Hit 'em and smile: Botham was the face of the '81 Ashes
Hit 'em and smile: Botham was the face of the '81 Ashes
Bat well, bowl well and catch well - that's how simple the game was for Ian Botham
"See, told you it wouldn't take long." That is how Ian Botham signed off in Sharjah recently, after a chat about being one of the game's greatest allrounders.
There are no signs of Botham slowing down. He recently turned 60, but by the time of the Boxing Day Test between South Africa and England in Durban he would have completed another of his famous walks, acts of charity he is now as synonymous with as he once was with acts of heroism on the cricket field. He has been, and continues to be, one of the few England cricketers to truly transcend the sport.
Botham can make cricket sound like a simple game. It has never been something he has lived and breathed: turn up (perhaps after a night out), score some runs, take some wickets and grab some catches. Except he did it all with such breathtaking success that two of his three performances make the top ten of the Cricket Monthly's 50 greatest Test performances from the last 50 years.
"I wanted to get Viv out, sort him out one way or the other, but that doesn't mean that at the end of the day you can't all go and have a beer"
That is not to suggest that Botham, who marked his debut with 5 for 74 against Australia at Trent Bridge in 1977, did not put the hours into his game, or work mighty hard to be the player he was; he says there was little time for modern-day training regimes because he was always playing (although you doubt whether he would have been a fan of doing things the 21st-century way). Would the modern game have allowed him to be the cricketer he was?
The sport may never see another era like the one Botham was part of, among that quartet of great allrounders. Together Botham, Kapil Dev, Imran Khan and Richard Hadlee scored 17,379 Test runs and took 1610 Test wickets, in a period beginning with Imran's debut in 1971 and ending in 1994, when Kapil finally hung up his boots. The four were different cricketers, but it remains one of the game's great, endlessly fascinating debates as to who was the greatest.
The three performances from Botham include two from the most talked-about series ever - the 1981 Ashes - and one that is given much less exposure, but actually pre-dated his Ashes heroics: the Jubilee Test in 1980.
"Cricket was never very high on my topics after hours. I left it where it should be left"
© Getty Images
"Cricket was never very high on my topics after hours. I left it where it should be left" © Getty Images
Of 1981 what else is there left to say? Headingley is the stuff of legend, although Bob Willis' spell on the final day was what actually won the match. Two matches later, and having bowled his spell of 5 for 1 at Edgbaston in between to conjure another remarkable victory, he was hooking Dennis Lillee off his eyebrows at Old Trafford. After walking in on a king pair, with England's second innings at 104 for 5, that was a better innings than in Leeds, which, for the most part, was a glorified, nothing-to-lose slog. But while that series is rightly called "Botham's Ashes", even he needed some help along the way: Willis in Leeds, Chris Tavaré in Manchester.
The Jubilee Test in Bombay was one of the greatest one-man shows in Test history: 13 wickets, six in the first and seven in the second (where he bowled 26 of the 52 overs), and 114 off 144 balls. The game itself was arguably not of the highest quality, an adjunct to a tour of Australia, but Botham's performance redeemed the contest. "There was hardly a session on which he did not bring his influence to bear," was how Wisden recorded his efforts. As Botham says: "What more could I have done?"
Did you always want to be an allrounder?
I never played any other way, I always batted, always bowled and always wanted to field. That was the way I played the game, it was the way Somerset, right from schoolboys cricket and all the way through, wanted me to play the game. When you are 13-14 you just want to play cricket.
"There's match fitness, where a bowler can bowl all day, then there's what I'd called gym fitness, what I'd call the body beautiful, which is great but what if that body breaks down every five minutes?"
Who was your greatest early influence?
My boyhood hero when I was a kid and still when I started playing professionally had nothing to do with being an allrounder. It was Ken Barrington. I just liked the way he played the game, a real British bulldog character, wore the colours on his chest, took the blows, gave it back. He was dogged. I liked Kenny and I was lucky enough to get to know him as a player.
Did you prefer batting or bowling?
There was no preference, even fielding I loved. I wanted to be the best slip fielder in the world, and I tried my utmost to become that. You can argue whether I did that, it can be debated, but I'm happy that they are even debating it. That doesn't bother me.
Was there an early performance that gave you the belief you could be an allrounder?
Well, Somerset signed me at the age of 14. At the age of eight I was scoring hundreds and taking eight, nine wickets. I was playing in the Yeovil District League when I was 12 or 13, scoring big runs. I was way ahead.
Keeping fit, Beefy style: Botham turns out for Scunthorpe United in the '80s
© Hulton Archive
Keeping fit, Beefy style: Botham turns out for Scunthorpe United in the '80s © Hulton Archive
How did you balance the training requirements of all three disciplines?
I didn't train. You never really trained. The game was different, you played every single day. You had the summer at home, games started on a Saturday, on Sunday you'd play Sunday League, then you'd play Monday, Tuesday, start another game on Wednesday and then a travel day. You didn't get very many days off. Training, no, we had days of rest. If you had a day off you would probably sleep until lunchtime. Don't forget the travelling too. On Saturday I might have been playing in Taunton and then on the Sunday playing in Chesterfield, then back to Taunton for the Championship. It was a totally different game in those days. Train? You're kidding. Sleep, maybe play golf, then travelling.
But despite all that natural ability, the hard work must also have been there?
That came in pre-season nets. You'd do three or four weeks of build-up, which would be some physical stuff - but that didn't bother me because I was playing football at a high level, and when I got a bit older I was touring with England all the time. Fitness was never a problem. I was super fit, played a lot of football.
Is that because you played a lot? Match fitness?
We didn't have days off. These guys can go five, six, seven days without playing a game, which was unheard of. One thing you have to remember is, there's two types of fitness: there's match fitness, where a bowler can bowl all day, then there's what I'd called gym fitness, what I'd call the body beautiful, which is great but what if that body breaks down every five minutes? Then it's not much use. Bowlers bowl. You can't go into a gym, you start pulling muscles, you get more susceptible. It's not natural is it, go sideways then get off the pitch? And that's why at some stage most have a serious injury along the way, whatever that is, whether it's back, shoulder, knee, hip, ankle. Most bowlers get a pretty serious injury.
I liked the way Ken Barrington played the game, a real British bulldog character, wore the colours on his chest, took the blows, gave it back"
Did being part of a golden age of allrounders help motivate you?
Yes, of course it did. The first name you looked at on tour when you could get the news - which wasn't always easy in those days in certain parts of the world - the first thing you'd look at is how Imran has done, or Kapil or Richard Hadlee. We were always checking each other's scores, wanting to know how we'd done. It was very healthy competition.
Rivalry on the field, friends off it?
The best friend of my life, and godfather to my son, is IVA Richards. Yes, we were highly competitive. I wanted to get him out, sort him out one way or the other, but that doesn't mean that at the end of the day you can't all go and have a beer. The rivalry was always intense, but it wasn't just about the allrounders - it was about Australia, West Indies - the best side that's ever played the game, the late '70s and through the '80s. People say they didn't have a spinner, but when the hell was he going to bowl?
Were they friendships where you'd talk cricket?
Cricket was never very high on my topics after hours. I left it where it should be left, which is in the dressing room until the next day. I don't see the point in taking it around with you all day long. I didn't carry that baggage. Once I left the dressing room, that was it. I wanted something to eat, catch up with my mates or the family, wanted to get home. I certainly didn't take the cricket bag with me.
Healthy competition: the game's top allrounders kept tabs on each others' performances in the '80s
© PA Photos
Healthy competition: the game's top allrounders kept tabs on each others' performances in the '80s © PA Photos
Is there a head-to-head with one of the allrounders that stands out?
Every game was a challenge. It was never me versus them. What I was interested in was the result of the team. Personal battles were with every batsman who came in and every bowler who bowled. It wasn't about him or them. I might not even have faced them or bowled at them. It was about success and doing your job and had nothing to do with one-on-ones. It's not one-to-one sport, it's team versus team.
Do you think it was a fluke that you all came along at once?
Well, when's it ever been since? Or when was it before then? I don't remember any other stage in the history of the game when it was like that. So there you go.
Does modern cricket work against producing allrounders?
There's one sat down there, Ben Stokes, straightaway. Alec Stewart, wicketkeeper-batsman, Jacques Kallis. No, there's plenty around. This England side has one or two, Moeen Ali as well as Stokes. They are there. I don't know how people quite want to define an allrounder. It's usually associated with batsman-bowler but there are many arguments for other forms of allrounders. To me, it would be someone who is a batsman-bowler but there are other arguments.
"Games started on a Saturday, on Sunday you'd play Sunday League, then you'd play Monday, Tuesday, start another game on Wednesday and then a travel day"
Captaincy as an allrounder. Was it something you sought?
When you are 24 years of age, to captain your country - name me one 24-year-old in the world who wouldn't want to do it. Whether it's the right decision is another argument.
Where does the performance in the Jubilee Test rank for you?
It's right up there. It was on the back of a tour of Australia. We pulled into Mumbai for the one-off Test. I took 13 wickets, scored a hundred. There wasn't a great deal more that I could have done. And I enjoyed it. It was a one-off game after a hard tour of Australia. We were all determined to make it as much fun as we could.
Are the stories around the match true?
I didn't sleep. Slept more in the dressing room than I did at night. The Australians were in town for a day or two, I caught up with a lot of Indian mates. It was a one-off. Myself and quite a few others pushed the boat out and had a great time. No one can complain.
"I wanted to be the best slip fielder in the world, and I tried my utmost to become that"
© Associated Press
"I wanted to be the best slip fielder in the world, and I tried my utmost to become that" © Associated Press
Were you a player for whom moments sank in as they were happening?
I don't sit back now, so why the hell was I going to do it then? I'd done my job. Like I said, everything with cricket stayed in the dressing room when I left. I certainly never took the game home. That was the last thing the wife needed. I don't live and breathe cricket. I see a lot of people who do and they usually age before their time.
Are you comfortable with the notion of heroes in sport?
You accept who and what you are. Am I a sporting hero, a hero to children with leukaemia? I don't know. That's for others to judge. Where do you draw the line? I just enjoy my life, I get on with it and live it to the full. I like to give back whenever I can. Nowadays that's probably through Beefy's Foundation, which is now much bigger than it used to be. Many people see things in different ways, but I think I'm pretty chilled about all that.
Andrew McGlashan is a deputy editor at ESPNcricinfo
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.