© Getty Images
Bob Dylan and his cricketing connections © Getty Images

With Bob Dylan winning the Nobel Prize for literature, Arunabha Sengupta leans on Alan Tyers and Geoff Boycott to unearth a cricketing connection of the singer and songwriter.

With Bob Dylan winning the Nobel Prize for literature, we strummed the strings that bind cricket with music to find a suitable connection between the man and the noble game.

 Well, in the RGD that famously precedes the last name of Bob Willis, the ‘D’ does stand for Dylan. Perhaps it is legitimate to call the erstwhile fast bowler Bob ‘Dylan’ Willis, at least for the next few days. In fact, while some say it is a myth, Willis himself supposedly added the ‘Dylan’ bit in 1965 by deed poll, because he was a diehard fan.

However, even though the singer-song writer is American, his connection with cricket does not end there. And nor does it end with Ed Smith quoting distorted versions of his lines in his essays.

 True, Bringing It All Back Home did not refer to The Ashes. Neither did The Times They Are a-Changin’ hint at the One Day game, although it was indeed written when the limited overs game was breaking into the English county circuit.

The connection is a bit more tenuous than that. In fact, Alan Tyers, columnist of The Wisden Cricketer, does not remotely suggest that it was true. But what he penned in his Crickileaks was hilarious enough to earn Dylan a place in the annals of cricket in spite of the fictitious nature of the tale.

Dylan features in the spoofed diary entry of Geoff Boycott in the Tyers book. Makes one’s mouth water with the possibilities, does it not? And it does more than match the expectations.

Here is what, Boycott ‘writes’ through the pen of Tyers: “Ran into Bob Willis. He was listening to Bob Dylan on one of those iPod nonsenses. You can damage your hearing, I told him.” Curious that the name of Dylan should be brought up in connection with Bob ‘Dylan’ Willis. Was it a coincidence, or was it a calculated Easter egg?

Boycott continues to narrate how he came across Dylan years ago. Obviously, it was the batsman and not the singer who hogged the centre stage of the meeting.

“I first met Dylan when he came to watch me get a hundred on a seaming pitch at Scarborough in 1966. He asked me for a couple of tips and I told him my door’s always open. He were a nice lad. I liked his ladyfriend too, Joan Baez, nice girl, good player, knows when to keep her mouth shut.”

And with Boycott in his life, guess who inspired the great controversy that followed. It all started with his ‘going electric’. According to Tyers — or Boycott if you will — “Dylan was having some problems with his technique so I suggested to him that he should think about his head position and, if that didn’t work, go electric.” Going electric actually started in 1965, but it is too hilarious to nit-pick.

And supposedly the Yorkshire opener was right there during the night at Manchester Free Trade Hall when the infamous taunt was hurled at Dylan. Even if that meant crossing the Roses border. “I worked with him in the nets at old Trafford on the Friday and he said he’d give it a go at the Manchester Free Trade Hall the next evening. I played drums: I didn’t mind Dylan getting the limelight, I was never that sort of player.” That was perhaps Tyers’ greatest master touch.

The cry ‘Judas’ and the retort, “I don’t believe you, you’re a liar” have entered Dylan-folklore as the turning point of his career. However, it was not known earlier that the order of events was a bit different and also had the great Yorkshireman in the thick of things.

Here is how ‘Boycott’ describes the night: “The crowd were right on his back, as bad as I’ve seen, worse than when I got an important 63 not out against the Aussies at Brisbane earlier that winter. Anyway, Dylan started out with a lot of rubbish, acoustic stuff, and I shouted to him from behind the drum kit: ‘Visions Of Johanna – absolute roobish, my mother could play that wi’ a stick of rhubarb.’ He was mad as anything and he yelled back: ‘I don’t believe you, you’re a liar,’ and then he whispered that he reckoned Raymond Illingworth were twice the captain that I’d ever be. That was like a corkscrew in my heart. I shouted out ‘Judas’ and got the hell off the stage.”

Well, that seems more believable than most ‘real’ cricketing tales.

Towards the end of his diary entry, Boycott confesses that later he patched things up with Dylan, but Closey never quite rated him much.

(Arunabha Sengupta is a cricket historian and Chief Cricket Writer at CricketCountry. He writes about the history of cricket, with occasional statistical pieces and reflections on the modern game. He is also the author of four novels, the most recent being Sherlock Holmes and the Birth of The Ashes. He tweets here.)