Biography of Ian Botham

Ian Botham was a professional cricketer who could deliver devastating spells with both bat and ball.

As an all-rounder he played most of his first class county cricket for Somerset and also represented England in an international career spanning 15 years. Botham was a talented sportsman who also played football for Yeovil Town and Scunthorpe United.

Nicknamed Beefy, Botham had the ability to change a game on its head in a very short space of time. A big, powerful striker of a cricket ball, Botham was a player who sent a wave of anticipation around a crowd as he went out to bat. His bowling could be just as aggressive, though he also employed swing to great effect. Botham was an entertainer and a fierce competitor who is widely considered as one of the greatest all-rounders of all time.

Botham had his brushes with controversy through his career but will be eternally remembered by English cricket fans for his part in the epic comeback in the Headingley test match against Australia in 1981. In 2007 he received a knighthood in the Queen’s honours list for services to cricket and for his charitable work, which has seen him raise in excess of £10 million for Leukaemia charities.

1. Botham's early life

Village Road, Lower Heswall, Wirral, Merseyside, England. (© Rept0n1x, CC BY-SA 3.0)
David Gower batting. Trent Bridge Test match, 1981. Terry Alderman is bowling, with Ian Botham at the other end. (© John Sutton, CC BY-SA 2.0)
Trent Bridge Cricket Ground: the Fox Road Stand The new Fox Road stand was opened by Ian Botham in 2002. (© John Sutton, CC BY-SA 2.0)

Ian Terence Botham was born in November 1955 in Heswall on the Wirral, Merseyside.

Both his parents, Herbert and Violet, played cricket, helping to introduce their son to the sport at any early age. Botham was still young when he moved toYeovil, beginning a long association with the county of Somerset.

Botham looked to get involved in any cricket games being played near his home as well as playing for his school. His performances at school level started to draw attention and he was invited to play for Somerset under 15s, scoring an impressive 80 on his debut while still only 13 years old. At this time Botham had the option to try and pursue a career in football and although offered a contract by Crystal Palace a couple of years later, he chose to stick with cricket, a decision thousands of English cricket fans would later come to appreciate.

After leaving school Botham joined the ground staff at Lords while he looked to earn a full-time professional contract with Somerset. In his time at Lords he played occasionally for the MCC as well as Somerset under 25’s, and although still young at this stage of his career he did not initially show the promise which would make him one of the most feared and respected all-rounders in the game. Indeed he was often viewed as a specialist batsman only, with his bowling overlooked. It was in his second year at Lords in 1973 when his form began to improve for the Somerset under 25’s and he moved up to represent the county’s second eleven.

2. His early career

Botham batting At Trent Bridge for England, against New Zealand. (© Stanley Howe, CC BY-SA 2.0)
Dickie Bird Counting up to six. Standing in the Test Match. England v. NZ at Trent Bridge. The batsman standing at the non-striker's end is Ian Botham. (© Stanley Howe, CC BY-SA 2.0)
Lord's Cricket Ground, commonly known as Lord's, is a cricket venue in St John's Wood, London. (© Ben Marsh, CC BY-SA 2.5)

After playing for the second eleven Botham was to experience a taste of the first team in 1973, when aged 17 he featured in a couple of one day games.

The following season in 1974 the future test all-rounder made his first class debut for Somerset, playing against Lancashire at Taunton. Botham was to show his promise throughout the season and he was also to show his grit and determination. Batting at 9 in the quarter-final of the B&H one day cup Botham attempted a hook against the rapid West Indian international Andy Roberts. The ball struck Botham in the face and he would lose 4 of his teeth. Yet the 18 year-old Botham carried on batting and helped his side to a famous victory, being named Man of the Match. Botham was headline news, something he would often come to be.

Botham did not have to wait too long for his first taste of international cricket, playing against the West Indies in a one day game in 1976. He had already notched his maiden first class century against Nottinghamshire earlier that season and his good form continued in to 1977 when he received his call up to the England test squad. He made his debut in the third test match against Australia at Trent Bridge in Nottingham, with England already one up in the series. He made an immediate impact with the ball, taking five wickets in the first innings including the Australian captain Greg Chappell. His performance was enough to secure another start in the fourth test where his bowling did the damage again. Unfortunately this was not the only damage done as he broke a bone in his foot treading on the ball in the outfield, forcing an abrupt end to his season.

Botham’s illustrious career, in which he played 102 test matches, saw him race to 100 test wickets in just his 19th appearance, the fifth quickest to reach the landmark at that time. He was an important member of the one day team which reached the final of the World Cup in 1979, where they lost to the West Indies at Lords, in large part to an innings of 134 from Botham’s good friend Viv Richards. He also had been dominant that year in the Test series against India before continuing in this vain in the one off Golden Jubilee test match against the same opponents in 1980. Here the all-rounder became the first player to score a century and take ten wickets in the same test match.

It was following the Golden Jubilee test when Ian Botham was appointed captain in the wake of Mike Brearley's resignation. The challenge ahead was a series against the West Indies, the leading side in world cricket at that time. West Indies won the series 1-0, but the English summer was badly affected by rain otherwise the margin of defeat may well have been heavier. Botham also struggled for form in the series, failing to have the impact fans had become accustomed to.

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3. Headingley 1981

The Headingley Cricket Stadium in 2006 (© JohnSeb, CC BY-SA 2.0)
A headshot of Ian Botham during a Sky commentary. (© Nic Redhead, CC BY-SA 2.0)
The Legends depart the scene after a hard day in the commentary box. (© Gareth Williams, CC BY 2.0)

Headingley 1981 is a place and date etched in to English cricketing folklore. However the build up to this day was anything but smooth for Ian Botham.

After a further series defeat to the West Indies on tour, a home Ashes series beckoned amid grumblings about Botham’s captaincy style. After the first two tests Australia held a 1-0 lead and Botham’s form had completely deserted him, out without scoring in both innings of the second test. He duly resigned and Mike Brearley was re-appointed captain for the third test at Headingley.

While Botham re-found his form it seemed Australia would still be too strong, forcing England to follow-on. At 135-7 in the second innings and defeat looking inevitable up stepped Botham to smash a swashbuckling 149 not out, ably supported by Graham Dilley and Chris Old.

The target for the Australians was still only 130, but an inspired spell of fast bowling from Bob Willis sealed a remarkable victory. England went on to win the final two tests and the series aided by a rejuvenated and inspired Botham, who during one spell of bowling in the fourth test took 5 wickets for just one run.

Unsurprisingly he was named man of the series, scoring 399 runs and taking 34 wickets. An often forgotten part of Botham’s game was his safe pair of hands, particularly as a slip fielder, and in this series alone he took 12 catches. He was also voted BBC Sports Personality of the year for 1981.

4. Charity Work and Legacy

Alastair Campbell, Ian Botham, Bob Willis, James Erskine and David Gower (© Ben Sutherland, CC BY 2.0)
Ian Botham, David Lloyd and David Gower in front of the camera for Sky TV at Trent Bridge. (© Nic Readhead, CC BY-SA 2.0)
On 10 October 2007, Ian Botham was invested a Knight Bachelor by Queen Elizabeth II at Buckingham Palace.

Botham continued to play international cricket until 1992. He could still influence tournaments, taking 16 wickets in 10 games as England reached the 1992 ODI final.

He eventually left his beloved Somerset in 1986 in protest at the sacking of fellow players Viv Richards and Joel Garner, before playing for Worcestershire for five seasons and Durham for two, retiring in 1993. He also had a spell playing for Queensland in Australia. His final test wicket haul of 383 wickets made him the leading English test wicket taker of all time until he was surpassed by James Anderson in 2015. With the bat Botham scored 5,200 runs at an average of 33.54, stats which may not jump out at you from the paper, but they do not tell the story of what an impact player he was. Botham rose to the occasion and could take a match by the scruff of the neck, single-handedly turning it around in a completely thrilling manner.

When he broke his toe back in the Ashes series of 1977 he could not have envisaged where that may end up taking him. While in hospital he wondered in to the children’s ward and saw patients who had leukaemia with only weeks to live. It was a powerfully sobering moment for Botham, one which saw him take on a number of high-profile walks to raise funds for the cause. This series of gruelling walks began with John O’Groats to Land Endin 1985, an 874 mile effort which raised £400,000. Other walks took Botham to Sri Lanka, South Africa and Australia and it was in recognition of his charitable endeavours as well as his cricketing achievements that he was awarded a Knighthood in 2007.

Botham continues in cricket as a commentator, offering considered but forthright insights in to the game today. He has had his controversies, such as when he was banned for two months in 1986 after admitting to using cannabis, but Botham was a big personality as well as a big hitter on and off the cricket field. English cricket has struggled to find an all-rounder to match Botham’s pedigree since.

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