If God had made me a world-class sportsman I would have asked nothing else than to play the Botham way, always, always to win but able to lose with dignity as well as disappointment. At the Oval in 1979 India, trying to score 438 to beat England, finished desperately near at 429 for eight after a double century from Sunil Gavaskar who was out in the final hour. At the end of the game Botham picked up the stumps and kept them as souvenirs for Gavaskar, who described the action as "the gesture of a person who has always treated the game as a sport". I remember, too, a day at Sydney only a few months later when Australia beat Eng- land by six wickets to take a winning 2-0 lead in the three- match series. Greg Chappell had to get the winning runs with a six if he were to get his 16th Test century. Botham tried to ob- lige by bowling a slow, long hop but Chappell's shot fell a few feet short of the fence and he had to be satisfied with a four and 98 not out.

Botham has played his cricket as much with his heart as with his head. It is still a game at Test level. It is still to be en- joyed. Perhaps being brought up in the game in Somerset has helped. There is a much more relaxed, sportive approach there than in the dour seriousness of the game further north. Somerset has a rich history of bighitting batsmen, from W.H. Fowler and Guy Earle, through Arthur Wellard perhaps the mightiest of all and Harold Gimblett to Botham himself. Dashing batsmen are as much a part of the county as its scrumpy and so many of them have delighted spectators over the years, although Somerset members might have been quick to point out that of Botham's 24 first- class centuries up to the start of the 1985 season, only three had been scored in the county of his cricket adoption.

The 1985 season made up for a lot with four of his five centuries coming at home, all thundering, joyful hundreds after a winter away from the game. Dozens of sixes climbed for the heavens like disturbed starlings and he waltzed past Arthur Wellard's record of 66 in a season with five weeks of the season in hand. Somerset finished bottom of the championship but with Viv Richards also rattling off nine centuries, they at least died with a smile on their face.

Botham's first came at Taunton at the beginning of May when he took 76 balls to reach 100 and finished with eight sixes in his 112 against Glamorgan. The next hundred was on the same ground three weeks later and again took 76 balls. This time, however, he went on to score 149 against Hampshire to lift Somerset from 58 for four to 298 all out with six sixes and 20 fours. Trevor Gard contributed nine to a stand of 58, Mark Davis managed two in a partnership of 85! Perhaps he was too busy marvelling, open- mouthed at the master.

The quickest century of the season came at Edgbaston in May, an innings of great power in which his hundred took 50 balls and which closed at 138 not out with 12 sixes and 13 fours all but 14 of his runs came in boundaries. The 67-minute barrage now that means more to me than 65 balls included eight sixes off one man, left-arm spinner Norman Gifford, the Warwickshire captain, who first played county cricket when Botham was four years old. One of them entered the top tier of the East Wing stand through an open door before running down stairs to re-emerge at ground lev- el. Gifford described the innings as a magnificent performance that brought great pleasure to the crowd. He had been hit for 128 runs in 42 overs, 20 of which were maidens! Botham was back at Taunton the following day to face Essex and inflict on them his fourth century of the season, this time in 68 balls with four sixes. He went on to 152 with a mixture of awesome aggression and delicate deflections. His next championship match was two weeks away but he made it three centuries in three games by going to Weston-super-Mare to hit ten sixes in an innings of 134 and at the same time overtake Wellard's record of 66 sixes set in 1935.

He finished the season with 75 first-class sixes for Somerset, 74 of them coming from eleven championship matches, less than half the number Wellard played in 1935. In all, Botham hit 80 first- class sixes in the season, 105 in all cricket including the one- day competitions.

Two of Botham's best centuries before 1985 had come at Taunton, with his top score of 228, which included ten sixes, and 131 in 65 minutes against Warwickshire. His 228 against Gloucestershire in 1980 was an astonishing innings, lasting only three hours and including 27 fours and ten sixes, three of them in one over from leftarm spinner David Graveney. Between lunch and tea, in two and a quarter hours, he scored 182 runs, all part of a record fourth-wicket stand of 310 with Peter Denning. His innings against Warwickshire two years later, though shorter, was even faster with a century in 52 minutes and a final scoring rate still of two runs a minute. Somerset had been set to score 309 in 270 minutes and were struggling at 57 for three until Viv Richards, with two sixes and 12 fours in his innings of 85, had opened the way for the Botham blitz. When Botham went out to bat 160 runs were needed in 145 minutes. Sixty-five minutes later Somerset had won with Botham hitting ten sixes and 12 fours and scoring the fastest century of the season along the way. He scored his second 50 in 14 minutes; he scored 30 in one over from Paul Smith; he shared in a stand of 158 in an hour with Phil Slo- combe; he twice hit three successive sixes. Let us not forget, too, that it was the quickest century ever by a Somerset player. In the first 25 minutes he scored only 17 runs. The other 114 took him just 40 minutes after tea, an assault that would have delighted even Wellard or Gimblett.

That was Botham's second century of the year inside an hour, fol- lowing the even quicker one, scored in 50 minutes, against the Central Zone at Indore during England's winter tour of India. It was the fastest century ever in India. His 122 took 55 minutes, and that included the drinks break and was made out of 137 for the fourth wicket with Mike Gatting. He received 55 balls, seven of which were hit for six and 16 for four.

Botham the buccaneer has enjoyed himself a time or two against India and Gavaskar particularly recalls a Test century at Leeds in August, 1979. The game was ruined by rain and England were still in the first innings of the match when play started on the Monday, the fourth day. Botham started with nine runs, gathered the previous Thursday morning, and in the session to lunch hit 99. One enormous hook off Kapil Dev cleared the dressing rooms behind square leg and landed among the cars. In all he hit five sixes and 16 fours in his 137. "It was hitting which was con- trolled and at the same time savage," said Gavaskar. "Every time Kapil or Ghavri bowled a little short of length it was hooked into the car park of the Leeds cricket ground. It looked at one stage as if he was more keen on smashing Geoff Boycott's car parked there." Botham was driving south after the game when he was stopped by the police and told he was going a bit quick. "Still," said the policeman, "you played a bloody good innings."

Nothing, however, will ever match his Test centuries against Aus- tralia at Leeds and Manchester in 1981, marvellous, memorable pieces of mayhem that kept the Ashes for England. He scored 149 not out with 27 fours and a six at Leeds, and hit 118 with six sixes and 13 fours at Manchester. David Gower said the Manchester innings was more controlled throughout despite the power of his hitting. Mike Brearley, back in the side as captain, agreed. "He played even better than at Headingley," he wrote. "An innings of classical power and splendour; of off-drives, hooks and cuts. To the player, the Manchester innings was the best; to the spectator the performance at Leeds will never be matched. That was the stuff of which heroes are made, when victory is snatched out of thin air."

England had lost the first Test at Nottingham and drawn the second at Lord's under Botham's leadership. Brearley was recalled as captain for the third Test at Headingley and was outplayed for three and a half days as Australia amassed 401 and then forced England to follow on by dismissing them for 174. By the end of the third day England had lost their first second innings wicket that of Graham Gooch who was dismissed twice in four balls that day and still needed 222 to make Australia bat again. Botham booked out of the hotel on the Monday morning, and he was not the only one. Brearley would have done the same except that since his county, Middlesex, were playing Lancashire at Old Trafford on the Wednesday, he would be staying in the north. Everybody was ready for home and when England slipped to 135 for seven quite a few bags were packed. Botham, however, was still at the crease. He had started quietly, scoring 39 in an hour and a half to tea. When Graham Dilley joined him at the fall of the seventh wicket he asked him: "You don't fancy hanging around on this wicket for a day and a half, do you?" Dilley did not. "Right," said Botham. "Come on, let's give it some humpty." There was nothing to lose. England were quoted at 500-1 by Ladbroke, the bookmakers, and the entire country was left wishing it had invested just a tenner when Botham start- ed his assault. In 80 minutes he and Dilley put on 117 runs, Dil- ley claiming 56 of them. In 55 minutes Chris Old, with a mixture of pleas and threats no doubt still ringing in his ears from the dressing room, helped put on 67 with Botham who had now forced seven fieldsmen to the boundary. In one particularly fierce spell of hitting, Botham went from 39 to 103 with a six, 14 fours and two singles. In two hours after tea he scored 106 out of 175 in 27 overs. The over-rate was abysmally slow. If Bot- ham had been batting in Gilbert Jessop's or Percy Fender's time he would probably have had at least 12 more overs maybe another 50 runs. Quite a few runs came through or over the slips but Botham's 149 not out carried England to a total of 358 and left Australia with a victory target of 130. It was only natural, I suppose, that Botham should open the bowling. Not so acceptable that his first two balls should be hit to the boundary. Still, there was Bob Willis to apply the finishing touches, securing a famous victory for England by taking eight for 43 in the amazing 18-run win.

Botham, however, had not finished. Far from it. When Australia needed only 151 in their second innings to win the fourth Test at Edgbaston, he took five for 11 in 14 overs to give England anoth- er astonishing win, this time by 29 runs, and take a 2-1 lead in the series. And then, four weeks after the miracle at Leeds, Bot- ham played the innings still regarded as his best, his 118 in 123 minutes at Old Trafford, his century taking 104 minutes and being the second fastest English Test hundred to Jessop's in 1902. His six sixes were the most ever hit in a Test innings. It was a mar- vellous display of hitting which brought the ground to life after Chris Tavare had taken 306 minutes to reach 50, the slowest recorded half-century in English cricket. Botham, who had been dismissed first ball in the first innings, strode out at 104 for five in the second, with England 205 runs ahead. The start was sober enough with five singles in his first 33 balls and the real blitz was reserved for the new ball, taken when Botham was 28. Dennis Lillee, of course, took it and his first over was smashed for 22 runs including two memorable, hooked sixes. Fifty-two runs came in 4.2 overs, 47 of them to Botham who went from 28 to 100 in 37 minutes and who scored his last 90 out of 103 in 55 minutes. Botham gave one chance, a difficult one, when he was 34. Mike Whitney, making his debut for Australia, was left with the swirling skier, an awkward catch with the ball dropping over his right shoulder. He got a touch but could not hold on to the ball.

The following weekend, in a John Player League match for Somer- set, Botham hit another sensational hundred with nine fours and seven sixes in 61 minutes against Hampshire at Taunton. His second 50 took nine minutes and Botham remembers looking at the scoreboard and seeing his own score at about 40 and Viv Richards in the eighties. Richards was still in the eighties when Botham reached his hundred.

Through the years Swansea has been the scene of a good deal of big hitting and fast scoring. Botham has twice scored fast centu- ries there, taking an hour and a half in 1979 and following it two years later with 123 in 137 minutes. The 1979 innings played on the day Bjorn Borg was winning the men's singles at Wimbledon for the fourth time was the most spectacular with 12 fours and seven sixes in his innings of 120. And it could all have been nipped in the bud if Robin Hobbs, the former Essex leg-break bowler then captaining Glamorgan, had held a skier when Botham was 16. His 123 not out in 1981 was rather more subdued, includ- ing only three sixes and 18 fours as he hit his first century for thirteen months, the prelude to the assault that was to hit the Australians at Leeds and Manchester in the following seven weeks.

Botham's first century, his 167 not out against Nottinghamshire at Trent Bridge in 1976, two years after his debut, was a match- winner after Somerset had needed 301 for victory in 225 minutes. His hundred took 134 minutes and he hit 20 fours and six sixes and finishe,d off the game by hitting Bob White for six, four and six.

He scored two centuries in succession at Christchurch, New Zea- land, in February 1978 during his first tour, with 126 not out against Canterbury in two and a half hours, and 103 in the Test match. There never seem any nervous nineties for Botham. In the game against Canterbury he moved from 88 to 104 by hitting Dayle Hadlee, in five balls, for a two, two fours and a six.

One of the great pleasures for Somerset followers in recent years has been the sight of Botham and Richards batting together. Cricket can have few more splendid prospects. One of their most delightful partnerships came at Leicester in July, 1983, when Botham batted at number nine because of a stomach upset. Richards scored 216, Botham, who reached his century off 101 balls, hit 152 and between them they added a record 172 for the eighth wick- et. It was as well that Botham did not have migraine, too.

(Excerpt from "The Big Hitters), by Brian Bearshaw