Headingley’81: The Heroics of Botham

Headingley: The Ground

What is miracle? You ask a cricket enthusiast and he will narrate you the epic lore of the miraculous Eden Gardens in a dramatic manner. With most of the contemporary cricket fans mellowed in their cricket memories are always apt to say that you will never see the likes of so and so again, there can never be a match as exciting and thrilling as this or that but before 2001, a miracle had taken place exactly 20 years back at Headingley in 1981. And what exactly happened left most of the cricket pundits on the field awestruck.

Botham: The Sensation of 70’s

Ian Botham, a sensation of the late ’70s for England had performed wonders in his first 25 Tests. England played a one-off test in India in 1980 to mark the Golden Jubilee of BCCI. And the hero was none other than Sir Ian Botham who became the first man to score a hundred and take 10 wickets in the same match. Till then, Botham had already taken 139 wickets in 25 tests at an average of 18.53 and scored over 1000 runs at an average of 41.

The England Cricket board always had the ability to reduce the career of its best players by handing them the responsibility of captaincy. Botham became a captain and then started the downfall of his till-now great record. His average with the bat became 13 and that with the ball became 33. Pressure could be seen on Botham when the numbers read 8 lost in the 12 matches he captained and won none. Australia toured England for the Ashes in 1981, and won the first match at Trent Bridge quite comfortably in a low scoring match. At Lord’s, England managed to draw the match because of some good resistant batting by Willey and Gower. But there was only one man in the limelight and he was Botham who bagged a pair in the match. Botham resigned in pressure and ECB called back its most successful captain, Mike Brearely.

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Selectors were reluctant on the selection of Botham, but Mike called him in the evening and asked if he wanted to play in Headingley and Botham’s reply was,

Of course! I bloody want to play Brears, and I have a good feeling about this Test, we can beat this shower”. “That’s great”, said Brearley, “I think you’ll get 150 runs and 10 wickets”.

Headingley was the first ground in England to install the electronic scoreboard, and after Australia chose to bat first the scoreboard read 203-3 at the end of the first day after rain affected the game. John Dyson posted his maiden test Century after getting dropped on 57 by Botham. The next day, Kim Hughes and Graham Yallop extended the score till 332 and Botham was brought back again by Mike. Mike had entrusted a lot of faith in Ian for he knew him to perform incredibly well when his team needed him to. Nothing had gone his way till now but Beefy hung there as if he knew it was his day today.

Botham Strikes!

Botham who was brought back again by Mike struck too early. Caught and bowled!!! Botham got Kim Hughes on 89 and then started the epic saga of the historic marathon spell of 22 overs on the trot by Ian Botham, broken only by the tea-break. Hughes fell when Australia were 332 and nearly at a respectable score. But Beefy ran through the Australians one by one to restrict them 401. Botham scalped 5 wickets for 48 runs in his 22 over-spell and finished with overall 6 wickets. But surprisingly Hughes declared the innings at 401-9. He wanted the Englishmen to taste some last overs left for the day. England finished the day without any loss. But the next day something happened which was a regular affair for the English team for quite some time. While Botham was trying hard to hit the deck, on the other hand, Dennis Lillee, Tery Alderman and Geoff Lawson kept a single tactic of bowling straight and on a fuller length and the England team started perishing at regular intervals. No matter who was performing what wonders on the ground, all eyes were on one person, Botham, who didn’t disappoint while his other teammates did. Beefy completed his fifty and England were halted at 174 runs. Lillee, Lawson and Alderman had ripped the English team apart. The three managing 10 wickets between them. Hughes forced a follow on and nothing changed for the English team. Gooch was caught at slip off Lillee and that ended a day’s play with 221 still required. 

Collapse !!

Sunday was a rest day and then on Monday, England displayed their skills of self-destruction again with a poor start. Lillee removed Gooch for a duck and then Brearley, Gower, Gatting and Willey all fell cheaply and the England team were reeling at 105-5. Alderman and Lillee were spitting fire here at Headingley. It seemed more than easy for both than any other fast bowler on the other side. That’s when Botham walked out to bat after lunch and this time he began cautiously. Shortly after his arrival, Boycott was trapped LBW by Alderman and England were now 133-6. Defeat loomed over England again and questions of playing Beefy were making their way in the press again. That’s when the electronic scoreboard flashed with the name of Ladbroke, England’s legal betting company, showing up the odds of 500-1 against England Victory.

Expect the Unexpected!!

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Dennis Lillee and Rodney Marsh were more at ease after the former had ripped Englishmen apart in the second innings too. Both bet their few pounds on England for fun. Next to go was Bob Taylor, dismissed by Alderman and England were now 135-7. Lillee laughed, so did Rodney and England were still 92 runs behind and Graham Dilley joined Botham. Beefy then shifted his gears and smashed anything that offered him width and it was all runs in fours all over the ground. Lillee, Alderman, Lawson all were being hit by Botham and no one escaped the pyrotechnics of this 25-year-old who soon reached his 50. It seemed to provide entertainment to English spectators before they went home with sad faces. Beefy’s 50 was far too entertaining innings so far and spectators cheered and danced amidst the looming moment of defeat coming their way. No one knew what was coming and by the time Aussies realized what was happening Botham reeled towards his century. From 135 for 7, Botham’s pyrotechnics pushed England towards a big score. England soon crossed 227 and Australia knew they had to bat again but to chase what was yet to be revealed.

Heroics of Botham!!

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The prologue of Botham’s batting after taking the lead unfolded the most dramatic chapter of Test Cricket. Botham cut himself loose and runs flooded. The humongous six he hit off Alderman is remembered by many on the ground and the words associated with it by Richie Benaud made a place in the hearts of millions who heard his commentary,

No need to look for that one, It’s gone straight into the confectionery stall…and out again.

Dilley was bowled by Alderman on 56. The lead was increasing and Old joined Botham to make another 67 run-stand and Botham hit an incredible 27 fours and 2 sixes to take the lead of 129 runs and England ended their run on 356 runs with Ian Botham, a villain two matches ago emerged as the hero of Englishmen, remained 149 not out.  Australia, it seemed, never thought of batting again was already feeling the pressure of it and it was revealed when they kept losing wickets on a regular interval. Bob Willis rode on the pressure to wreak havoc on the Australians and went on to produce the best figures of his career taking incredible 8 wickets and won the match for England by 18 runs. Botham who had wreak havoc was a hero again, he took 7 wickets and made 199 runs in the match. 

The Miracle.

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Only two Australians were happy, Lillee and Marsh who made quite a good money by betting funnily on England. Destiny left everyone awestruck when England won the match unexpectedly, Botham wreaked havoc with his pyrotechnics, Bob Willis took incredible 8 wickets and then Lillee and Marsh won a good sum of money by betting on England. Australia then went on to lose the next two matches and lost the Ashes series by 3-1. Beefy took an incredible 34 wickets in the series and made nearly 400 runs and was named Man of the Series.
Australia lost the match after enforcing the follow on and then lost the series after winning the first match and the miracle was repeated exactly 20 years later when they toured India in 2001, won the first Test match, lost the second after enforcing follow on (VVS 281 and Dravid 180) and then went on to lose the series.

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