CRICKETER OF THE YEAR - 1978

Ian Botham

Ian Terence Botham, aged 21, took five Australian wickets on his first day of Test Match cricket. By an apposite twist of chance, that day brought Brian Close's announcement of his retirement 28 years after his first England appearance at 19 years of age.

Botham has tremendous respect for Close, his county captain, with whom he has much in common. He says "he kept me in order" and avers stridently, "we were always a better side with him there." They share a fierce determination to succeed, besides outstanding courage. Within weeks of coming into the first-class game Botham, then 18, displayed all his qualities in an unforgettable performance at Taunton on June 12, 1974. The occasion was the Benson and Hedges quarter-final against Hampshire. Botham had bowled his medium paced outswingers, successfully, and had fielded -- in any position -- with his normal brilliance. However, shortly after arriving at the crease when Somerset at 113 for eight, needing 183, seemed doomed, Botham was hit full in the mouth by a bouncer from Roberts, then the quickest bowler in the game. Fiercely declining to leave the field, bleeding profusely, and eventually losing four teeth, he carried on, and hit two marvellous sixes while making 45 not out. He really won the match and the Gold Award in glory. Here indeed was a player to watch. In retrospect Botham thinks he should have come off the field, but still his abiding memories are of his two tail-end partners, Moseley and Clapp who assisted him manfully.

Sport runs deeply in the family. His father, a regular in the Fleet Air Arm for 20 years spanning the war, played most sports, including cricket and soccer. His mother played cricket, too, and she remembers a match at Sherborne for the V. A. D. nursing service as captain in 1946 as one of her big days. Ian Terence Botham was born at Heswall in Cheshire in November 24, 1955 and the family moved to Yeovil before his third birthday.

His abundant talent and unquenchable enthusiasm for cricket and soccer took him into the school teams at Milford School and Buckler's Mead. A sports master, Mr. Hibbert, gave him a sound start, while the Boys' Brigade at Yeovil -- always keen to help young sportsmen -- provided plenty of chances. It was a common sight to see Botham, about nine years old, haunting the Mudford Road Recreation Ground, kit at the ready, eager to get a game for any side that was short. He got into the various County Youth teams and, having worked his way to the M.C.C. ground staff at Lord's largely by his own efforts, began to attract much wider attention with some startling performances for the Somerset Second XI. Already he had been a regular attender of Somerset's coaching sessions and acknowledges with much appreciation the excellent help and advice received from the Somerset players Peter Robinson, Graham Burgess and Ken Palmer.

Two John Player matches in 1973 gave him his first taste of County cricket and the next year -- a highly successful one for Somerset -- brought his wonderful effort against Hampshire plus 441 runs and 30 wickets in first-class cricket. The development continued with 584 runs and 62 wickets in 1975, while, as his knowledge and application grew, 1976 brought his first superb century, 1,000 runs for the first time and 66 wickets.

He was learning to harness his glorious straight hitting and square cutting, and beginning to vary his bowling techniques under the guidance of that doyen of medium pacers, Tom Cartwright. Bouncers of different paces, and a brisk inswinging yorker added spice and batting danger to his outswinger.

The 1977 season was marred only by a week's cricket idleness carrying the drinks at the Prudential matches, and a foot injury which ruined for him the end of the season and probably robbed him of a rare double. He finished with 88 wickets and 738 runs. He found the England team spirit magnificent, with everyone working for each other as he took five wickets in the first innings of each of his first two Tests and the birth of his son in August crowned a marvellous year.

Selection for the major Winter Tour was largely taken as a formality and Botham (pronounced as in both by the family although colleagues sound it as in moth) was on his way. A determined, straightforward, pleasant character, who knows where he is aiming, and who, in the best old-fashioned sense, has a good conceit of himself, Ian will, quite naturally and fiercely, be addressing himself to an interesting view, held by several knowledgeable cricketers. It is that before his Test match triumphs he was underrated, but that after them he was overrated.

Botham has the tenacity, courage and exciting ability to prove them wrong. After all, when he joined the Lord's ground staff his father gave him two aims "play for your county at 18 and your country before 25." He achieved one and handsomely surpassed the other -- a remarkable start to a very stiff programme. -- E.H.

© John Wisden & Co