Geoff Boycott began the 1965 Gillette Cup Final batting carefully on a tricky pitch with an outfield slowed up by heavy overnight rain.
It was slow going, and Boycott was not in the best of form. After two strong seasons and a brilliant first overseas tour with England the previous winter, he was in the first real run-drought of his career. Ten times that season he had passed 50 in first-class cricket without once going on to three figures. Fluent strokeplay was not normally his trademark anyway, but in 1965 even patience and technique didn’t seem to be doing the trick.
After 12 overs, Yorkshire had reached just 22 against tight bowling from Geoff Arnold and David Sydenham when Boycott’s opening partner Ken Taylor steered a catch to gully. Yorkshire captain Brian Close had been batting down at five or six earlier in the competition. Legend has it that Close now promoted himself to number three purely in order to threaten that he would run Boycott out if he didn’t start to score faster. Given what then happened, it’s an appealing story, although Boycott himself later said that the promotion of the left-handed Close had been a planned strategy to combat the left-arm seam of Sydenham. Whatever the truth of the matter, score faster he did, to the tune of 146 in Yorkshire’s total of 317 for 4. Together with Close, he added 192 in less than three hours. Surrey were bowled out for just 142.
Just three years into his county career, Boycott already had a reputation as a steady, relentless accumulator. For the 25,000 strong Lord’s crowd to see him suddenly cut loose, striking 15 fours and three sixes was akin to a mass revelation. For his critics, already as persistent as Boycott’s appetite for runs, the innings offered hope of a new direction. Writing in The Cricketer before England set off for their winter tour of Australia and New Zealand, John Woodcock expressed the hopes of many: “I only hope that the Boycott who fastens his seat-belt at London Airport next week is the same man who made 146 against Surrey and who won the award as Man of the Match. It is quite likely that Boycott will open England’s innings for a decade to come. The prospect of his doing so in his ascetic mood is hard to entertain.”
As it turned out, Boycott would spend much of the next 17 years opening the batting for England. Rarely, if ever, did he do so in the style he displayed that September day at Lord’s in 1965.