Ian Terence Botham
November 24, 1955, Oldfield, Heswall, Cheshire
Also Known As
Sir Ian Botham
Beefy, Both, Guy
Right hand Bat
Right arm Fast medium
Buckler's Mead Secondary School, Yeovil
Dominant and domineering, Ian Botham was not merely the top English cricketer of the 1980s but the leading sports personality. In an era of discreet footballers - before Paul Gascoigne and David Beckham - he commanded endless newspaper headlines as his career surged improbable heights and bottomless depths. Within a year of being elevated from Somerset to his England debut in 1977, he was undisputed as the country's leading allrounder; within three years he was captain; within four, he had resigned (a minute before being sacked), his form shot to pieces.
Then began the most famous few weeks in English cricket history when Botham (under Mike Brearley's captaincy) led England to an astonishing Ashes victory with three performances - two with bat, one with ball - of mystical brilliance. Every one led to victory and among them they caused a boom in support for English cricket that reverberated through the decade. By the end of it, sober judges were wondering if Botham had done more harm than good by making all England believe, as he did, that cricket matches are won by inspiration not preparation.
Though he remained an international cricketer until 1992, the great days became fewer. As his weight increased, his outswing became less effective. He could still hit a cricket ball with enormous power, but never once did he pass the ultimate exam of his era: scoring a Test century against the West Indians. Still, he could be mystical. Banned by insistent newspaper demand in 1986 for taking cannabis, he was recalled at The Oval against New Zealand, and with his first and 12th balls took the two wickets he needed to equal and pass Dennis Lillee's then-world record of 355 Test wickets. "Who writes your scripts?" asked Graham Gooch.
His batting was based on sound principles and phenomenal strength; his bowling seemed by then to be more run-in-and-hope, but batsmen remained intimidated by his early reputation to the end. His apres-cricket activities were always turbulent, and often semi-public, yet his marriage to Kath has lasted 25 years-plus at odds that seemed greater than 500 to 1. Almost as improbably, he has settled into a calm-ish middle age as a TV commentator of some wit and sagacity.
Matthew Engel June 2007
Batting & Fielding