There are very few instances in which a single match becomes a crown-jewel for a player’s career. No matter how many games he plays, how many centuries he scores or how many wickets he picks, he will always speak about that single match with the utmost pride. The third Test of Ashes in 1981 is such a game for Sir Ian Botham.
Ian Botham was handed over the captaincy duties of England at a young age of 24, when he was already a key member of the team as he performed with both the bat and the ball. Despite being able to perform well, he couldn’t justify himself as a captain. Series losses against Australia and West Indies gave the selectors enough reasons to doubt his captaincy skills.
Even the Ashes didn’t go as planned for Botham. The 1st Test was was won by the Australians while the 2nd Test ended up a draw. As a captain, he failed. And as a player too, he failed. Particularly, him making a pair in the second Test left the selectors fuming. After losing 12 matches consecutively, he was axed as the skipper before the 3rd Test and the earlier captain, Mike Brearly was reinstated.
Ian Botham was now desperate to prove his worth in the team, and he did…he did it big time. A confident Australia, winning the toss, chose to bat. Backed by some sensational knocks from the captain Kim Hughes and John Dyson, Australia declared after scoring 401 in the first innings. While the rest of the bowlers failed to do much, Ian Botham ended up picking 6 wickets after bowling close to 40 overs giving 95 runs. At this point, Australia was pretty confident about winning the match and humiliating England once again.Embed from Getty Images
After bowling for over a day and a half, Botham was exhausted and was badly in need of rest. But the English top order didn’t really help Botham as their batting lineup was falling down like a pack of cards. England was 87/5 when Botham walked in and he, the attacking batsman he was, decided to have a go at the bowlers. He scored a quick 50 in just 54 balls before getting out to Dennis Lillee. England managed to put up only 174 runs as a reply to Australia’s 401 and was asked to follow-on.
The chances of England’s victory became only thinner and thinner ball by ball. England’s follow-on too didn’t go well as its batsmen were once again failing to make a mark. Apart from Geoffrey Boycott who showed some resilience, none of the other batsmen was able to put up a fight. England was at 105/5 when Botham walked in to bat. And just 28 runs later, England’s only hope of levelling the series, Boycott was out after playing 141 balls. The next batsman, Rob Taylor was out after scoring only a run. England was in all sorts of troubles now at 135/7.
This is when something completely unexpected happened. Ian Botham once again started slogging, but this time he was at his best. He hit four after four and shook the spectators. Even his partner Graham Dilley supported him well scoring his share of runs. Dilley got out for 56 as Botham and Dilley put a partnership of 117 runs for the eighth wicket. Botham continued his onslaught with the new batsman Chris Old at the other end. These two put up a partnership of 62 for the ninth wicket.Embed from Getty Images
With the next batsman Bob Willis hardly knowing how to hold a bat, Botham had to play the major share of balls. But Willis got out for just 2 runs as Botham was left stranded at 149 off just 148 balls. His innings had a whopping 27 fours and a six as England managed to score 356 in the follow-on. Australia had to score just 130 runs to win the match.
Now, Botham was clearly worn out bowling 40-odd overs in the first innings and batting a lot in the second and third innings. Now, to his surprise, he was asked to open the bowling in the fourth innings. While Botham didn’t have to do much in this innings, his partner Willis, who had got out for just 2 runs leaving Botham at 149 earlier did the damage to the Australian batting line-up. Willis picked 8 wickets while Botham picked just one. Australia was out for 111 and England won the match. Yes, England won the match even after being forced to follow on!
Botham, whose place in the English squad was being questioned prior to the match was now being hailed the hero. He was awarded the ‘Man of the Match’ for his performance in this match. In the fourth Test, he helped England win by picking a fifer in the fourth innings and was once again declared the ‘Man of the Match’. In the fifth Test too, he was awarded the ‘Man of the Match’ for his gutsy 118 in just 102 balls. England went on to win the Ashes that year, thanks to Botham’s heroics.Embed from Getty Images
It isn’t a surprise, that even to this date, 1981’s Ashes is termed as ‘Ian Botham’s Ashes’.
Featured Image:- danielgreef/Dan / CC BY (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)
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