“What really stood out to the world was his unmatched love for the self and the belief that no matter what the situation, he could go on to bring a change – either on the field or in the lives of the hundreds of children and while many cricketers might have Botham’s talent, not many can combine oomph with an aura like Beefy did”.
If there is any cricketer who can be called upon for his self-belief and exceptional talent, it is England’s Ian Botham who will stand tall and proud. Not only was he a concoction of charisma and confidence, he was also highly skilled and his abilities with both bat and ball helped him to earn a respectable position in the cricketing world.
He played international cricket for 15 years and in this interim, there was no batsman who was not troubled by his swing bowling or his bouncers. There was no bowler who did not earn the wrath of Botham’s fine technique and as a fielder, despite standing almost two yards closer than the others at the slips, he latched on to as many as 120 catches, which stood as a record till Andre Strauss overhauled it.
Living with the motive of thrilling, Botham had a mercurial Test debut against Australia, picking up 5 wickets in his first innings in 1977 but his grandest moment arrived in the Ashes of 1981. His insane innings of 149 after following-on that lead England to an improbable victory after the odds were stacked at 500-1 in their favour is well known. In the next game at Edgbaston, he bowled a spell of 5 for 1 and in Old Trafford, he combined both these skills to not only score 118 off 103 but also pick up another 5 wickets to guide his team to a historic victory against the arch-rivals. In the last match at The Oval, he capped off a memorable summer with 10 wickets and with this, he ensured his presence in the history books.
Ideally, an all-rounder aims to achieve a batting average that is higher than his bowling one and Botham successfully managed to do just that – his 5200 runs came at an average of 33 and his 383 wickets, at 28.4. He had 24 Test tons to his name, with 27 five-wicket hauls. By the time he played 50 games, he was already listed as an England great and by the time he ended, he had managed to achieve just that. No player but Botham has scored a hundred and picked up 5 wickets on 5 occasions in Tests. Imran Khan, Botham and Shakib Al Hasan are the only players to have scored a century and taken ten wickets in the same game and apart from Kapil Dev and Botham, no all-rounder has managed to score 5000 runs and pick up 300 wickets in their careers. Botham then, was an enigma.
Ever since he forayed into international cricket, he had shown the promise and the signs of ending as one of the greats. Aged just 23, he completed the feat of 1000 runs and 100 wickets in 21 matches with four hundreds and 10 five-wicket hauls. Aged 26, he completed 2000 runs and 200 wickets in 42 matches – eight games less than what Imran and Kapil took to replicate the same. Two years later, he had crossed 4000 runs and taken 300 wickets in 72 matches and if he had retired a little earlier, his bowling average would have been one of the best averages in the history.
However, it is not always the numbers that define a person or a cricketer. Though he was aggressive and equipped with the most confident persona, it never came in the way of his charity walks and the nation conferred him with a knighthood for his many charity trails. It is sometimes unimaginable to witness a character as fiery as Botham on the cricket field – who had been felled by a rising Andy Roberts delivery and was hit on the teeth in a county game only to be back up in seconds – walk almost 900-miles for charity. He has helped raise over 13 million pounds to help children with leukaemia, and it is largely due to his efforts that the survival rates of children suffering from the disease have gone up to 80% from 20%.
Though his back issues started haunting him, his medium pace bowling never for once lost its sting. He picked up 4 for 31 against Australia in the 1992 World Cup in Sydney – an innings that was defined by an accurate swing bowling that made for a compelling contest. As a batsman, he was orthodox but attacking. He had a sound defence, which was on display right from his debut when he took over 93 balls to score 25 runs. He batted more than four hours for his unbeaten 51 in The Oval against Pakistan in 1984 to save a crucial game. He could play attractive strokes as well, and his muscular strength allowed him to strike the ball higher – playing with a heavy bat did mean that the upper body had to be toned and in the right shape.
Any piece on Botham gets incomplete without tracing his performances in the Jubilee Test at the Wankhede Stadium in Bombay. An exhausted English team were returning back from a disastrous tour of Australia, in which Botham had taken 11 for 186 in the first Test, and stopped in India. Even though the uninterested and tired Botham looked anything but himself off the field, on it he did not give any glimpses of fatigue as he picked up 6 for 58 in the first innings and 7 for 48 in the second to end with figures of 13 for 106 and then as if to give another glimpse of his superhuman traits, even scored 114!
But what really stood out to the world was his unmatched love for the self and the belief that no matter what the situation, he could go on to bring a change – either on the field or in the lives of the hundreds of children and while many cricketers might have Botham’s talent, not many can combine oomph with an aura like Beefy did.