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Why I love cricket... Sir Ian McGeechan on his first bat and bowling to Boycott

Sir Ian McGeechan OBE, 72, was born in Leeds. He was head coach of the British & Irish Lions rugby team for a record four times, in 1989, 1993, 1997 and 2009. As a centre or fly-half, he was capped 32 times by Scotland (1972-79) and appeared in eight

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Sir Ian McGeechan OBE, 72, was born in Leeds. He was head coach of the British & Irish Lions rugby team for a record four times, in 1989, 1993, 1997 and 2009. As a centre or fly-half, he was capped 32 times by Scotland (1972-79) and appeared in eight Tests for the Lions in 1974 and 1977. Knighted in 2010, he is now executive president of Yorkshire Carnegie RUFC.

The thing I really like about cricket is that you are challenged as an individual but your impact is on the team. I remember in the 1960s batting for Hunslet Nelson in the Leeds League for 30-odd overs, scoring only four runs, so we didn’t lose the game. We batted it out and won the league. I batted left-handed at No.6, 7 or 8 and was a natural left-arm swing bowler.

When I was at primary school, I lived probably no more than a mile from Headingley cricket ground. My school was on Kirkstall Lane and we always cheered when it was mentioned on the Test commentary. Every minute in the school yard we played cricket and when I went home we played for hours on cobbled streets. I’d be playing cricket at five or six years old, and the challenge was to stay in because the ball was coming in at all sorts of angles.

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"It was a privilege to bowl to an England opener"

After school, half a dozen of us would walk up to Headingley because at four o’clock they’d open the gates so we could watch the last two hours of the Test. We sat on the boundary edge and you had a fair chance of picking the ball up and throwing it back. We used to watch Yorkshire as well, and growing up my hero was Brian Close. Closey was as hard as nails and I recall seeing that photo of him in 1963 when he was black and blue after being hit by Wes Hall and Charlie Griffith.

So cricket was my first love and I’ve still got my first bat, a Gray-Nicolls. Rugby came later and holidays in Bridlington were spent playing Tests on the beach. I tried to copy Fred Trueman’s action and dragged my foot like him but mum told me off because I ended up with the toes out of my shoes. My Maths master at secondary school, Ken Dalby, loved cricket and knew Bill Bowes of Yorkshire and England. Ken asked Bill to watch me bowl at school and on the back of that, I was invited to the Yorkshire nets. Bill was really nice and we talked about Bodyline, Harold Larwood and Hedley Verity.

I was at the nets for three years and was therefore in the Yorkshire system. I’d get the train and the bus after school to Bradford Park Avenue where Yorkshire’s coach Arthur Mitchell would assess you all the time.

"That is my claim to fame. That I opened with Boycott"

Arthur was clever because he’d make you bowl against top-class batsmen like Close, Doug Padgett and Geoff Boycott. Geoff used to stay longer. He’d say… I want you to bowl at my off stump, I want you bowling short of a length. If you got it wrong you’d know about it, but as a kid, it was a privilege to bowl to an England opener. To be fair to Geoff, if it was a good ball, he’d say so.

Later, I played for the Yorkshire Federation side at 18 with Richard Lumb and Geoff Cope and got picked for the Yorkshire Colts. I came across Geoff Boycott again when I was selected for the Yorkshire Owls, a Sunday side made up of county players and good league cricketers. He was then playing for England and often batted through the 40 overs. But in one match, he got out early on and when we went in for tea, Geoff said he wanted to open the bowling and I opened at the other end. That is my claim to fame. That I opened with Boycott, but not the batting. 

I also remember in those days the England team was announced on Sundays on the BBC. In one game we had to wait before we went out until Geoff heard that he was in, and he was applauded on to the field. So here I was playing with a current England player and, yes, my ambition was to play for Yorkshire and I was possibly close to it, but Mike Bore, a similar bowler, did well for Yorkshire and then Notts.

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McGeechan in action against England at Twickenham

There was some cracking league cricket in the 1960s. I’d bowl around the wicket, but one occasion I switched to left-arm over at Heckmondwike and got something like 8 for 20. It was bending at right angles, but the best ball I ever bowled was in another match where I clean bowled Barry Wood, who went on to play for England.  

Growing up my favourite overseas star would be Garry Sobers. Nowadays, I like Virat Kohli and enjoy the Tests on television. Of today’s generation of England players, I admire Jonny Bairstow and Joe Root and loved seeing him get his hundred in the West Indies. I was most impressed with the brilliant job Jason Gillespie and Martyn Moxon did at Yorkshire when we won successive Championship titles. 

I like to see the individual control a game, which is why I admired so much Alastair Cook’s innings in his final Test at the Oval (147) last summer, but what I liked most about him was when he scored 766 Test runs in Australia in the 2010/11 series.  

This article was published in the April edition of The Cricketer - the home of the best cricket analysis and commentary, covering the international, county, women's and amateur game

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