Only Yorkshire CCC’s Michael Vaughan can pick up Geoffrey Boycott’s microphone
He is cricket’s answer to the late Brian Clough, the football manager with whom he was friends.
Like Clough, whom he resembles in terms of charisma and magnetism, Boycott has always split opinion.
Indeed, Marmite might have been invented with the Yorkshireman in mind, a spread that bore the slogan ‘Love it or hate it’.
Plenty love Boycott, and plenty hate him.
Rare are those who are ambivalent towards him; people usually have an opinion about a man with more opinions than you could shake a jar of Marmite at.
It is why some will welcome Boycott’s departure from BBC Test Match Special after 14 years and why others, myself included, will lament it.
Why? Because top-class summarisers are thin on the ground.
Indeed, one only has to listen to the endless “bants” (banter) that goes on now among those recently-retired players who pervade the commentary box to know that is so.
Banter was never Boycott’s forte – only crystal-clear analysis that went straight to the point.
Whether you agreed with him or not (and I agreed with practically everything that he said about the game), it was difficult to take your ears off a man who dominated the airwaves in much the same way that he dominated the batting creases of England and abroad.
It is why Boycott, no matter what his enemies may say, or the mistakes he has made, will be desperately difficult for the BBC to replace.
Whether they realise this, though, or even care is another matter; any organisation that can hand jobs to some of the recently-retired players it hands jobs to has, in my opinion, long since abandoned the broadcasting values of the great John Arlott and Christopher Martin-Jenkins.
With the notable exception of Michael Vaughan, a superb analyst who strikes the right tone between opinion and humour, there are a lot of terribly lightweight commentators/summarisers now – people whose words tend to go in one ear and out of the other.
Put it like this, you are hardly hanging on to the words of such folk while doing the ironing, whereas Boycott was so compelling, so controversial and so downright hilarious at times that you were liable to forget that you even had the iron plugged in.
It has been reported that there were moves to “move him on” anyway, while the restrictions around the coronavirus would have made it hard for someone of his age/recent health issues to have worked this summer.
But all I would say is, be careful what you wish for.
Do we really want to listen to recently-retired players trying to outdo one another in the jokes department every five minutes, or extolling the virtues of the latest game on Xbox?
Personally, I’d rather do the ironing – your ironing.
Another point is Boycott’s historical appreciation.
For as someone who played his first Test match 56 years ago this week, and who first opened the batting for Yorkshire in 1962, he is an important link to a bygone age.
Unlike many working in the commentary box today, he recognises and values the history of the game; who now is going to reference Fred Trueman, for instance, or the great Don Bradman and Wally Hammond, the heroes of yore?
Last Saturday, the BBC screened highlights of the 1984 Test match between England and the West Indies at Lord’s.
You know the one: Gordon Greenidge whacked a double hundred and West Indies chased a whopping 342 to win by nine wickets.
What struck me, as I listened to Richie Benaud, Jim Laker et al on commentary, was that they understood, like Boycott, the art of timing.
They knew, as Boycott knew, that when you are on the television, for example, that you don’t need to talk all the time because viewers can see the action themselves.
Such men appreciated the art of silence and the need to allow the cricket to breathe.
Contrast that with the endless yapping that goes on now (I’m thinking specifically – although far from exclusively – about some of the New Zealand TV commentators), and I often find myself resorting to the old Trueman trick of turning off the sound.
Of course, if you put several recently-retired players together in the same commentary slot, almost certainly without any form of media training, then it should be pretty obvious what’s going to happen – constant chat, an overload of technical information that goes above most people’s heads and that dreaded word “bants”.
Practically the only time that there is any silence is in that precious split second between when the bowler releases the ball and the batsman plays the shot; either that or when the adverts are on.
Granted, Boycott’s style – whether on television or radio – was sometimes outrageous.
He has said things that made you think, “flipping ’eck, Geoffrey, you can’t say that”; like Brian Clough, he has never been one to sit on the fence.
But as a summariser and upholder of cricket’s traditions, who understands the game both vintage and modern, and who transitions between the two with effortless ease in perfectly-crafted sentences, by the way, he has always been in a class of his own.
As that well-known Twitter sage Sir Fred Boycott put it, astutely paraphrasing Brian Clough himself: “Sir Geoff might not have been the best summariser in the world, but he was in the top one.”
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