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My Favourite Photo: Peak Botham captured in his element

Ian Botham Headingley 1981
John Stern by John Stern 2 minute read

The picture of Ian Botham ‘having the cigar on’ during the historic Headingley Test of 1981 is one that depicts “peak Botham”, writes John Stern.

“Happiness is a cigar called Hamlet,” said the TV advert. Happiness is also turning an Ashes Test match on its head. This iconic image was taken by Adrian Murrell of Allsport, now the all-powerful Getty Images, on the fourth evening of the third Test at Headingley in 1981. Patrick Eagar, the doyen of cricket photography, was also in the England dressing room and took a similar photo in which Ian Botham doesn’t have the cigar in his mouth.

We’re used to the phrase ‘having the cigar on’ but in these politically and socially correct times it can rarely be used literally. Botham is 145 not out after one of Test cricket’s most stunning days that began with England, who were 1-0 down in the series, 6-1 following on in their second innings, still 233 runs behind Australia. On the final morning, Botham would add four more runs, England five, before setting Australia 130 to win. England won by 18 runs and would win the series.

What is going on in Botham’s head? Pride? Disbelief? Thoughts of a steak dinner and an expensive bottle of red?

I love that he’s still got his pads on, not to mention a long-sleeved sweater and presumably a short-sleeved one underneath. This might be one of the most famous Tests of all time but the weather was grim and the crowds patchy, to say the least. Britain was at a low ebb, as was its cricket team until Beefy had his life-defining few weeks.

And he’s about to light up in the dressing room. Of course he is. A beautifully outdated and moody scene, as befitting this lion of England and hero of Thatcherite Britain. Bearded and bullish, this is peak Botham. An image that says I can and will do anything.

First published in November 2016.

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