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The ’81 Ashes through Botham’s eyes: England dominate at Old Trafford

by Wisden Staff 3 minute read

In association with Botham Wines, Lord Ian Botham relives the 1981 Ashes as he remembers it.

The summer of 2021 marks 40 years since Botham’s Ashes had a grip on the sporting conscience of the country, with several extraordinary performances from Botham leading England to an unlikely series turnaround against Australia. Botham recalls the Old Trafford Test, the penultimate game of the series, in an interview with Wisden Cricket Monthly editor-in-chief Phil Walker. Part 3 can be found here.

England went into the Test 2-1 with two to play. The hosts were in the ascendancy from the start of the fifth Test, bowling Australia out for 130 giving them a lead of more than 100 runs. What followed has been described as one of the purest displays of timing seen from Botham in Test cricket.

IB – It’s right up there, there and Brisbane 86/87, I think those are the two best knocks I played. I had a great man at the other end, he’s the unforgotten hero and that’s Chris Tavare. Everybody thinks Chris nurdles, but he is actually one of the best one-day players I played with, he was one of the first guys that backed away outside leg stump to give himself a chance to go over the off-side. Chris was out there with me, I forget how many we put on but it was a good total. We had the old ball, and I said ‘let’s just play, and then when we get the new ball on this surface, I’m gonna have a go’

After a circumspect beginning, the new ball gave Botham a new lease of life, and he went on to make an 86-ball century.

IB – I wasted the first 30-odd balls, otherwise I would have done it in a lot quicker time. We just set our stall out to play like that, Tav and myself. I said ‘you’ll stay with me?’ and he actually scored more quickly than I did in that period. And then with the new ball with Dennis [Lillee] who I respect as one of the greatest fast bowlers of all time, to take him on, managing to put a couple in the train station, was special. I don’t think I mis-hit anything really in the whole innings, and that doesn’t happen very often if ever. I was in great form for Somerset as well, so that helped, getting more and more time at the crease.

Botham famously hit Dennis Lillee for three consecutive sixes at one point in his innings.

IB – I never looked at it when I hooked it, I’m too good looking! I had a few on the top of the head and things like that. The worst one was actually against Steve Barwick who played for Glamorgan, I charged him and went to pull him, and top edged it. I looked like Elephant Man, Kath [Botham’s wife] came down to pick me up after surgery, and walked straight past me!

Botham explains what it was like facing Dennis Lillee.

IB – I say I didn’t look at it, but I could see the ball when I got in position otherwise you get hurt. It was a great contest, to do it against someone who you think is one of the best, maybe THE best, he’s right up there with Malcolm Marshall, these are special, special bowlers and to take him on was fantastic. You didn’t have time to think about it, it was just instinct, if I ever thought about it I would be in a terrible mess at that speed.

On the philosophy of batting against the short ball, Botham explains how Australia great Allan Border had his struggles in this game, eventually overcoming the short ball.

IB – It would be remiss of me not to mention Allan Border, I actually broke his hand in the first innings, quite a nasty break. He battled it out, getting not many more, but he came out to bat when we were cruising to victory, and I hit him on the same spot after one or two overs, you could see it hurt him but he gutted it out for 300 deliveries, making a hundred and that tells you a lot about the guy. I had seen him some great innings but for sheer guts that was right up there.

In the fourth innings, Border and Graham Yallop both scored centuries, but was Botham ever nervous about the result?

IB – No. The fourth innings is never a great time to bat, unless you’re on a road, which that wasn’t. It did enough to keep you interested, it was probably the best of all the pitches of that series and by The Oval we were knackered.

Over the course of the summer we are working in partnership with Botham Wines to celebrate the 40th anniversary of Botham’s Ashes. Forty years as an international cricketer and commentator have taken Botham to wineries and vineyards across the globe in the development of his own range of wines. He worked passionately with renowned winemakers to create bespoke blends to his exacting standards. Only when a wine is good enough to go on his own table does Ian allow his name to go on the label. For more information visit www.bothamwines.com


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