It's a scenario we have probably all experienced in club cricket. Your side needs quick runs, but there's a guy in the middle who can't get the ball off the square. What do you do? You try and run him out, of course. But that's club cricket. Surely it doesn't happen at international level? Well, rarely, but it does.

The most infamous example of this sort at the highest level occurred on the fourth day of the second Test between New Zealand and England in Christchurch in February 1978. And the characters involved were two of the most stubborn in the game at the time - Geoff Boycott and Ian Botham.

England had travelled to New Zealand from a gruelling tour of Pakistan, and they did so without their captain, Mike Brearley, who had flown home after having his arm broken. In his place Boycott, who had only returned from a three-year self-imposed exile the summer before, took over the captaincy. It was a long-cherished ambition for him but he faced a tough job given his relationship with some team-mates was strained.

The first Test, in Wellington, had been a disaster that ended with England being bowled out for 64 when chasing a target of 137, handing the hosts their first win over England after 46 years of trying.

Boycott made 77 in England's first innings, but the manner in which he made it - it took seven hours and 22 minutes - impressed nobody. "He never attempted a scoring stroke off anything but the rankest long hops," wrote John Woodcock in the Times. "The effect this has is to depress the other batsmen infinitely more than the opposing bowlers. Boycott is an institution rather than an inspiration."

Don Mosey, in his book Boycott, noted that by the time the side reached Christchurch "the players were making no secret of their dislike of him... and the cricket correspondents largely despised him".

He was also struggling. Since arriving in New Zealand he had made 124 runs in six first-class innings outside the Tests and, Woodcock wrote, his batting had "become even more careworn and cautious", adding that he was "in danger of driving others to distraction rather than derring-do".

Also in the squad was Botham, the precocious 22-year-old allrounder who had made his Test debut in the same match in which Boycott had made his dramatic return the previous summer, but who had not played in any of the three Pakistan Tests after coming down with amoebic dysentery.

Botham bounced back in New Zealand, hitting his maiden hundred to get England out of a hole in the first innings in Christchurch - Boycott had made 8 and was also embroiled in an incident triggered by the dismissal of New Zealand opener Robert Anderson, who was bowled round his legs by a delivery from Phil Edmonds that bit out of the rough. Anderson waited for the umpire's decision, indicating he thought the ball had missed the stumps and that wicketkeeper Bob Taylor had knocked off the bails.

Mark Burgess, the New Zealand captain and the non-striker, made his views clear and there were some spirited exchanges. The crowd started jeering England and chanting "Cheats" and "All Poms are bastards." Asked at the close about the situation, Boycott did not mince his words. "It doesn't bother us… we only have to put up with it for another ten days. I don't see why foul-mouthed drunks should be allowed to drive people away from the game."

Although England took a lead of 183, their second innings did not start until the fourth afternoon, and quick runs were needed if they were to have enough time to bowl the New Zealanders out and in doing so level the series.

Brian Rose opened with Boycott and the pair set off at a funereal pace. In his book A Cricketing Hero Leo McKinstry wrote that as they prepared to head out, Rose said: "I suppose we're going to go out and slog it?" to which Boycott replied: "You play it your way, I'll play it mine."

When Rose fell for 7 England had crawled to 25 for 1 after 80 minutes. Boycott was all at sea, barely able to get the ball off the square. Pushing for quick runs was the last thing he needed or was likely to do.

Derek Randall came in to get things moving and was finding his feet when he was controversially run out by Ewen Chatfield while backing up. No warning was given, and England were livid. "New Zealand's reputation for fair play is in the gutter after the meanest act I have seen on a cricket field," was Pat Gibson's conclusion in the Daily Express.

Botham was promoted to No. 4 by vice-captain Bob Willis with the aim of quick runs - and also with a specific order from Willis to "go and run the bugger [Boycott] out". Given the mental state of the tour party, it was a sentiment that probably echoed what they were all feeling.

Botham's first job was to let Chatfield know what he thought of his behaviour, and he then walked on to meet Boycott, who told him how he was struggling. Botham smiled and told him not to worry, and that he would sort it.

After 20 minutes the chance came. Botham called for the most improbable of singles, and by the time a bemused Boycott realised what was happening and tried to send his partner back, it was too late and Botham had run past him before he could regain his ground at the non-striker's end.

"He never stood a chance," admitted Botham. "What have you done, what have you done," Boycott muttered as it dawned on him he was out. Botham's response - allegedly, "I've run you out, you ****" - has gone down in folklore. "I couldn't look at him," Botham added. "I cracked up and had to go for a walk around the back of the umpire."

In his 1987 autobiography, Boycott barely mentions the incident, except to say: "Botham claims to have run me out deliberately, a story that gets bigger and more fanciful with every telling."

As captain, Boycott should have put the matter behind him, but at the close some 25 minutes later Botham said he returned to the pavilion to find Boycott sitting with a towel over his head. Team-mates said he had been muttering to himself, "What am I doing? Playing with children?"

Eventually Edmonds approached him: "Okay Boycs, what are we doing now?" From under his towel, Boycott replied: "You and Willis are in charge of this tour... you work it out."

That hostile atmosphere continued the following morning. Most people expected England, 279 ahead, to declare, but Boycott wanted to use the heavy roller to try to break the surface up a bit, and that meant batting on, even if only for one ball. There were heated discussions, and Boycott walked round the outfield agonising, before the sheer weight of his team's opinions won through. Fifteen minutes before the start he told Burgess that he had declared.

What the morning's antics did do was to wind Willis up, and he ripped through New Zealand's top order with 4 for 14. As for Botham, Boycott hadn't forgiven him, and refused to talk to him even when he was bowling, sending messages via other fielders. "Whoever was fielding at cover or mid-off would be sent over to me to say, 'Boycs wants to know if you want another slip', and I would respond 'That would be nice.' The fielder would trot over to Boycs and pass on the message."

England won the match with plenty to spare, bowling New Zealand out for 105.

Boycott and Botham continued to be team-mates for another three years, and for a spell in 1980 to 1981, roles were switched and Botham was Boycott's captain. Suffice to say neither, for entirely different reasons, succeeded in the role.

What happened next?

  • Boycott was not retained as captain for the following summer and a fit-again Brearley resumed. Writing in the Sunday Times in 1983, Brearley said that "when he took over after I broke my arm, [Boycott] won little except the recognition he was not the man to captain England"
  • The third Test in Auckland was drawn and so the series ended at 1-1. Boycott batted almost four hours for 54

Boycott Don Mosey (Penguin, 1986)
My Autobiography Geoff Boycott (Headline, 1987)
My Autobiography Ian Botham (Collins Willow, 1994)
Geoff Boycott: A Cricketing Hero Leo McKinstry (HarperCollinsWillow, 2005)

Martin Williamson is executive editor of ESPNcricinfo and managing editor of ESPN Digital Media in Europe, the Middle East and Africa