Not even a 250-run partnership can dampen his spirits!
Often I wonder which cricketer has tormented the Australians the most.
Is it Harold Larwood? Vivian Richards? Michael Holding? No. No one has ever troubled the Aussies more than Ian Botham. Beefy has been a perennial fly in their rival’s ointment throughout his career.
Botham was a highly gifted and maverick cricketer, with his fair share of controversies too. From deliberately running out Geoff Boycott (a young rising star Botham was prodded to do so at the behest of his teammates, as he was least likely to face retribution) – to smoking marijuana, breaking the bed while bedding Miss Barbados in middle of a Caribbean tour, crossing mountains a la Hannibal on an Elephant, calling the English selectors “Gin soaked Doddlers”.
The list is endless.
In the 1978-79 tour Down Under against a Australian team depleted by Kerry Packer’s, Botham played a crucial role in England’s 5-1 series win. Despite their rout, the star Aussie bowler Rodney Hogg got 41 wickets against the Pommies.
That series saw Botham and Hogg engaged in a friendly duel, challenging themselves to take each other’s wickets. No sure who won, but looking at the scorecards of the six match Test series will tell you that both dismissed each other quite a few number of times. In the same series Botham reportedly spent one night in a nightclub, but next day he was back on pitch looking as fresh from the oven.
Just a year later, the English toured Australia yet again, with the hosts bolstered by the return of their star players like Chappell and Lillee from the Packers series. Australia white washed England 3-0, but Botham carved his niche by scoring a century and taking 20 odd wickets with a ten-wicket haul in a Test. Not bad at all for a player from a losing squad in a three-Test series.
The best performance of Botham in an Ashes series was yet to come. In 1981, Kim Hughes led Australians to a six-Test series in England. Entering the third Test in Leeds, the Aussies had already taken a 1-0 lead, with Dennis Lillee and Terry Alderman wrecking havoc on the English batting line up.
After being dropped from the captaincy, Beefy was replaced by Mike Brearley, an OK batsman with a career average of 22+, an idiosyncratic psychoanalyst (known to scribble down his dreams on a piece of paper next to his bed), but a man with outstanding leadership quality.
Brearley was a great motivator, regarded as one of the brainiest captains in cricket’s history. No doubt, he brought the best out of the English players, especially Botham who the captain knew was down due to his poor performance and removal from the captaincy – but not done yet.
Free from the baggage of captaincy and nothing to lose, Botham arrived at the crease with England reeling at seven for 137 in the second innings, with a target of 300+ to avoid follow on. What followed was a merciless annihilation of the Australian bowlers with Botham scoring an unbeaten 149.
Defending a meagre lead of 140 sometimes, the English snatched an improbable victory by 30 odd runs, with Bob Willis taking 8/43.
With series squared, a resurgent England team powered by Botham who scored another century with multiple five wicket spells to guide the Pommies to a 3-1 win. 1981 was clearly Botham’s Ashes.
In the subsequent 1982-83 Ashes held Down Under, Australia won the series at 2-1. As usual Botham played his role in the only English victory, by taking the crucial last wicket of Jeff Thompson, snatching a narrow three run in Melbourne. Beefy yet kept his reputation as the thorn on the Aussies flesh.
The 1985 return Ashes tour to England ended in the host’s favour, with Botham contributing more with ball than bat, claiming about 30 wickets.
The English returned to Australia in 1986 and won the series handsomely. There was this bowler Simon Davis, who just the year before, kept the Indian hard hitter Kris Srikkanth at bay by his tight bowling. Botham destroyed that myth by hitting him for 24 runs in an over, kind of rare those days, virtually sealing Davis’ career. Allan Lamb did the same to Bruce Reid in that series. Both Davis and Reid didn’t last long.
Botham kept on hunting the Aussies, culminating one last time in their crucial game in 1992 World Cup, last time the English team went to a Cup final.
His all rounder performance of four wickets for 30 runs, followed by a swashbuckling 53 was instrumental in preventing Australia from reaching the semifinals. This saga of Botham, Ashes and Botham’s Ashes will forever be etched in the annals of cricketing history.