Magazine article The Spectator

Gamesmanship, but Not Always Quite Cricket

Magazine article The Spectator

Gamesmanship, but Not Always Quite Cricket

Article excerpt

Michael Davie

BOYCS: THE TRUE STORY

by Uo McKinstry

Partridge, L (English pound)16 99, pp. 339 Despite its irritatingly chummy title `Boycs' being a nickname of the cricketer Geoffrey Boycott this book is far better and less gung-ho than most sports biographies.

Its great merit is its fair-mindedness, not an easy thing to achieve given its heavily criticised subject. Its second virtue is thoroughness. McKinstry has interviewed scores of players, administrators, family members, broadcasters and others who have had dealings with Boycott, even his tailor (`very meticulous').

McKinstry himself, rather exceptionally, is an admirer, regarding Boycott as a great Yorkshireman and a great batsman; `for me, the appeal lies in the way he embodies a heroic ideal'. In justification, he argues that outstanding players always attract criticism. He advances an original theory. Cricket naturally promotes jealousy, since it is based on a series of personal confrontations between bowler and batsmen, like knights in a jousting contest.

Besides, cricket is especially prone to `internal bitterness', McKinstry says; he finds it hard to think of any other group of males, apart from public schoolboys and submariners, who spend as much time cooped up together as professional cricketers. All this creates endless scope for bickering, with loners like Boycott becoming the focus for discontent.

McKinstry attempts to bolster his defence of Boycott by arguing that his problems with his colleagues are by no means unique. Sir Donald Bradman was loathed by some members of the Australian XI in the 1930s. The morose W. R. Hammond was widely disliked. Leonard Hutton, Cowdrey, Ray Illingworth, and Richard Hadlee were all targets of the same criticism as Boycott: playing for themselves instead of the team. In fact, says McKinstry, it is rare to find a great cricketer who is universally liked and respected among his peers. Is it? What about Denis Compton, Keith Miller or Sir Frank Worrell? The list could easily be extended.

From the interviews and stories a strange, awkward figure emerges: a quiet boy from a modest mining family, obsessed by cricket and his need to succeed, without outstanding natural talent but with exceptional dedication, turns into a noisy recordbreaking sportsman and a boastful, selfish, rude, financially greedy human being, sometimes half-crazed in his behaviour. …

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