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 final moments of the seres in an interview with Wisden Cricket Monthly editor-in-chief Phil Walker. Part four can be found here.
England went into the sixth and final Test of the 1981 Ashes series with the urn already secured. Memorable interventions from Botham that are now part of English cricketing folklore were pivotal in each of the England wins in the preceding three Tests. Though the series was already settled, the Oval Test still served up a thrilling affair as England batted out the final day to avoid defeat. Dennis Lillee picked up 11 wickets across the Test as Australia were left three wickets short at the close. Botham, in what was probably his fourth best performance of the series, ended up with 10 wickets in the match .
IB: I can’t really remember much about The Oval, that’s just a blur. I think we were all knackered, to be honest. Once we’d won the Old Trafford Test, it’s almost like saying, ‘Why do we have to play the last Test because it’s all over red rover?’ It petered out to be a little bit of a lame draw.
PW: You took a ten-for!
IB: Oh, did I? (Botham shrugs) There you go. I’ll dig out the video!
The Oval Test brought an end to an extraordinary series – one of the most memorable ever played. 40 years on, Botham reflects on why he thinks the series is so revered.
IB: There’ll always be great series and there’ll always stand out. A combination of all the things we talked about earlier. Where England was a country at the time, I think it brought a lot of pleasure to a lot of people who perhaps hadn’t had a particularly pleasant time up til then with everything that was going on and I think it united us as a team. I think it did a lot to help the country, inadvertently because we were playing a sport. It’s like when England won the Rugby World Cup with the Jonny Wilkinson drop-goal – it’s special. Those sort of things don’t happen every day.
Another central figure in the series was Mike Brearley. Brearley was recalled two Tests into the series to captain the side at the age of 39. The Oval Test turned about to be the last in his international career.
IB: [He left the scene] very quietly. We all saw each other at the hotel but Brearley just slipped away, a little bit like John Wayne at the end of a movie, just riding into the sunset.