It’s the last day of the first-class season, and for a few it will be the last day as a professional cricketer. Some will go willingly, some even gladly, most less so. More will be sensing that the end is not yet, but is not far away; the fine edge is ebbing from their game, sliding away bit by bit.
I’ve just re-read the pages on Geoffrey Boycott’s final seasons in Leo McKinstry’s tour-de-force biography, Boycs. The fading of Boycott’s power manifested itself in a particular way: he became almost strokeless even by his standards. In 1984, as McKinstry records, he made 60 in 52 overs against Somerset, 53 in 51 overs versus Derbyshire, 17 in 26 overs against Leicestershire, 77 in 67 overs against Sussex, 33 in 32 against Northamptonshire, and perhaps most grievously, 25 in 27 in a one-day game against Shropshire that Yorkshire lost. In all he made 1567 runs that summer at 62 per innings, but it took him 1200 overs.
Astonishingly, the following season, aged almost 45, he made another 1657 runs at 75.31, leaving him second to Viv Richards in the averages. Playing against Hampshire at Middlesbrough, facing his old friend and rival Malcolm Marshall – Macco loved to bowl at Geoffrey – he made 115 even as Marshall took 5-48 to rout the remaining Yorkshire batting.
It was still going though, and he could probably feel it. In his final season, in his last match, he needed 69 runs to make a thousand, something he’d done every year since 1962. He was playing against Northants at Scarborough. Jim Love ran him out for 61 in the first innings, and after Boycott had advised his skipper to enforce the follow-on, Northants survived and timed their second-innings declaration in such a way that he was not able to go in again.
More than a decade later, he remembered the day in an interview with the Telegraph: ‘Something had come to an end, something wonderful. I just thought, this is it then. I waited for the ground to clear. Then I wondered around on my own, among all the newspapers and food wrappers and tin cans’.
That’s how things ended for Geoffrey, because that’s how things end sometimes, alone, among the wrappers and the tin cans. It’s no less glorious in its way.