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The day Botham left Boycott bewildered

  • Ben Long 

Run outs in cricket are an age-old comic book of laughter, humiliation and anguish.

There is nothing worse for a batsman than losing his wicket to a mix-up rather than an unplayable delivery.

One of the most infamous instances was England all-rounder Ian Botham deliberately running out his team’s opening batsman, Geoffrey Boycott.

The year was 1978 and the scene was a warm evening in Christchurch. England required quick runs in order to set up a declaration against the hosts, New Zealand, who had just narrowly avoided the follow-on.

“Boycs”, however, decided not to take the approach that the situation demanded as he felt his batting average was more important.

Inexplicably, England captain and premier fast bowler, Bob Willis, subsequently decided that the stubborn Yorkshireman ought to be run out. He instructed Botham, the next man in to bat: “Run that b******d out. We need to hurry up.”

And so he did. During the very first delivery Botham faced, he proceeded to sell Boycs down the river. Yes, no, yes, no, sorry.

A dismayed Boycott was in disbelief: “What have you done? What have you done?” Botham’s response was typically colourful: “I’ve run you out you ****.”

Just before trudging off, Boycott murmured: “What about my average?”

Boycott proved something of a pantomime villain throughout the series. During the previous test he was at his notoriously defensive ‘best’, grinding his way to a desperate 77 runs off 302 balls. Perhaps the most notoriously conservative great batsman of all time, there were times when the Yorkshireman appeared to forget scoring runs was the main objective of cricket.

With others falling around him, Boycs twice refused to walk after the umpire failed to give him out for nicking to slip, provoking anger from spectators, opposing players and perhaps even teammates.

If you wanted to be kind to Geoff you would point out it was a low-scoring match played in very bowler-friendly conditions, but nevertheless by the time he was dismissed he had arguably done more damage than good to England’s cause.

His eventual wicket led to the wildest of celebrations in the stands, from both sides.

Boycott finished his playing days with 8,114 test runs and 48,426 first-class runs in a controversial career of doing things his way.

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