Sport on TV: Botham's heroics with bat and barbecue still serve up a feast

Something strange and extraordinary was always likely to happen in the summer of '81. There was political turmoil, rioting in the inner cities, and David Icke was presenting the sports news. It was a different world then, though not as different as Icke's world was soon to become, during his "turquoise period".

Then there were MCC members in the Lord's pavilion refusing to clap and turning their faces away when Ian Botham collected a pair of ducks against Australia. The country's most explosive cricketer for many a year appeared handcuffed and beaten. He might well have ducked if the old codgers had had enough strength to throw their rotten eggs (and bacon). Instead he stood down as captain.

Then came Headingley, and the summer turned on an innings that his replacement as skipper, Mike Brearley, described as "pure village green" in Botham: The Legend of '81 (BBC2, Wednesday). It took a force of nature from the bucolic West Country to unite the rest of the nation as the cities burned. England went on to win the Ashes in one of the greatest sporting comebacks of all time.

Of the rioting, Botham said: "You'd drive to grounds and see the smoke billowing out from the night before." He might have been talking about the barbecue he held at his home on the Saturday night when all seemed lost and the Ashes had all but slipped away. But out of the ashes of Beefy's burgers flew the phoenix, which must mark it down as one of the greatest barbecues of all time.

One small but important detail was missing from this excellent account: Brearley, Botham's guru, sent a signal out to the middle, telling him to play a few shots and enjoy himself. With that gesture he lifted the weight of the world off Botham's shoulders and allowed him to open them. Those broad shoulders would prove strong enough to carry the country's hopes along with him for the rest of an unforgettable summer.

Beefy's legs turned out to be even more important than his shoulders. The programme, unnecessarily, went on to describe his fall and salacious handling by those dear old friends of ours, the tabloids, before relating his redemption through a quarter of a century of charity walks which have increased the chances of survival for leukaemia sufferers from one in five to more than 90 per cent.

How huge was the contrast with another English "great", Bryan Robson, lurking in a dingy bar in Thailand, cutting shady deals in Dispatches: How to Buy a Football Club (Channel 4, Monday). Captain Marvel, whose shoulders didn't prove strong enough in the 1986 World Cup, is acting as a consultant for Andrew Leppard's London Nominees Football Fund as they try to flog English football clubs to foreign investors.

Robbo tells the undercover programme-makers that he was a manager in the Premier League for 12 years but omits to mention he was rubbish at it. So when Leppard says, "The good thing about a football club is that you can buy it and nobody will know it's you," he may as well have been talking to Robson.

The fixer, Manchester United Bar owner Joe Sim, claims: "I am very happy because Alex Ferguson is my brother." You have to doubt his claim; after all, if they are related, why isn't Sim's face bright purple? Meanwhile we await the next development in this saga: Robbo meets Robocop.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Media

Ashdown Group: Web Developer - ASP.NET, C#, MVC - London

£45000 - £55000 per annum + Excellent benefits: Ashdown Group: Web Developer -...

Ashdown Group: .NET Developer : ASP.NET , C# , MVC , web development

£40000 - £50000 per annum + Excellent benefits - see advert: Ashdown Group: .N...

Guru Careers: 3D Package Designer / 3D Designer

£25 - 30K: Guru Careers: We are seeking an exceptional 3D Package Designer / 3...

Guru Careers: Interior Designer

£Competitive: Guru Careers: We are seeking a strong Middleweight / Senior Inte...

Day In a Page

The saffron censorship that governs India: Why national pride and religious sentiment trump freedom of expression

The saffron censorship that governs India

Zareer Masani reveals why national pride and religious sentiment trump freedom of expression
Prince Charles' 'black spider' letters to be published 'within weeks'

Prince Charles' 'black spider' letters to be published 'within weeks'

Supreme Court rules Dominic Grieve's ministerial veto was invalid
Distressed Zayn Malik fans are cutting themselves - how did fandom get so dark?

How did fandom get so dark?

Grief over Zayn Malik's exit from One Direction seemed amusing until stories of mass 'cutting' emerged. Experts tell Gillian Orr the distress is real, and the girls need support
The galaxy collisions that shed light on unseen parallel Universe

The cosmic collisions that have shed light on unseen parallel Universe

Dark matter study gives scientists insight into mystery of space
The Swedes are adding a gender-neutral pronoun to their dictionary

Swedes introduce gender-neutral pronoun

Why, asks Simon Usborne, must English still struggle awkwardly with the likes of 's/he' and 'they'?
Disney's mega money-making formula: 'Human' remakes of cartoon classics are part of a lucrative, long-term creative plan

Disney's mega money-making formula

'Human' remakes of cartoon classics are part of a lucrative, long-term creative plan
Lobster has gone mainstream with supermarket bargains for £10 or less - but is it any good?

Lobster has gone mainstream

Anthea Gerrie, raised on meaty specimens from the waters around Maine, reveals how to cook up an affordable feast
Easter 2015: 14 best decorations

14 best Easter decorations

Get into the Easter spirit with our pick of accessories, ornaments and tableware
Paul Scholes column: Gareth Bale would be a perfect fit at Manchester United and could turn them into serious title contenders next season

Paul Scholes column

Gareth Bale would be a perfect fit at Manchester United and could turn them into serious title contenders next season
Inside the Kansas greenhouses where Monsanto is 'playing God' with the future of the planet

The future of GM

The greenhouses where Monsanto 'plays God' with the future of the planet
Britain's mild winters could be numbered: why global warming is leaving UK chillier

Britain's mild winters could be numbered

Gulf Stream is slowing down faster than ever, scientists say
Government gives £250,000 to Independent appeal

Government gives £250,000 to Independent appeal

Donation brings total raised by Homeless Veterans campaign to at least £1.25m
Oh dear, the most borrowed book at Bank of England library doesn't inspire confidence

The most borrowed book at Bank of England library? Oh dear

The book's fifth edition is used for Edexcel exams
Cowslips vs honeysuckle: The hunt for the UK’s favourite wildflower

Cowslips vs honeysuckle

It's the hunt for UK’s favourite wildflower
Child abuse scandal: Did a botched blackmail attempt by South African intelligence help Cyril Smith escape justice?

Did a botched blackmail attempt help Cyril Smith escape justice?

A fresh twist reveals the Liberal MP was targeted by the notorious South African intelligence agency Boss