Sir Ian Botham: Media’s Favourite Child!
It was 1981 and the biggest rivalry in cricket, The Ashes was on. The young all-rounder from England, Ian was going through a woeful phase in international cricket. He scored a pair in the second match of the series at Lord’s. If you score a pair in Ashes and that too in Lord’s, you can expect your career to be over anytime soon. The very next day, the headline of a famous newspaper read ‘BOTHAM MUST GO’.
England started the 3rd Test match at Headingley with the odds of 500-1. They were moving towards an innings defeat and the only stand out performer till then, was that young all-rounder, Ian, who had scored a half-century in the 1st innings and also registered the figures of 6/95 with the bowl. When he walked out to bat in the 2nd innings, the Aussies were looking to wrap up things as soon as possible, but Ian had different ideas.
He smashed 149 runs, one of the finest innings in Test cricket. He was a perfect combination of aggression and focus on that day. With the help of his tail, he managed to set a target of 130 runs for the Aussies. Bob Willis, then put on an astonishing display of fast bowling picking up 8/43, and England registered a remarkable victory by 18 runs. It was only the second time that a team had won a Test match after following on. 36 years later, that young Ian is known as Sir Ian Terrence Botham and is one of the greatest men to play cricket ever.
About the Art
In the modern day cricket, players like Stuart Binny and Darren Sammy make it to the playing XI because they add balance to the side. With all due respect to them, they are only bits and piece players. They can chip in with some useful runs and roll their arms if needed too. Now imagine if you have a player in the team who can bat like Virender Sehwag, bowl like Dale Steyn and field in slips like Rahul Dravid. That was the kind of player, Sir Ian Botham was.
He is undoubtedly one of the best all-rounders to play the game and certainly the greatest to play for England. Yes! Even better than Andrew Flintoff. At his peak, he made pundits doubt over Sir Gary Sobers’ status as the greatest all-rounder too. He was the fastest to the double of 1000 runs and 100 wickets in Test cricket. With him, England was a side to reckon with, without him they were abysmal. He had the capability to change the game in just one session.
The Number Game
In 102 Test matches, he scored 5200 runs with the help of 14 centuries. He finished as England’s highest wicket taker with 383 wickets to his name, a record that was recently broken by James Anderson. He also picked up 120 catches, predominantly fielding in the slips. He scored another 2000 runs in ODIs and took 145 wickets too.
Read: Jimmy Anderson – The Greatest England bowler ever
He was given the nickname of ‘Beefy’ and also made 11 appearances for the football club Scunthorpe United. He led England in 12 matches in 1980-81 seasons and failed to win a single match. His side lost 4 matches while other 8 ended as draws. To his defence, 9 of those matches were against the strongest team of that era, West Indies.
A Treat for Media
British media has always had the luxury of a controversial sports person who gave them enough headlines. Before Kevin Pietersen and David Beckham, Ian Botham was media’s favourite child in England and he did his best to make it happen too. His self-belief turned into arrogance in no time. He once said, “Matches are won by inspiration and not preparation.”
Result? He was often missing from team meetings and practice sessions. David Gower revealed how England team meetings used to be in the 80s. He would talk about where to place the fielders and strategies for specific players and how to exploit their weaknesses, only for a visibly bored Botham to pipe up, “Can’t we just go out and beat them?”
He would often stay out late, partying and getting drunk. He would have his last beer, when Graham Gooch started his morning jog. The word ‘Hangover’ was missing from his dictionary and he did have the ability to launch Imran Khan into the stands after that. The question was not about his ability but it was the other players who were not as gifted as him. He was a bad influence on them.
Things were even worse when it came to bowling. His pride turned into an obsession. He used it to settle any argument and does it even today. Simon Hughes once saw Botham asking a waiter for ‘doe-lay-chetti’. He corrected Botham by saying that it’s ‘doll-chay-lattay’. Botham persisted with his version so Hughes politely repeated his correction and just then, the inevitable sentence appeared, “How many Test wickets did you take for England?” Just to tell you the irony, Simon Hughes never represented his country in international cricket.
Ian Botham was banned in 1986 for smoking cannabis. He made his comeback just two months later and surpassed Dennis Lillie’s tally of 355 wickets to become the leading wicket-taker in Test cricket back then.
When Anderson broke his record of highest wickets for England in Test cricket, Ian Botham congratulated him but questioned how many runs he can score against Botham’s 5200 runs! For him, it was always between ‘a star’ and ‘a not good enough’, there was no in between.
By the time he retired, most of the pundits were wondering if he did more harm than good to England cricket.
As a cricketer, he mastered his art and confidence in his abilities is something that an aspiring cricketer should learn from the great man.