Cricket: Over and out: The colossus called Botham can never be replaced by England: An English legend, whose skill and charisma served his country and sport so well, announces his retirement from first-class cricket

Click to follow
The Independent Online
AND so, with one bound, he was gone - just like those comic-book heroes whose scarcely believable deeds, compared to the exploits of Ian Terence Botham, were relegated to the realms of the two-a-penny and the humdrum. Cricket is the sort of game about which nothing can be said with any great certainty, but of this you can be perfectly sure. We will never see his like again.

He has, in all honesty, been gone for several years - or at least from the stage he once bestrode as the greatest cricketer of his time. The inevitability of it, however, does not (particularly in this era of over-coached, one- dimensional, Subbuteo cricketers) make it any less easy to accept the passing of one of the most gigantic and charismatic figures of this, or any other sport.

He has even been responsible for holes in the ozone layer, given the amount of rain forest felled to accommodate all the literature poured out about him, and it is not difficult to imagine future librarians wondering whether to file it on the fact or fiction shelves.

From my own comic-book days, it was just about believable when Alf Tupper, the 'Tough of The Track', would run all the way to an athletics meeting having been up all night welding, demolish a bag of fish and chips on the way, vault the barrier, and pip the opposition on the line while still munching the remains of his haddock. Headingley 1981, on the other hand, would have been dismissed as a gross insult to schoolboy intelligence.

He was, in his prime, a batsman who could easily have gone in at No 4 or No 5 in a Test match, such was his technique. However, his character militated against it, and his overpowering urge to dismiss even the world's most dangerous bowlers as back-garden cannon fodder was both frustrating and magnificent to watch.

It was as a bowler, however, that Botham will be primarily remembered, and as nothing more than one of the all-time greats. In his pomp, there was no more deadly purveyor of rapid late away-swing, and his bouncer, so essential to his ferociously competitive make-up, was as mean and dangerous as any West Indian's.

His ability to take wickets with a hopeless delivery is also the stuff of legend (his very first Test victim, Greg Chappell, Trent Bridge, 28 July, 1977, chopped a wide one on to his stumps) but it was largely the result of always being willing to try something different. I can still see Phillip DeFreitas, in the last Test England won against Australia (Melbourne 1986) retire to fine leg after taking no wickets with an unplayable spell of new ball bowling, then watch in disbelief as Botham ran through them with a mixture of good ones, lollipops, and long-hops.

Like many great cricketers, Botham never believed that he ever bowled a bad ball or played a bad shot. Ray Illingworth, for example, was never genuinely out - and once walked in, after a particularly gruesome shot, claiming that the umpire had given him the wrong guard. If Botham dropped a slip catch (and let us not forget his brilliance in this area either) the sun was in his eyes, and if he got hit for four, he kicked hell out of the footholds and glared at the groundsman's hut. Massive self-belief made him the colossus he was.

Botham might conceivably have played 30 more Test matches than he did had it not been for various bodily malfunctions as he grew older, including almost a year out of action with a serious back injury, and a general slowing down that had more to do with self-inflicted demands on his constitution. Botham was never more awesome than when he was at a bar, and not only did he burn the candle at both ends, he very often set fire to the middle. However, cricket reflects a man's character like no other sport, and had he not been larger than life off the field, neither would he have been the player he was on it.

He constantly fell foul of authority, where the apparent lack of a filter system between brain and mouth led to public observations about mothers- in-law, and selectorial gin-swigging dodderers. He was expelled from the Queensland team after a fracas on a plane, and banned for admitting that he occasionally played cricket on the sort of grass that had less to do with the verdant pastures of Taunton, Worcester and Durham, as the kind you rolled up in a cigarette paper.

As a character, he has always had an urge to be loved, and anyone who could make him laugh, and still remain vaguely upright in his company at three in the morning was admitted to his inner circle. If he took a dislike to anyone, it was as total as the way he played his cricket, and vice-versa. His friends are for life, and he is fiercely loyal.

His generosity is also legendary, and we are talking here not just from a fat wallet, but from an outsized heart. His involvement with leukaemia began when he was with Somerset, on a hospital visit, when he noticed that many of the kids in a children's ward were hairless through chemotherapy treatment. The doctor informed him that many would not be alive next week, and Botham immediately offered to pay for a party.

He then discussed the idea of a fund-raising walk with his wife, Kath, who suggested a trip across the Pennines. Typical of Botham, he decided to go the whole hog from John O'Groats to Land's End, since when he has spent thousands of nights peeling off his socks to survey the damage to two raw appendages looking like something you last saw in a butcher's window at pounds 4.50 per pound. He has personally raised close on pounds 3m.

He is a much more rounded bloke nowadays, a reference to his nature rather than his stomach, and he has always been a gracious sportsman as well as a hard one. After England had lost the World Cup final to Pakistan, no one felt it more than Botham, yet he it was who smiled and shook hands with the opposition while others shuffled around looking miserable.

We have lost not only a great cricketer, but in many ways, a great man. It is a measure of his greatness that England have never replaced him, and those of us privileged to have been alive to watch cricket while he was playing can state with some conviction that they never will.

THE IAN BOTHAM FILE

Born: Heswall, Cheshire, 24 November 1955.

Height: 6ft 1in.

County debut: Somerset (1974), Worcestershire (1987), Durham (1992).

County Caps: Somerset (1976), Worcestershire (1987), Durham (1992).

First-class record: (as at Saturday's close of current game): 19,399 runs (38 centuries, average 33.97), 1,172 wickets (average 27.16), 354 catches.

Test debut: 1977 (v Australia, Trent Bridge).

Tests: 102, including 12 as captain between 1980 and 1981.

Test record: 5,200 runs (14 centuries, 22 50s, average 33.54), 383 wickets (27 five-wicket innings, four 10-wicket matches, average 28.40), 120 catches.

One-day internationals: 116.

1,000 runs in a season: Four times (most 1,530 1985).

100 wickets in a season: once (1978).

50 wickets in a season: seven times.

Best bowling: 8 for 34 England v Pakistan, Lord's 1978.

Best batting: 228 Somerset v Gloucestershire, Taunton 1980.

Honours: County Championship (with Worcestershire 1988, 1989). NatWest Trophy (formerly Gillette Cup) 1979, 1983 (with Somerset). Benson and Hedges Cup 1981, 1982 (with Somerset). Refuge Assurance League (formerly John Player League) 1979 (with Somerset), 1987, 1988 (with Worcestershire). BBC Sports Personality of the Year: 1981. OBE: 1992.

(Photograph omitted)

Comments