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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.