Sir Ian Botham has played many roles Down Under – cricketer, sledger, destroyer, miscreant and bar-room brawler. Now add to that ‘trade envoy’.
Botham was, says the Sun, this week named as one of “ten new trade tsars” appointed by Boris Johnson’s government to represent the UK “in booming markets including Australia, New Zealand and Canada”.
“I have spent a significant amount of my career in Australia, and I am excited to have the opportunity,” said Botham, in the least incendiary quote he’s ever delivered about the old enemy.
A spokesperson for UK Secretary of State for International Trade Liz Truss said: “The Aussies love Beefy and he knows the country and the business community as well as anyone.”
“Love?” Really? At least Botham didn’t have the hide to pretend this imagined ‘love’ was mutual.
“Aussies are big and empty. Just like their country,” is one quote attributed to Beefy (although while famous, it could well be apocryphal).
There is no doubt, though, about his 2005 rallying cry to England’s team “that anyone who has played against [Australia] will tell you there is no better feeling than beating the convicts,” written in a column in the Sun.
A pugnacious and successful foe on the field, Botham has hardly endeared himself to Australians down the years.
There is no doubting his talent – the Headingley Test of 1981 stands as a monument to his dashing all-round skill.
But he’s also remembered here for being sacked by Queensland for misbehaving on a flight and the earlier bar-room brawl when he claimed to have decked Ian Chappell, sparking a feud that’s lasted 44 years.
Merv Hughes once gave a telling glimpse into Botham’s character in Sam Pilger’s excellent book The Ashes Match of My Life.
Hughes of course is a fine purveyor of sledging, so it’s insightful that this one from Botham stuck with him and fired him on in his career.
Hughes had tasted international cricket was dropped after an indifferent start, only to win a recall 11 months later to face England in the first Test at the Gabba in 1986.
“The Poms were favourites to retain the Ashes with an experienced team, while we were still rebuilding after the departure of several players on a rebel tour to South Africa,” wrote Hughes.
“By the time England had reached 4-198 in their first innings at the Gabba, I had trebled my total of Test wickets by claiming Mike Gatting and Allan Lamb and was feeling pretty good about myself. Then Ian Botham arrived at the crease.
“The England all-rounder gave me a terrible mauling, hitting me everywhere. I had no answers. If I pitched it up he just hit through the ball, if I bowled short he would hook or pull it.
“My inexperience was being ruthlessly exposed. A couple of his sixes went a long, long way. ‘Merv, these are going so far they might get frequent flyer points,’ laughed Dean Jones as he went to fetch them.
“It got ugly when Botham made 22 runs from a single over, scoring 2, 2, 4, 6, 4 and 4 off me. I am embarrassed to say it was a record for the most runs off an over in an Ashes Test. I would check the record books, desperately hoping some poor soul had been worse, and while I found there was once 24 scored off an over, it was from an eight-ball over.
“At tea on the second day, after Botham was finally out for 138, I was sitting outside our changing room watching the rain come down and trying to understand what had just happened when Botham came out of England’s room. ‘You probably don’t remember me,’ I said to him. ‘But I was at a coaching clinic you did at Benalla when you played grade cricket here in the 1970s.’
“‘Did I give you any good advice?’ he asked. ‘I told you I wanted to be a fast bowler, but you said I should take up tennis or golf because they were more enjoyable and better paid.’ He got up to leave, turned to me and said, ‘You should have listened to me.’
“I would think about those words during the next six years as I established myself as a Test player. I took 8-87 against the West Indies at Perth a year after being humbled in Brisbane, and then regained the Ashes in 1989 against an England side containing Botham. I had proved I was good enough to play for Australia.”
Botham’s clash with Chappelli in 1977 is clouded in he-said, she-said territory.
While both acknowledge the incident happened in a bar near the MCG during the Centenary Test, their versions of events and the exact source of their fight differ wildly.
Botham, then a 21-year-old with two one-dayers to his resume, was in bar when Chappell got under his skin with some forthright views on the English.
Chappell claimed Botham put a glass to his throat and warned him he would “cut him from ear to ear”. Botham has always denied the accusation.
But the fight did get physical.
The pair have had other clashes down the decades and it’s a feud destined to follow both men to their graves.
And if ScoMo has any sense of humour left, maybe he should give Chappelli a fancy title and send him in the opposite direction.