IT’S not just cricket that makes Boycott & Aggers the best double act on the radio with almost one million hits for their podcast.
The blunt Yorkshireman and the urbane Leicestershire wily fox form the perfect partnership of analyst/assassin and commentator/wind-up merchant in the BBC’s Test Match Special box.
The combative combination of the not amused and the amusing in their close-of-play summaries has been essential listening in the contrasting home-and-away Ashes series.
And now Geoffrey Boycott and Jonathan Agnew are doing the live rounds with An Evening With Boycott and Aggers, a stage show that began with performances in each Test location last summer and resumes this month with Friday’s Harrogate Royal Hall date having sold out already.
“It was Jonathan’s idea,” said Boycott, immediately going on to praise his sparring partner. “He was a good bowler, played a couple of Tests, he’s a nice lad, and I think he’s found his forte on radio.
“He has a nice manner, does his homework; he’s got a good sense of humour and puts his questions not quite as straight as I answer them.”
Why does this partnership in podcast punditry work so well, Boycs?
“Because we don’t plan ’em. I don’t keep any notes. It’s spontaneous, and it’s the same with the theatre shows we’ve done. I don’t know what will come up,” he said.
What Boycott also did not foresee when conducting this interview before setting off to Australia was how England would slump from 3-0 Ashes winners last summer to 5-0 losers this winter.
“I do think this series will be closer because the Aussies will be more comfortable in their own environment but the fact is that I think we’re a little better than them,” he said at the time.
It did not pan out that way, but his advice on how to respond to adversity – originally dispatched in the direction of Australia before the Mitchell Johnson tornado struck so devastatingly – holds true for Captain Cook and his humbled England team.
“It’s what you do when you’re down that matters. Do you sit in the corner and cry or do you deal with it by showing character?” Boycott said. “You have to show good character, strong character.
“It’s the same principle when you’re playing cricket or when you’ve got cancer. (Boycott was diagnosed with throat cancer in 2002 at the age of 62).”
He points to success on the cricket field being cyclical, recalling the now-faded West Indies’ prowess under Clive Lloyd and Vivian Richards and Yorkshire’s lean years in the County Championship from 1968 to 2001 when David Byas’s side finally restored the White Rose to the sweet smell of success.
Now president of his county club, Boycott foresees Yorkshire’s revival under director of cricket Martyn Moxon and first team coach Jason Gillespie gaining further momentum after finishing second in the 2013 County Championship, even allowing for England call-ups.
“It’s our academy at Yorkshire that’s done its job producing youngsters. That’s good but the one sad thing is that there’s now so much international cricket we never see them again, like Joe Root, because of their success,” he said.
The stop-start international career of batsman/wicketkeeper/water carrier Jonny Bairstow is a different story.
Boycott is troubled by how the England management has treated Root’s fellow young Yorkshireman.
“They’re messing Jonny about,” he said. “Things were looking on the up and his confidence was high, but they sent him back to County Championship cricket before the end of the summer. He’s having a raw deal.”
Bairstow, as it turned out, was no better treated in the winter Ashes, having been thrown into the fourth Test as Matt Prior’s replacement behind the stumps after only limited match practice down under.
Nevertheless, Moxon and Gillespie will keep on supplying more Yorkshiremen for England.
Zimbabwe-born, Yorkshire-grazed Gary Ballance has followed Bairstow and Root into the Ashes middle order, and Boycott has marked out the next to make the grade. “It’ll be opener Alex Lees; he’ll play for England in two years,” he said.
“When you produce a lot of youngsters from the academy, as Yorkshire does, not everyone will be successful; some will fall by the wayside and go back to ‘normal’ jobs, but you’ve got to give them a chance.
“The kid you should watch is Azeem Rafiq (the 22-year-old all-rounder). He’s got a gift as a captain; if he can get his confidence back after his knee injury, he’ll be brilliant.”
Boycott reckons you are either born with captaincy skills or not. “You’ve got to have a feel for it, like Michael Vaughan had,” he said. “There’s no rhyme or reason to it; if you haven’t got it, you can’t put it there, but Rafiq’s got it. He could become one of the great Yorkshire captains of all time.”
At 73, Boycott remains the most outspoken voice in the commentary box, but he is adamant he “likes to be fair”. “I give the current players praise when they play well, but I don’t like bad cricket,” he said. “If I played a bad shot, I told myself off.”
You sense he does not believe today’s players do so to the same degree – why else would he have called for the maverick Kevin Pietersen to be dropped during the winter Ashes? – but he is an admirer of the modern-day game.
“The cricket played today is as interesting as it’s ever been. You’re getting runs, wickets, results, whether it’s Twenty20 or Test matches, with 75 per cent finishing in four days, as the game has changed,” he said. “The boundaries are shorter; the bats are heavier; the shots are hit harder; they hit it miles.”
Boycott is not averse to change. “I just say to people cricket’s always changed and it always will,” he said.
And to those who knock him for slow-scoring, he can point to the record books.
“My 146 against Surrey (in the 1965 Gillette Cup final) is still the highest score in a one-day final at Lord’s. It’s never been beaten.”
Geoffrey Boycott has just had the last word again…unless Aggers says otherwise on Friday.
An Evening With Boycott And Aggers, Harrogate Royal Hall, Friday, 7.30pm. Sold out. Proceeds will go to the Professional Cricketers Association’s Benevolent Fund.
Those attending can tweet Aggers live with questions on the Ashes, cricket or life in general.