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Boycott's Headingley heaven

In Yorkshire in August 1977 news of Elvis Presley's death and England regaining the Ashes paled into insignificance as Geoff Boycott scored his hundredth hundred

Martin Williamson

August 25, 2007

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The on drive that brought Geoff Boycott his hundredth hundred © The Cricketer

The world's headlines in August 1977 were dominated by the death of Elvis Presley. In England, the regaining of the Ashes against a weak and divided Australian side vied for its place on the front pages. In Yorkshire, both paled into insignificance over the small matter of Geoff Boycott's hundredth hundred, a feat all the more notable as he achieved it in an Ashes Test, and in front of his home crowd.

A month earlier Boycott was not even in the England side. He had made himself unavailable in 1974 for complex reasons, at least one of which was his unhappiness with the captaincy. He remained in self-imposed exile for more than three years before announcing he was once again ready to play, in July.

Reaction to his return was mixed, with the anti-Boycott lobby angry that he had sat out the batterings inflicted by Australia in 1974-75 and West Indies in 1976. His supporters were just happy to see such a quality and reliable opener back in the national colours. His return was typically bittersweet. He made a hundred at Trent Bridge, but ran out Derek Randall, the local hero, in doing so. However, England won the match to go 2-0 up in the five-game series, and the scene switched to the fourth Test at Headingley.

In between, Boycott played one Championship match for Yorkshire, scoring his 99th first-class hundred. Boycott, usually in the limelight anyhow, was subjected to even more attention as the media speculated that No. 100 might come in the Test.

Boycott is ushered off the field at the close of play by a BBC technician determined to grab him for an interview ... © The Cricketer

"I avoided all their attentions as best I could," Boycott recalled of the eve of the match, "but the pressure mounted steadily." He didn't sleep well, calling the night porter in his hotel to fix his room's air conditioning before eventually resorting to the unfamiliar - for him - step of taking sleeping pills. Along the corridor Mike Brearley, his captain, was relaxing by reading Zen In The Art Of Archery by Eugen Herrigel.

Boycott woke late and rushed to the ground "feeling tired and listless". What he needed was for England to lose the toss and field. Brearley won it and batted.

The day was perfect - possibly slightly too hot - and Boycott, who lost Brearley in the first over, was in good nick. The tiredness went and he was timing the ball sweetly.

At lunch he had made 36, at tea 79. On 22, he had been dropped by Rod Marsh, diving wide and low to his right, and almost immediately after the start of the last session had survived a vociferous appeal for another catch by the wicketkeeper - "which grew more passionate the clearer it became that umpire Alley was unmoved". Boycott was on 80 at the time and claimed it had brushed his wristband.

Others apart from the Australians were no less convinced. "He got a big nick on one just before I went in," Graham Roope recalled. "Tony Greig was in with him at the time. Ray Bright was bowling and the whole ground heard it. Marsh caught it. He stood there and got given in. Marsh jumped up and down. I was next in. I tell you how much that it was out ... I got up off my seat and put my gloves on and he got given not out and I sat down very quickly."

... and the interview with Peter West takes place ... Boycott sips champagne as he watches the stroke that brought up the hundred © The Cricketer

"They thought they had me," Boycott said, "but then the Aussies thought they had me many times over the years and they didn't. I didn't worry about it. I just knuckled down and got on with it."

"Boycott kept plodding along," wrote John Woodcock in The Times, "taking infinite care not only in the production of his strokes, but in checking his guard, clearing out his block."

Shortly before 6pm Greg Chappell bowled to Boycott. "I saw it then with something approaching elation ... as soon as it left his hand I knew I was going to hit it and I knew where I was going to hit it. Long before it pitched I knew what I was going to do, as though I was standing outside myself."

The on-drive was perfect, causing Graham Roope, the non-striker, to jump out of the way, and the ball raced across a brown outfield. No sooner had it left the bat than Boycott lifted both arms aloft and then, as the reality of the occasion sunk in, he folded his arms over his head. The crowd enveloped the middle. "It was like knowing the weather is hot without being aware of the temperature," Boycott said. "It was all just noise. It was the most magical moment of my life."

There were officially 22,000 in the ground, but the club had opened the gates at tea and so there were probably far more inside Headingley than that. "Hundreds of youngsters, and many of their fathers, too, enveloped a hero they had long waited all day to acclaim," wrote Terry Brindle in The Yorkshire Post. "He was swallowed from view, trying desperately to shake a hundred hands at once, trying equally desperately not to be hoisted on to a dozen pairs of shoulders. And when the more delirious of his admirers left, Boycott faced a swell of congratulation which echoed and re-echoed round the ground until it seemed it would never end."

"The thing that sticks in my memory most of all was the aftermath," Roope told Cricinfo last year before his untimely death. "Lots of people ran on the pitch and I'm trying to shield him away and someone pinched his cap and ran off to the Western Terrace. He was going spare and refused to play until he got his cap back. Joe Lister [the Yorkshire secretary] announced over the tannoy could it be brought back and the guy eventually handed it back to the police who passed it on to an Australian who handed it, very reluctantly, to Boycs. He wasn't the Australians' favourite man."

My dad had a full pint of Tetley's. When Geoff struck the on drive, my dad and I and the rest of the crowd jumped in the air. However, my dad slipped and poured the entire pint of Tetley's down the neck of the lady sitting in front. She didn't notice for at least 15 minutes

Freda Watson as told to The Yorkshire Post

The delay was seven or eight minutes, during which time the Australians sat down on the outfield, but play did resume and by the close Boycott was on 110. He returned to the dressing room to find it packed with well-wishers, but possibly not ones that he wanted to see. "There weren't too many of my rank-and-file supporters [there] not too many personal friends and none of my family. There were plenty of celebrities from the Yorkshire committee, though, who had sharpened the knife for me and would do it again when it suited them.

"'We must do something, we really must', said [committee member Desmond] Bailey. And they did. A year later those same men voted to sack me from the Yorkshire captaincy."

Boycott slipped away for dinner and celebrated with a glass of champagne. "It was only in the days that followed that I realised how many people had become caught up in the drama."

He resumed the next day and went on to score 191, his highest score against Australia, and was the last man out. England won the match by an innings and with it the Ashes.

Is there an incident from the past you would like to know more about? E-mail us with your comments and suggestions.

Boycott by Don Mosey (Penguin, 1985)
Boycott by Geoff Boycott (Corgi, 1987)
The Ashes Regained by Mike Brearley (Pelham, 1977)
The Yorkshire Post
The Cricketer
Wisden Cricketers' Almanack

Martin Williamson is executive editor of Cricinfo.

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Martin Williamson Executive editor Martin Williamson joined the Wisden website in its planning stages in 2001 after failing to make his millions in the internet boom when managing editor of Sportal. Before that he was in charge of Sky Sports Online and helped launch and run Sky News Online. With a preference for all things old (except his wife and children), he has recently confounded colleagues by displaying an uncharacteristic fondness for Twenty20 cricket. His enthusiasm for the game is sadly not matched by his ability, but he remains convinced that he might be a late developer and perseveres in the hope of an England call-up with his middle-order batting and non-spinning offbreaks. He is now managing editor of ESPN EMEA Digital Group as well as his Cricinfo responsibilities.

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