1974 June 9, 2007

Botham's first hurrah

In June 1974 an unknown 18-year-old from Somerset hit the headlines for the first time. Over the next 20 years he was rarely out of them

Peter Sainsbury checks out Ian Botham after he was struck © The Cricketer

In June 1974, an unknown 18-year-old from Somerset hit the headlines for the first time. Over the next 20 years he was rarely out of them.

Ian Botham made his county debut in September 1973, and held on to his place in the early one-day matches during 1974, playing as a first-change bowler and a No. 8 or 9 batsman.

Nevertheless, when Somerset met Hampshire in the quarter-finals of the Benson & Hedges Cup on June 12, Botham was fast becoming a regular. The previous summer his only involvement in the Benson & Hedges Cup had been as a cushion seller at the Lord's final in July - as an MCC Young Cricketer he had to help out at big matches at Lord's and that had been Botham's job. Four weeks before the quarter-final the two sides had met in a zonal match, also at Taunton, and Hampshire had won at a canter. Botham, at No.8, made 3 and took 1 for 52.

A full house of around 5000 packed Taunton on a sunny summer's day - this was the era when county one-day cricket, still a relative novelty, regularly filled grounds - and Botham gave the home supporters an early boost when he forced Barry Richards to play on for 13. Hampshire slid to 22 for 4 but recovered with a fifth-wicket stand of 95, which Botham ended when he nipped out Peter Sainsbury in his second spell. He finished with 2 for 33 in his 11 overs as Hampshire were bowled out for 182.

Somerset's reply was equally shaky. Viv Richards failed, Brian Close was undone by the sheer pace of Andy Roberts - "even that falcon eye loses sharpness with passing years," wrote Alan Gibson in The Times - and at 113 for 5 the game was in the balance. In the space of two overs they lost a further three wickets and, as Gibson noted, "hope was almost dead".

Botham had come out to bat at No. 9 and he and Bajan No.10 Hallam Moseley began to rebuild the innings. With the score on 131 for 8, Hampshire brought back Roberts to polish things off, and while he found edges they went in to gaps, and skiers fell safely between fielders.

Roberts was a genuine fast bowler with one of the most dangerous bouncers in the game because he had one which was markedly quicker than his standard short ball. A month earlier he had knocked out the 41-year-old Colin Cowdrey and sent him to hospital.

He dug one in at Botham who tried to hook but missed and the ball flew via glove into the left-hand side of his face. He crumpled with blood pouring from his mouth, two teeth knocked clean out and two more loosened so much they had to be removed the next day. To his everlasting pride, he buckled but did not go down.

"I was pumped up," Botham recalled, "and a bit concussed as well. I wanted to go on, and that's what I told the Hampshire fielders. I was already angry that I'd been dropped down the order and I desperately wanted to stay out there and prove myself." His form in the five one-day matches he had played to date made the decision to bat him at No. 9 understandable - he had scored 25 runs in four innings.

The concussion meant that he recalls little about the remainder of the match. "I'm very proud of my innings but can hardly remember anything about it." He certainly wasn't intimidated, defiantly swinging Bob Herman for a massive six.

With seven needed from three overs, Roberts, back for a third and final spell, trapped Moseley leg-before. The ninth-wicket stand was worth 63 of which Moseley's share was 24. Bob Clapp, who finished with a one-day batting average of 3.42, joined Botham

From the last ball of the over Botham took a three to keep the strike, Clapp having to make a desperate lunge to reach his ground at the bowler's end. Botham said that he thought Clapp was short but it was the era before third-umpire replays and he got the benefit of the doubt.

Herman bowled the penultimate over and after five dot balls Botham smashed a boundary to win the game. He was named Man of the Match - not that he has any memory of that - and went into Taunton to celebrate. As the excitement wore off, the pain kicked in and he anesthetised it with alcohol. The next morning he woke in agony and, after briefly basking in the headlines, he headed to the dentist.

There was no Benson & Hedges Cup fairytale, though. In the semi-final Somerset were crushed by Leicestershire, losing by 140 runs with Botham making 18 of their 130. By the end of the summer he had secured a regular place in both Championship and one-day sides without setting the world on fire. The low-key life wasn't to last much longer.

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Ian Botham - My Illustrated Life Ian Botham (Cassell, 2007)
Wisden Cricketers' Almanack 1975

Martin Williamson is executive editor of Cricinfo