Theresa May and Geoffrey Boycott
Theresa May (L) and Geoffrey Boycott (AFP Photo)

It says something about Britain’s fondness for a sport continental Europeans often find baffling that as Theresa May battles with Brexit, the prime minister has compared herself to England cricket great Geoffrey Boycott.

At a press conference on Thursday, after the resignation of four ministers including Brexit secretary Dominic Raab and calls from within her own party for her to resign, a reporter asked May if she should quit as “captain”.

“One of my cricket heroes was always Geoffrey Boycott,” May replied. “And what do you know about Geoffrey Boycott? Geoffrey Boycott stuck to it and he got the runs in the end.”

May emphasised the point in a radio interview on Friday: “The thing about Geoffrey Boycott was he was absolutely steady. He kept there at the crease, he carried on. He, if you like, just relentlessly went for his goal and I think that’s important.”

During an England career that ran from the mid 1960s to the early 1980s, Boycott piled up the runs and became known as one of the best defensive batsmen of his generation.

As an opener, Boycott had the difficult task of taking on the opposition’s fast bowlers when they were at their freshest and most menacing.

Boycott, now a cricket pundit, took the responsibility seriously, not least because he had grown up in the cricket heartland of Yorkshire, representing the northern county throughout his entire career.

Openers who got out to a reckless shot were not so much guilty of a mistake as moral degeneracy in the eyes of Yorkshire’s most ardent followers.

Batsmen lower down the order could play the more attractive, flashy and crowd-pleasing strokes, yet it was often a solid, unspectacular hundred by Boycott that put his team in a winning position.

Let down by his own side

It is easy to see how these qualities might have appealed to May, trying to secure a Brexit deal on a “sticky wicket” — a popular cricketing metaphor in Britain used to describe difficult circumstances.

Boycott’s career, however, was also hugely controversial, including a three-year period of self-imposed exile from England duty and repeated accusations he was a “selfish” batsman, more concerned with his own figures than the team’s success.

Indeed the low point of his brief time as England captain came when he was deliberately run-out by Ian Botham during a 1978 Test match in New Zealand because it was felt his slow-scoring was endangering the side’s chances of victory.

Conservative MP Greg Hands tweeted a passage from Boycott’s biography referring to the incident.

Asked by the Press Association news agency if he was drawing a parallel with the current situation in the Conservative Party, he replied: “I’m just a keen student of 1980s cricket.”

In Yorkshire, Boycott commanded both fierce loyalty and bitter dislike in a manner more akin to the passions generated by Jeremy Corbyn, the leader of Britain’s main opposition Labour Party, than May.

There were repeated moves to sack and reinstate Boycott.

May’s foes will hope they need just the one attempt to force her from office.

She does though retain an ally in Boycott when it comes to rejecting calls for a second Brexit referendum.

In a September television interview, Boycott said of those campaigning for another ballot: “They just want to keep having a new vote until they get what they want.

“They’re like a spoilt child in the playground where in the old days the teacher would’ve given them a smack.”