m sorting it out,” the 76 year-old former Yorkshire captain told The Yorkshire Post. “There will be a statement later.”
Shortly afterwards, he tweeted: “Speaking at an informal gathering I was asked a question and I realise my answer was unacceptable. I meant no offence but what I said was clearly wrong and I apologise unreservedly.
“I have loved West Indian cricket my whole life and have the utmost respect for its players.”
Twitter, often itself a cauldron of political correctness, appeared unsympathetic towards what many seemed to regard as mock outrage.
“Anyone with a ounce of common sense understands,” wrote one user.
“Sadly, Geoffrey, Yorkshire straight talking does not fit in with today’s insane political correctness,” wrote another.
A third user, responding to Boycott’s apology, wrote: “It didn’t upset anyone. Unfortunately it [is] the way of the world nowadays, but it was hardly a crime.”
Another added: “The fact you feel the need to apologise shows how pathetic our society has become. God forbid anyone tries a joke these days.”
Boycott and controversy have always been close bedfellows.
On the honours system, he was reported to have criticised the decision to award the entire England team MBEs after their first Ashes win since 1986.
“For 18 years, England haven’t won. Australia have been beating England every two years home or away,” he was quoted as saying. “Suddenly, when England win, all hell breaks loose. They all get gongs at the palace.
Boycott made his debut for Yorkshire in 1962 and for England two years later, in a Test match against Australia.
Earlier this month, he celebrated the 40th anniversary of his “century of centuries” in front of his home crowd at Headingley. He was only the 17th cricketer to achieve the historic landmark.
• Boycott will keep his job as a commentator on the BBC’s Test Match Special, the corporation confirmed in the wake of the “blacking up” controversy.
A BBC spokesman said: “He has rightly apologised unreservedly for these clearly unacceptable comments. He will be part of the team for the West Indies Tests.”
Boycott has become known for his sometimes scathing punditry.
Six years ago, he attracted complaints for criticising Michael Yardy when he returned home from the World Cup, suffering from depression. Boycott said on Radio 5 Live that he never had to worry about a mental battle because he was a “better player”.
In another broadcast, he said the England bowler Stuart Broad was not punished enough as a child. Discussing what he saw as Broad’s over-eagerness to appeal decisions, Boycott said: “His mum didn’t smack him enough, I reckon. I grew up in that (era). No political correctness then. You got a little clip from your mum. That sorted you out.”
Fellow Yorkshireman Fred Trueman said of Boycott’s commentary style: “If Geoffrey had played cricket the way he talked, he would have had people queuing up to get into the ground instead of queuing up to leave.”