Posted by: nestaquin | October 14, 2008

Ian Botham: A Heart as Big as His Mouth

The crew at 99.94 are delighted that after five day’s hard yakka in Bangalore, The Tooting Trumpet returns to open your hearts and hopefully your wallets in a taut, humorous and informative article about one of England’s finest cricketers and perhaps her most colourful and contentious character, Sir Ian Botham.

What can one say about His Beefiness that hasn’t been said already, usually by him?

Well that’s no way to start an article, so instead we’ll use the opportunity afforded by his latest Charity Walk to review two curiously opposed aspects of his curious career.

The Bowling

It’s easy to forget that Ian Botham, like Andrew Flintoff, is really a bowler who can bat and not an all-rounder in its truest sense of meriting a place via either discipline. This point is clear in his first Test aged 21 (inevitably against Australia, inevitably a win, inevitably with five wickets for the comically slight boy called “Boff-am” by many), in which he batted at eight behind the talented Alan Knott at seven and the rather less talented current National Selector, Geoff Miller, at six.

His bowling in those early days was a superb mix of stock outswing, a variation inswinger and off and leg cutters, with enough pace for a nasty bouncer and the control that allowed him to set up batsmen as effectively as Wasim Akram or Glenn McGrath.

He used the crease well and understood how a change of pace could upset the rhythm of a batsman. For a man who has never shown much inclination since to listen to anyone, it is clear that his relationship with Tom Cartwright (who took his 1536 first class wickets at under 20!) was as important as Shane Warne’s with Terry Jenner.

Having taken his 200th Test wicket in the match that rounded off “Botham’s Ashes“, there seemed to be no limit to what he might achieve with the ball in  hand. But then he seemed to lose interest in his bowling, or lose interest in the hard physical work that bowlers need to put in year after year, and declined into a parody of his former self, bowling military medium pace and long-hop bouncers.

He still dismissed batsmen through sheer personality, but the gift had been squandered. After 42 Test matches, he had just turned 26 years old and had taken 211 wickets at an average of 20.93. In the remaining 60 Tests of his career, he was to take just 172 more wickets at the embarrassing average of 37.56.

Yes he had some injuries, with many were brought on or exacerbated by his lifestyle choices – but, essentially, this was a man who just couldn’t be bothered.

The Walking

The story as told (and told and told and told) by the man, is that he was visiting Taunton hospital with a bad toe one day and chanced into a ward full of children. On being told that it was a leukaemia ward and that the kids had but weeks to live, he was taken aback (as any person would be). Unlike most other people however, Botham decided to do something about it and set off in 1985 to walk the 900 miles from one end of The Old Dart to the other in a kind of pub crawl from hell. He was still a hero in those days, and brokered that status into substantial fundraising.

Incredibly for anyone observing his deteriorating cricketing powers, it was no one-off stunt. Including the current event, Botham has undertaken eleven more punishing walks, which have raised over £10M for childhood leukaemia research and helped lift the survival rate from 20% to 80%.

Yes he has made some mistakes, with many brought on or exacerbated by his lifestyle choices – but, essentially, this is a man who just could be bothered.

Readers can donate here.

Tomorrow: A wrap from either ends of the Earth on every player’s perfomance from the First Test at Bangalore.



  1. This is how I remember Sir Ian

  2. Anyone who can irritate Roebuck with just the mention of his name and woo a lass with the pick-up line, ‘Babe, you ain’t seen nothing yet! The mighty Beefy sword awaits … and that’s just for starters.’ is alright in my book.

    I think a true measure of a man is seen through their capacity for altruism, especially when they give their time rather than just writing a cheque (although that is worthy too).

    And as much as the English cringe at his commentary I usually enjoy it. When he has had a few drinks at lunch he often has me laughing out loud in the afternoon even though I presume he is trying to be serious!

    I reckon if they made a guide of the waterholes he visits on ‘the pub crawl from hell’ you’d get quite a few Aussies trying to emulate his feats.

  3. Thanks for the comments lads. Botham is an omnipresent character in British life with opinions like a record stuck in a groove.

    But you’re right Nesta about the altruism – it is not tokenism, but a deep seated commitment. It does keep his name in the news, which helps with the adverts and the once every three years autobiographies, but that’s not why he does it.

    However, if your view about his commentating is shared widely in Aus, there’s plenty here would club together to buy Sir Beefy a one way ticket (or a ten bob passage as was).

  4. We already have one retired omnipresent, egocentric, perversely talented yobbo cricketer and I don’t think there would be room in the whole continent, however sparsely populated, for them both.

    He visits your shores often and likewise, your mob love him as a personality much more than we do.

  5. plays a bit of poker too…

  6. That’s no way to talk about Richie.

  7. The thing that has surprised me about Both’s commentary is that someone so flamboyant and gambling on the field is just so measured and dull behing the mike.

    But you can’t knock 200 test wickets off half-volleys though

  8. Botham clearly over-ate, over-drank and over-drugged his way into Beefy military medium pace, but I’d spare a thought that his injuries occurred in an era when sports science was a lot less advanced and the back injury in particular was the kind that we understand a lot more about now.

    (Some might say the resurgence of England Cricket is that we’re still injuring fast bowlers as often as we used to, but we’ve learned to patch them up better – see Fred, Jimmy, S. Jones.)

    As for the heart of the man, as I kid I had the pleasure of walking a couple of miles along with him on one of his leukaemia walks and he was talking to the public who’d joined that stretch, explaining the purpose of the walk and it was clear as it can be that here was someone really trying to make a difference. Got to respect that.

  9. Metatone – I am troubled by inability to give Botham any credit past his 40th Test, but your point about sports science is a good one and I shall bear that in mind when talking of him in the future.

  10. I really wish Ian hadn’t fallen away so much in his later years. I have very, very fond memories of him from the period 1979-82. His batting was amazing as was his slip catching.

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