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Boycott, the Comforter

24 May 2013


Mark Rylands recalls an impromptu masterclass at Trent Bridge



Balance all wrong: Mark Rylands at the crease during the 2011Church TimesCricket Cup final in Southgate

Balance all wrong: Mark Rylands at the crease during the 2011Church TimesCricket Cup final in Southgate

THIS time last year I was invited to watch England play West Indies in a Test cricket match at Trent Bridge. Sunshine, good company, and some superb cricket. It was a fantastic day.

But the day became even better when I met Geoffrey Boycott, the former England batsman and a current commentator on Test Match Special. My host knew him, and he got a text message from Geoffrey inviting us to join him when he had a break in between his commentary work. So we did. On a balcony overlooking the cricket, right behind the bowler's arm - the best spot.

We had half an hour together. I have to say I was a bit overawed and tongue-tied in the presence of the great man. But I needn't have worried, because Boycott loves talking about cricket and enjoys giving his opinions to anyone who will listen. So we had a conversation together but, in truth, it was more like an audience. He spoke, and we listened.


TOWARDS the end of the conversation, I summoned up the courage to ask him some questions about my own batting. I've always had trouble executing the square cut on the offside, and the clip off the legs. Sorry if this sounds technical. . .

I was amazed at the way the great man responded to me. I was expecting some disdainful comments and a few brief directions from Boycott that would put me straight on the matter. But I was wrong.

He suddenly became animated; asked me to show him how I stood at the crease and tried to play the shots. He found a bat, and got me to play the shots again.

Then he stood by me and showed me how my balance was all wrong for the cut shot, and I was not getting my angles right for the legside shot.

I am a left-handed batsman. He is right-handed. But he demonstrated playing left-handed for my benefit. He then stood right by me so I could copy him - how to play the different strokes. There on the balcony at Trent Bridge, in the middle of a Test match, I was given a coaching session by Geoffrey Boycott. He listened carefully, gave encouragement, and really helped me. He didn't just tell me what to do, he stood by me and showed me the way.

Pentecost is when the Church celebrates the coming of the Holy Spirit on the first followers of Jesus Christ. One of the names used for the Holy Spirit by Jesus is "paraclete" which means "helper", one who stands by you and pleads for you.

Jesus did not leave the disciples when he ascended to heaven and just tell his followers to get on with his work. He commanded them to wait for "the power from on high" that would come to assist them.

At Pentecost, we celebrate the Holy Spirit's coming to help us live and share the good news of God's love as seen in Jesus Christ. His presence is to guide, encourage, and help everyone in a good direction.

Like Boycott, God doesn't just tell us what to do and where to go, he shows us the way and helps us on it. He is a divine coach waiting for us to ask him for help. Why not?


The Rt Revd Mark Rylands is Bishop of Shrewsbury. This is the text of a talk given on Radio Shropshire.

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