Stats analysis: Ian Botham

An all-round superstar

At his peak, Ian Botham's match-winning skills as an allrounder were unparalleled, and he could have made it to the England team as either a specialist batsman or bowler

S Rajesh

October 4, 2010

Comments: 14 | Text size: A | A

Ian Botham roars his delight after taking a wicket, England v Australia, 1985
The man with the Midas touch: Ian Botham was a outstanding match-winner with both bat and ball © Getty Images
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Players/Officials: Sir Ian Botham
Teams: England

He was a larger-than-life figure both on and off the field, but with Ian Botham the hype was backed up by the numbers. While his work ethics and levels of pre-match preparation might not have pleased all, it's difficult to argue with the kind of performances he came up with, especially when he was the peak of his powers. At his best he could have made it into the England team either as a specialist batsman or bowler, which can't be said for many allrounders. Add to that his considerable skills as a catcher in the slips - he remains England's leading catcher among non-wicketkeepers, with 120 - the legendary match-winning displays in Ashes contests, and his sheer charisma, and it's easy to see why Botham was such a celebrated sportsman.

Throughout his career Botham relished the big stage, and proof of that came early in his Test career, which began in truly spectacular fashion. After four Test matches he had three five-wicket hauls - one in each of his first two Tests, against Australia - and a century. After 11 Tests he had an incredible eight five-fors, a ten-for and three hundreds. It was a breathless initiation into Test cricket, and it was hardly surprising that within a year of his debut he had taken over as the best allrounder in England, and was rated among the best in the world.

The frenetic pace of accumulating runs and wickets continued well into his second and third years: he got to 100 Test wickets in his 19th Test - only four bowlers had done better in the entire history of Test cricket - while his 200th wicket came in his 41st, which was again the fifth-fastest. India were clearly his favourite opposition during this period: he dominated with both bat and ball in the 1979 series at home, scoring 244 runs and taking 20 wickets in three Tests, and when England toured for the one-off Golden Jubilee Test, Botham was the standout performer in that game too, scoring 114 and taking 13 wickets in the match, thus becoming the first player to score a century and take 10 in a match; since then, Imran Khan has been the only one to repeat the feat. It was also the third time Botham scored a century and took a five-for in Tests, a feat he achieved five times in his career; no other allrounder has done this more than twice. After 25 Tests, his batting average (40.48) was more than twice his bowling average (18.52), and he already had six centuries and 14 five-fors in his kitty.

After setting such a frenetic pace, it was almost inevitable that a slump would follow, and the added burden of captaincy had catastrophic effects on his personal form. Two dismal series followed against West Indies in which Botham's batting, especially, touched rock-bottom. Fortunately, the experiment with captaincy lasted only 12 Tests, and as soon as those shackles were removed Botham came up with his most memorable Test match display against Australia at Headingley. It was a performance of such force the match is today known as, quite simply, Botham's Test or the Leeds Test. Nothing more need be said, for it is a part of cricketing folklore.

Those were the sort of unbelievable performances that dominated the first half of Botham's Test career. At the halfway point of his 102-Test span, Botham had outstanding numbers, with a batting average touching 39 and a bowling average of 23. Of the 12 Man-of-the-Match awards he won in Tests, nine came in the first half of his career. From there, though, the skills gradually declined, thanks in part to a dodgy back, which especially hampered his bowling. From about the middle of 1982 to 1986, his bowling average went up significantly while the batting average dropped a bit too. He still put in top-class displays, most notably in the 1985 Ashes, taking 31 wickets in the series, which England won, but the frequency of such performances diminished. In his last six series there was little to write home about.

A career of two distinct halves
  Runs Average 100s/ 50s Wickets Average 5WI/ 10WM
First 51 Tests 2833 38.80 11/ 10 231 23.06 19/ 4
Next 37 Tests 1976 31.36 3/ 11 135 33.85 8/ 0
Last 14 Tests 391 20.57 0/ 1 17 57.52 0/ 0
Career (102 Tests) 5200 33.54 14/ 22 383 28.40 27/

During the six years when Botham was at his peak, he was the best of the four allrounders going around during that period. Imran Khan, Kapil Dev and Richard Hadlee were tremendous too - though Hadlee's best was to come later - but none of them matched Botham's consistency with bat and ball. During this period, the difference between Botham's batting and bowling average was 12.59. Imran and Hadlee had better bowling averages, but neither matched Botham as a batsman (though Imran's best as a batsman was to come later).

The four leading allrounders between Jan 1977 and Dec 1982
Player Tests Runs Average 100s/ 50s Wickets Average 5WI/ 10WM Diff in ave
Ian Botham 58 3229 37.11 11/ 13 262 24.52 20/ 4 12.59
Imran Khan 37 1429 29.16 1/ 4 186 21.79 13/ 3 7.37
Kapil Dev 44 1904 32.82 2/ 11 172 29.68 13/ 1 3.14
Richard Hadlee 23 767 21.91 1/ 4 114 23.22 11/ 2 -1.31

England had a few other top-class batsmen in their side in the late 1970s and early 1980s, but Botham's stats were good enough during this period to have got him into the side as a specialist batsman alone. In the seven years between 1977 and 1982, Botham's batting average was 37.11, a number that was topped by only three England batsmen. Geoff Boycott and David Gower were the only ones to average in the 40s, while Graham Gooch's average was only marginally ahead of Botham's. What's also incredible is the kind of conversion rate Botham managed, despite batting fairly low down the order: he scored 11 hundreds in 58 Tests, an average of 5.3 Tests per hundred. Gooch and Gower, on the other hand, averaged about 10 Tests per century, while Chris Tavare did even worse, scoring only one hundred in 21 matches during this period.

England's best batsmen between Jan 1977 and Dec 1982 (Qual: 1000 runs)
Batsman Tests Runs Average 100s/ 50s
Geoff Boycott 45 3535 47.77 10/ 16
David Gower 48 3244 42.68 5/ 17
Graham Gooch 40 2503 37.35 4/ 15
Ian Botham 58 3229 37.11 11/ 13
Chris Tavare 21 1274 34.43 1/ 10
Derek Randall 36 1765 31.51 5/ 8

As a bowler he was among the best in the world during these six years. What was quite remarkable about him was the number of times he singlehandedly changed the course of a game with the ball. In 58 Tests during this period, Botham took 20 five-fors and four ten-fours; Bob Willis played one Test more than him, had a better average and strike rate, and yet had seven fewer five-wicket hauls, and no ten-wicket hauls at all. When Botham got on a roll he was unstoppable, but there were also 17 instances in these matches when he bowled 15 or more overs and finished with one wicket or none. Perhaps the best illustration of Botham's ability to change a game with the ball came immediately after the Leeds Test in 1981: requiring 151 to win at Edgbaston, Australia were reasonably placed at 114 for 5 when Botham decided to take charge, ripping out the last five wickets for a mere seven runs, as England won their second Test in a row from what looked like a lost cause. Botham's finished with incredible figures: 14-9-11-5.

World's greatest bowlers between Jan 1977 and Dec 1982 (Qual: 100 wickets)
Bowler Tests Wickets Average Strike rate 5WI/ 10WM
Joel Garner 28 124 20.64 53.6 2/ 0
Imran Khan 37 186 21.79 51.6 13/ 3
Dennis Lillee 37 202 22.20 47.8 15/ 6
Richard Hadlee 23 114 23.22 55.5 11/ 2
Colin Croft 27 125 23.30 49.3 3/ 0
Bob Willis 59 226 23.49 51.4 13/ 0
Ian Botham 58 262 24.52 52.7 20/ 4

In his later years Botham wasn't quite as effective, but he still finished with staggering numbers. He is one of only eight allrounders who took more than 200 wickets, scored more 2000 runs, and did all of this with a batting average that was higher than his bowling average. Garry Sobers and Jacques Kallis lead the list, but both were much more batting allrounders than bowling ones - Kallis averages fewer than two wickets per match, while Sobers averaged 2.53 wickets per match. Among the allrounders who took at least three wickets per Test, Imran Khan and Shaun Pollock are the only ones for whom the difference between batting and bowling averages is greater than that of Botham's.

Best allrounders in Tests (Qual: 2000 runs and 200 wkts)
Player Tests Runs Average 100s Wickets Average 5WI Diff in ave
Garry Sobers 93 8032 57.78 26 235 34.03 6 23.75
Jacques Kallis 140 11,126 55.07 35 266 31.59 5 23.48
Imran Khan 88 3807 37.69 6 362 22.81 23 14.88
Shaun Pollock 108 3781 32.31 2 421 23.11 16 9.20
Ian Botham 102 5200 33.54 14 383 28.40 27 5.14
Richard Hadlee 86 3124 27.16 2 431 22.29 36 4.87
Chris Cairns 62 3320 33.53 5 218 29.40 13 4.13
Kapil Dev 131 5248 31.05 8 434 29.64 23 1.41

And then, of course, there's the small matter of his record against Australia. Some of Botham's greatest Test match feats came against his Ashes rivals, which is demonstrated by the fact that half of his 12 Man-of-the-Match awards came against them. He is one of only two allrounders - Wilfred Rhodes, the left-arm spinner and right-hand batsman who played for England in the early 1900s, is the other - to complete the double of 1000 runs and 100 wickets against Australia. In 36 Tests, Botham took 148 wickets, which remains the highest by any bowler against Australia. It's also the fifth-highest by a bowler versus one team.

Highest wicket-takers against Australia
Bowler Tests Wickets Average 5WI/ 10WM
Ian Botham 36 148 27.65 9/ 2
Courtney Walsh 38 135 28.68 4/ 0
Richard Hadlee 23 130 20.56 14/ 3
Curtly Ambrose 27 128 21.23 8/ 1
Bob Willis 35 128 26.14 7/ 0

Though he had the sort of game that should have suited one-day internationals perfectly, Botham didn't have as much impact in the shorter version. His batting, especially, was a bit of a letdown, since he averaged only 23.21 from 106 innings, with a highest score of 79. His bowling was better - he took 145 wickets at an economy rate of less than four, though admittedly it was easier to achieve economy in an era when batting mindsets, conditions and rules were quite different from those today - he was one of 20 bowlers who bowled at least 600 overs till the end of 1992 and conceded less than four per over.

One of his best ODI bowling performances over an entire tournament was in the 1992 World Cup. Bowling at little more than medium pace, and at a time when his Test fortunes were dwindling, Botham varied his speed and movement so cleverly that he picked up 16 wickets in 10 games and was instrumental in guiding England to the final. In fact, he was the second-highest wicket-taker, while his economy rate was also among the best in the tournament. Overall, his economy rate in all World Cup games was an impressive 3.43, which is among the best for bowlers who bowled at least 600 deliveries in all World Cup games till 1992. Had he played in today's era, though, it's very likely that some of the batting records for quick scoring would have been under threat.

Best economy rates in World Cup games till 1992 (Qual: 600 balls bowled)
Bowler Matches Overs Wickets Average Economy rate
Bob Willis 11 118.1 18 17.50 2.66
Richard Hadlee 13 146.1 22 19.13 2.88
Michael Holding 11 115.5 20 17.05 2.94
Malcolm Marshall 11 113.0 14 24.92 3.08
Andy Roberts 16 170.1 26 21.23 3.24
Ian Botham 22 222.0 30 25.40 3.43

S Rajesh is stats editor of Cricinfo

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© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.

Posted by mikey76 on (October 7, 2010, 11:21 GMT)

Couldn't agree with Truemans Ghost more, I can't stand people trying to denigrate great players performances by trying to suggest that they performed against below par sides is just pathetic. Some more stats for you Indus, Imran only scored 6 hundreds in 88 tests, not exactly a great conversion rate, while his average of 37 is bloated by no less than 25 not outs, Botham had just 6!! If Botham had 25 not outs he would have averaged 38! Botham took 27 five fors to Imrans 23, and this is without Imran's 90mph ability, add to that 120 catches then you start to see a more truthful picture emerging here. Imran, Kapil,Hadlee were all wonderful cricketers from a golden era,but to me Botham for his balls to the wall style of play and never say die attitude wins for me, you dont just have 81 to look at but the jubilee test in India(13 wickets & a hundred), 31 wickets in the 85 ashes. He scored a ton and took a five for 5 times,no other player did it more than twice.Indus & co give him his due!

Posted by Lekson on (October 7, 2010, 9:53 GMT)

Rajesh, you failed to highlight the fact that in Test Cricket Botham was the quickest to 100 wickets/1000runs (21 matches), 200 wickets/2000runs(42 matches) and 300 wickets/3000 runs (72 matches) records that still stand to this day and which may never be broken because those type of players simply don't exist anymore.

Posted by mikey76 on (October 6, 2010, 6:07 GMT)

Congratulations Indus11 for more idiotic drivel. The Australian side of 81 was ageing apparently, well it was one of Borders earliest series! Alderman took a stack of wickets in the series and again in 89, he was one of the best bowlers in english conditions Australia have produced, and Lillee's haul of 30 odd wickets hardly suggests a man in decline, he played for a further 3 years! You are just completely biased toward sub-continent players it seems and devoid of any real knowledge of the game, Botham was a great player period, the facts don't lie. 14 hundreds to Imrans 8, quicker to all the milestones by a mile, Botham's lifestyle of drinking and not training seriously came back to haunt him over the last few years of his career, but between 77-82 no-one could touch him. But obviously according to you and others there were no good players around in that period. Try Gavaskar Vengsarker,Miandad,Zaheer Abbas,Hadlee,Lillee,Chappel,Thomson,Imran,Kapil,Qadir,and all the Windies greats!

Posted by alatar01 on (October 6, 2010, 2:50 GMT)

Its probably no coincidence that Botham saved his best for INDIA (with Kapil Dev playing) and NEW ZEALAND (with Hadlee playing). There was an unofficial World Championship of allrounders at the time amongst them (khan included) so they often saved their best for the head-to-head encounters. In these two Tests he blew the other guy away - testament to his prowess and capacity to intimidate. Keith Miller, Chris Cairns and Flintoff were made of similar stuff but unfortunately they didn't have as many contemporary all rounders to play against. With the amount of cricket now the fast bowling allrounder is in dire threat of injuries. Instead we can look forward to epic encounters such as: WATSON vs KALLIS or SHAKIB HASAN vs VETTORI. Just doesn't quite get the blood pumping as much does it?

Posted by smalishah84 on (October 4, 2010, 23:46 GMT)

@ Vivek Singh.......I almost completely agree with what you say here and I also agree with Sir_Francis.......however I am not quite sure about Sachin being that bad against the Aussies. If i remember correctly he has a pretty decent average against the Aussies.

Posted by Vivek_Singh on (October 4, 2010, 21:23 GMT)

Fine all rounder without a doubt, but its interesting that S Rajesh makes no mention of Botham's record against the finest team of his era - the West Indies. Surely that's not just an honest overlook now is it? Botham's batting and bowling averages against the best team of his time stink.

This obsession with England-Australia is ridiculous. Made sense until the 50s when they were the dominant world teams but looks stupid now. Lots of sentimental value without a doubt but it would be like arguing Sachin is truly great since his average against traditional arch rivals Pakistan today is 60, never mind his average against Australia (the best of his time) is 20.

Posted by Sir_Francis on (October 4, 2010, 18:53 GMT)

I dare you to do an analysis of the 4 all rounders vs just the West Indies. The greatest team of the era and then say how good Botham was. He was a very distant 4th compared to the others. And the winner was surprising to me.

Posted by Indus11 on (October 4, 2010, 17:35 GMT)

@ Truemans_Ghost - That 81 Australian side consisted of AGING former giants vis a vis Lillee, Alderman, Marsh and Border. I have heard Border say as much in private. Lillee was a shadow of himself and Alderman would NEVER have found a place in the Australian side - so useless was he. And Marsh - well his contributions had also declined along with Lillee's. No the fact is That 81 Australian side WAS an Australian B side. Look again at those figures of Ians and you will see that they represent an era when Kerry Packer players were not allowed to play Test cricket for three years - leaving ALL of the Test playing nations fielding their B sides - by all means look at Ians record VERY closely - and you will see Ians BEST figures are against a Pakistan C side -

When Imran and Company WERE allowed to return to Test cricket along with other Kerry Packer players to represent their countries - Ian became an ORDINARY player. Imrans Pakistan first ruined Ians figures then retired him completely.

Posted by Truemans_Ghost on (October 4, 2010, 13:40 GMT)

Indus 11, you look at that 81 Australian side, Lillee, Alderman, Marsh, Border..... hardly a "B" side. Imran was a truely great cricketer. Does that mean nobody can write an article praising any other all-rounder?

Posted by AhmadSaleem on (October 4, 2010, 13:07 GMT)

Botham performed well when there wasn't any quality cricketers playing test cricket due to Kerry Packer i.e 1977 to 1982. After that his performance shows that he was not more than a good all rounder even at his peak.

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S Rajesh Stats editor Every week the Numbers Game takes a look at the story behind the stats, with an original slant on facts and figures. The column is edited by S Rajesh, ESPNcricinfo's stats editor in Bangalore. He did an MBA in marketing, and then worked for a year in advertising, before deciding to chuck it in favour of a job which would combine the pleasures of watching cricket and writing about it. The intense office cricket matches were an added bonus.

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