A working class hero is something to be.
—JOHN LENNON, 1970
Not all the time, though, as Ian Terence Botham spent much of last summer finding out. And he had reached his lowest point, perhaps, on a Sunday afternoon two months ago. That was in the resort town of Weston-super-Mare in Avon as the rain I fell, and the day's cricket looked sure to be washed out.
Restlessly, he shifted in his chair in the players' pavilion, all 6'2" of him, 220 pounds at a fairground guess, muscled like a Clydesdale, blond-streaked hair on his collar. And even though to the average Englishman, to the kind who now sat wetly in the unsheltered $6 seats in the meager hope of seeing him at bat, he was Drake, Nelson and Churchill rolled into one, his own feelings were those of a moody Coriolanus, exiled from his rightful domain. "Should have gone bloody fishing," he said, meaning it.
It was strange to see Botham, arguably the best player of the century, sitting there idle. To find his like in sport, to find someone who has so dominated his chosen game, you would have to go back more than half a century, to another ball game and to Babe Ruth.
Just as in Ruth's case, his range of skills is extraordinary. He is a mighty hitter with the bat, perhaps the most explosive and dramatic ever seen. In earlier years, especially, he was demonic with the ball. And always he has been brilliant in the field. In international competition (Test matches, as they are called) he has had no equal as an all-rounder—batsman and bowler. He has scored 4,577 runs for his country, including 13 centuries (innings, that is, in which he has hit 100 runs or more). He has held—made—97 catches. And also, agonizingly, he now needed to take only two more wickets (cricketese for putting a batsman out) to break the world record, held by Australia's Dennis Lillee, of 355 taken in Test matches.
But even that tiny gap looks unbridgeable this soaking day, for now, at 30, it seems as if Botham has to prove himself all over again. He has just come off a two-month suspension, and though he is back with his club side, Somerset, his future on England's national team—from which he has never been dropped for cricketing reasons since he first played for his country in 1977—looks worse than bleak. He has been away from cricket since May 30, and at this point there seems no chance of his recall this year, if ever. The men who choose the national team are, in the main, those who suspended him in May, the Test and County Cricket Board, a body, some claim, so hidebound that it makes the All England Club, which governs Wimbledon, seem like a bunch of giggling, pink-coiffed trendies.
That suspension had come after Botham—everybody calls him Both to rhyme with broth—had, in mid-May, confessed in a London newspaper that as a younger man he had occasionally used cannabis. And typically, after sentence had been pronounced—driven, it seems, by the self-destructive urge that all his life has marched in step with his superb athleticism—he had compounded the offense by standing up and publicly calling his judges "gin-slinging dodderers" at a cricket club dinner.
That, of course, is just what you would expect from a working-class hero, a fellow whose father was a navy CPO; who never went to college, let alone Oxford or Cambridge; a beefy kid who had run with street gangs. He left school as soon as he legally could, because, he would say later with characteristic flippancy, he could see no point in learning mathematics. (He might have been right there. All through his adult life, scoreboards and scorekeepers—occasionally desperately flustered scorekeepers—have looked after all the important figuring for him.) Some might find a touch of pathos in the stories of his peering through the railings to watch the home games of Yeovil Grammar School (roughly the equivalent of senior high school), from which he could have graduated.
But he has always been intensely loyal to old friends, in particular to Viv Richards, a West Indian from Antigua a couple of years his elder. Richards joined the Somerset club in the season after' the 18-year-old Both. Richards developed into as great a batsman as the Englishman is an all-rounder and on the way became the godfather of Botham's children. Anybody who assumed in Both's presence that he shares what in England is still a fairly common antiblacks-in-sport prejudice would have a fair chance of having his face flattened. And passion still comes into Botham's voice when he talks of the racial barracking that sometimes goes on at English cricket grounds.
With typical perversity, you could say, a more recent good friend is Allan Borders, captain of the national side of archenemy Australia. There are those who find something unbecoming, to say the least, in newspaper reports of Botham and Borders heading out to dinner or playing golf together in the very middle of a Test match.
In the minds of much of the cricket establishment, though, a pro is what he always has been, just a hired hand recruited to stiffen gentlemanly, amateur sides. The trouble with fellows like Botham, they tell each other, hoisting their gin and tonics at Lord's Cricket Ground in London, is that they don't seem to know their place....
Forgotten entirely, it would seem, was the miraculous summer series of 1981 in which, virtually single-handedly, it seemed, Both had destroyed the Australians. John Arlott, doyen of English cricket writers, declared that there hadn't been "a remotely parallel performance in Test history." That was the high, golden summer of Bonny Prince Botham, now unassailably the best all-rounder in the world, recognized as perhaps the best English cricketer since the days of W.G. Grace (1848-1915), whom, of course, few alive now ever saw play.
The glory summer was barely over, though, before Botham made the Fleet Street papers again. But not in the sports pages. The somber report in the London Times read, "Mr Botham, aged 25, denied that, on the night last December that he was alleged to have assaulted Steven Isbister, age 20, a Royal Navy [sailor], occasioning him actual bodily harm, drink, and tiredness and the chase of Mr Isbister had brought out the worst in him."
It had all happened at 2 a.m. outside a nightclub, and it sounded as if the sailor had begun the scuffle as a piece of bravado. The jury failed to reach an agreement, and the judge entered a verdict of not guilty. Fleet Street wrung all it could out of the incident. For the tabloids it was exit the Bonny Prince, enter Guy the Gorilla (as they liked—and still like—to call him after a famous, now deceased, resident of the London zoo).
A lot of athletes have been called gorillas, or something like that. Babe Ruth, flattered at first at being called Tarzan, grew angry when somebody helpfully explained Tarzan's connection with the apes. This leads on investigation to other, far more striking, parallels in the lives of these two great hitters of the ball. Consider the following passage from Robert W. Creamer's biography Babe:
"Pete Appleton [told of] Ruth phoning down to a hotel lobby from his room, asking the switchboard to page 'any Yankee player that's around down there.' Appleton, who was new to the ball club, took the call, and Ruth said, 'Hey, keed, how about coming up and playing some cards with me?' He was lonesome, Appleton explained."
Now put it alongside these words from Peter Roebuck, Botham's captain on the Somerset side:
"He hides in his hotel room, watching endless videos, ordering up meals from room service, sleeping...." Roebuck goes on to tell how, late at night, Botham would call up one of his teammates and ask him over for a chat. He wanted company. "Quite simply," Roebuck says, "he is a lonely man, perhaps the loneliest I've ever met."
Try a couple more:
Harry Frazee, owner of the Red Sox, on why he traded Ruth to the Yankees in 1920: "It would be impossible to start next season with Ruth and have a smooth working machine."
And, once again, Roebuck: "It's said, Botham is so wild that he destroys a team's cohesion.... Without Botham's anarchic energy, the traditionalist critics observed, the team at last could play as a team."
Ruth, of course, had his personal, one-man Test and County Cricket Board in the form of Judge Kenesaw Mountain Landis, the commissioner of baseball, and he was fined and suspended. It's easy to go on to pick out parallels: the drinking sprees; the 6 a.m. returns to the hotel room; the precipitous slumps in between the glory days; the brawling; the altercations with umpires; the ignored speed limits; the junked cars (Botham is maybe ahead here—he once wrecked two Saabs in one day on a racetrack). And the reverse of the coin—the inborn, untutored gift of hitting hugely with perfect timing. It might be noted that Botham, pondering baseball on a recent occasion, allowed that he would find pitching alien, pointing out that the grass is a vehicle for his delivery as much as his arm or his hand—the cricket ball is bounced to the batsman. But at bat, he said, he was sure he could make it at baseball. "It's just a hand-and-eye thing, isn't it?" he said, without affectation. "I'd have no problem with that."
But neither in the Babe's nor Both's case did this God-given physical coordination come with the gift of staying out of the wrong section of the papers. Botham has for years—lavishly, negligently almost—provided Fleet Street with ammunition. And most of the time he cared little about it, because, like Ruth again, he could party all night and then destroy the enemy on the field the next morning. Frank Keating, who writes a column in The Guardian, tells of a night in India when the English side was touring that country in 1982. As dawn broke the barman was asleep on the floor, and the writer and Botham were the last men left on the barstools. "I managed an hour's sleep," recalls Keating, "before having to grope for the team bus, Ian incredibly looking as if he'd slept like a baby. England batted. In no time three wickets were gone [and Botham] strode in, none too pleased, to join [Mike] Gat-ting. He was still in his sandy-scuffed gym shoes and tracksuit bottoms when the call came. He played himself in with heavy menace, blocking the first 11 balls. [In effect, fouling them off.] In the next 44 balls he hit 16 fours, 7 sixes, 3 twos and 10 singles. [A four you get for hitting the ball so that it crosses the boundary, the perimeter of the playing area, and a six—you can call it a home run—happens when the ball clears the boundary without touching the ground first.] When Ian arrived at the wicket, Gatting had not yet scored. When Ian was out—for a power-crazed 122—Mike had reached 5. Ian strode back, had a wash—and then went to the gym behind the pavilion to play three sets of badminton!" (On that same trip, incidentally, Botham hit his highest score in international cricket—208 against India.)
"I enjoy a pint. Is that a crime?" Botham says with typical candor. But at the start of 1984 he found himself accused of a crime far worse than that in the eyes of the cricketing establishment. England had gone to New Zealand, had played appallingly and lost a Test series there for the first time in cricket history. Thereafter the team had traveled on to Pakistan where, in the Lahore Hilton, Botham had learned that on March 11, a Fleet Street tabloid called The Mail on Sunday had splashed a front-page story headlined: BOTHAM NAMED IN DRUGS SENSATION—I SAW HIM SPACED OUT IN HOTEL, CLAIMS GIRL WITNESS. The rambling piece had been built around a statement by a 24-year-old New Zealand journalist named Mary Burgess, who had gone, uninvited by Botham, up to his hotel room in Wellington and found him innocently occupied, you might think, watching a rerun of From Here to Eternity on TV.
As soon as he read the allegations, Botham announced that he would leave the English team and fly home, pleading an injured knee. At the time the excuse sounded a thin one. In fact, it was perfectly true. His left knee had finally quit because of what the doctors called "a continued degenerative condition"—in other words, years of wear and trauma caused by the huge strain on it as it took the shock of Botham's foot crashing into the ground simultaneously with his delivery of a fastball. And indeed there would have to be surgery shortly to remove pieces of bone from the joint. At the time, indeed, it looked as if his bowling career was over.
Meantime, given his propensity for drawing trouble on himself, it wasn't surprising that, as soon as he was back in England, Both managed to insult a whole nation and a major segment of the female sex by telling a BBC man, "I hope I will never have to go to Pakistan again. I think it is the sort of place every man should send his mother-in-law for a month, all expenses paid."
That cost him an apology and a $1,500 fine from the Test and County Cricket Board and all the while the shadow of The Mail on Sunday's accusations continued to hang over him. Forgotten now—in the tabloids at least—were the spectacular displays of cricket unmatched this century. Forgotten also were such manifestations of real good-heartedness as his absolute refusal, in 1982, to join one of the so-called "rebel" tours of South Africa when a corporation called South African Breweries was offering huge sums to top cricketers to play there. Some, like Graham Gooch, one of England's top opening batsmen, became one of the so-called "dirty dozen" who took the money. But Botham, whom the South Africans wanted more than any other player in the world, who could have written his own check—up to $1.5 million, he says now—turned them down flat. He said he would be betraying his West Indian friends. (It should be noted that cricketers are probably the least well paid, at the top level, of all the world's sports stars. At the moment, with endorsements, newspaper columns and the like, Both can probably make $150,000 to $200,000 a year.)
He had sued The Mail on Sunday, and he might have taken heart when, early in August last year, Brian Davies, Auckland (N.Z.) district police commander, stated, "We have found that much of what was reported seems to have been founded on rumor and speculation which, upon investigation, has evaporated in a mishmash of contradictions and uncorroborated allegations...some witnesses had allegedly received offers of money and other inducements for their information." The TCCB also had carried out its own investigation, which cleared him.
At the start, though—literally at the start—of 1985 there was more bad say-it-ain't-so-Both news for the faithful. On New Year's Eve the word came that Botham and his wife, Kathryn, had been arrested the previous evening after a police search at their home in the village of Epworth, South Humberside, and charged on suspicion of possessing cannabis.
The shock would abate a little when it turned out that, out of the blue, four members of the Humberside drugs squad had come in with a search warrant, and that the amount of cannabis they discovered was just 2.19 grams, or 0.08 of an ounce. The thought occurred to many that Botham had been set up.
He was fined roughly $150—in England possession of such a tiny amount would normally bring only a police caution. Later, while not denying that, like most of his contemporaries, he had smoked a little pot now and then, he declared that what angered him most was the way the four cops had gone straight upstairs, returning instantly with the "substance." And how, the following morning, before word had had time to get round, just one reporter from a particular Fleet Street tabloid had shown up at his house. "A hell of a coincidence, don't you think?" he asked.
It was indeed. Botham was once more going to be crucified in London's notorious yellow press, as he had been again and again since his annus mirabilis of 1981.
Bobby Thomson's epic home run 35 autumns ago made for the Miracle of Coogan's Bluff in baseball. That was the stuff of miracles, right enough. But how about three miracles in a row by one man? Turn the clock ahead to July 20, 1981, to England vs. Australia, the third match in a series of six.
Australia had won the first, the second had ended in a draw, and the third the Aussies seemed to have well in hand, having hit 401 first-innings runs. In cricket each 11-man team bats twice, normally alternately. But England's feeble 174 in reply meant that Australia was able to invoke the humiliating "follow-on rule," i.e., to compel England's team to bat again immediately.
When it did, the Australian fast-bowling attack, spearheaded by the ferocious Dennis Lillee with his 30-yard run-up and delivery of the ball (slightly smaller, slightly heavier than a baseball) at about 100 mph, started slicing through the English batting order as easily as it had in the first innings. By midafternoon, with only three men left, England was still 92 runs behind, and the Aussies had another innings in hand. Fans streamed from the ground, unwilling to watch England's terminal agony, and bookies were offering an absurd 500 to 1 against an English win and getting few takers.
It was at this point that Both took a hand. He started quietly, but then, quite suddenly, he seemed to go berserk, not in the modern, devalued sense of the word but in the real Old Norse style, berserkr, literally bear-shirt, a man transformed by the gods into an exalted, ferocious, unassailable, ax-wielding terror—only now the battle ax was some three pounds of seasoned willow with which Both, mustached and bearded, a grin splitting his face, flayed the Australian fast bowling. He smashed the ball to the boundary 26 times for four, with one magnificent six. It was, said the normally staid Times next morning, "a marvellous piece of savagery." At the end of play that afternoon, he was undefeated with 145 runs.
Miraculously, the game would continue the next morning, and the Aussies, who had checked out of their hotel, hastily had to check back in again. Even so, they were still favorites to win. In cricket you can't bat without a partner; Botham lost the last of his, fast-bowler Bob Willis, very quickly after the restart next morning, so that now Australia needed just 130. But Botham seemed to have bewitched the Aussies. The following day England, absurdly, had won by 18 runs—and the series was tied 1-1.
In the fourth Test, though, by the final innings the Aussies seemed to be in a commanding position. All they needed were 151 runs to win, and they were just 46 short of that, with five batsmen in hand, when England's captain, Mike Brearley, tossed the ball to Both. "Keep it tight," he said. In other words, just keep the scoring rate down if you can.
He did more than that. In the next 40 minutes of that historic August afternoon, Botham, no longer in his berserkr bear mode but crashing down to bowl like some huge farmhorse granted the gift of speed, devastated the Australians, taking their last five wickets at the expense of one run—the equivalent of, say, striking out the side in a bases-loaded situation in five consecutive innings—winning the game for England.
Later he would speak casually about his second miracle of the summer. The Aussies, he said, had just "bottled out"—which is English slang for a sudden loss of nerve. "They couldn't handle it." he said. "It was lions-and-Christians stuff. Suddenly, instead of Lillee running in at Melbourne and 90,000 bloody dingoes yelling, 'Lillee, Lillee, Lillee!' or 'kill, kill, kill!' it was me going at them, and the crowd was with me...."
And, for heaven's sake, another miracle was on its way. That was in Game 5 with England badly in need of a big score again. Botham obliged. Once again he started quietly. But soon Lillee began sending bouncers down at him, very fast deliveries that hit the grass well in front of him and shot up into his face. Botham treated the physical intimidation with contempt, hitting Lillee for six, three times in 12 balls, hooking twice "off his eyebrows," as they say in cricket, and once straight back at Lillee's head so hard that the bowler could only dive out of the way. Six sixes he hit in the innings, an all-time record against Australia. His contribution was 118 runs; it killed the Aussies and won the series for England.
But that was long ago. Last month, as the rain drummed down on Weston, Both took on the subject of the British press. "Those papers would print any story, no matter how stupid or degrading or untrue. They bring my personal life into it—Kathy...Liam and Sarah and Rebecca, my children. I don't know how I can stand it, every day of the week." To the visitor he still seemed like a great bear, but a creature now bayed by two dog packs—one the cricket establishment, the other the gutter press.
And, with the metaphorical blood running down into his eyes, he talked about maybe emigrating to Australia. When Allan Border, Both's good mate, the Aussie captain of Australia, first heard this, he promised Botham that Both would be able to get Australian citizenship about three times faster than South African runner Zola Budd had become British.
Back in the spring of 1985, though, in the midst of Botham's personal troubles, there was one major consolation—the cricket went magnificently. He played a big part in England's defeat of Australia in last year's Test series and, in the regular county, or club, season he hit an extraordinary 80 sixes, 14 more than the previous record, which had stood since 1935. It was Bonny Prince Botham again, as rambunctious as ever and literally a lot more colorful.
As tennis used to be, cricket is still a game that, properly presented, is a symphony in green and white. Last year, though, to the disbelief of his fans, the delight of the tabloids and the outrage of the empty suits in the cricket hierarchy, Botham started showing up in public—though not on the playing field—in the most extraordinary costumes. He would wear one of those blazers that the Edwardians favored, broad-striped in hectic red, gold and brilliant green, often complemented by neckerchiefs, waistbands and wristbands in the same colors and surmounted by a leather cowboy hat. His long hair now had artificial blond highlights. Canary-yellow drawstring pants sometimes completed the outfit. And the reaction was summed up by Frances Edmonds, wife of his England teammate, Phil. "Hello, Both," she said. "Whatever happened to good taste?"
Now, though accident-prone as ever, Botham had fallen into the hands of a survivor of hippie days, one Tim Hudson, an Englishman in his mid-40s who said he had made a fortune in real estate in California, and who claimed to have invented the expression Flower Power. The first role Hudson found for Both was the publicizing of an extraordinary collection of "leisure clothing" that the eccentric Hudson hoped to peddle in England under the label Hudson's Hardware.
From now on, Hudson indicated, although he would permit Both to dominate cricket for three or four more years, it would be as nothing compared with his future as a cinema superstar. "He's my Errol Flynn," Hudson declared, "England's answer to Tom Selleck, the next James Bond. He's a star, a natural shoot-'em-up, drive-the-car, get-the-girl star!"
For a while Botham, as if hypnotized, went along with all this, and at one point it seemed that he would indeed land a film part, albeit one as a psychopathic killer, in something called The Perpetrator, a Ramboesque movie which, in fact, was never to be made. Just before last Christmas, Hudson had actually hauled Botham to California, "so that Hollywood will get to know this English conquering hero." The trip was a disaster. "Yes," said Hudson to a reporter, "Ian will be going to the studios."
"Which one?" the reporter asked.
"Universal," Hudson told him.
"Not the public tour?" the reporter said.
"Well, yes," countered Hudson. "But it's the VIP one."
"I don't want to talk about it," Botham snarled when he got back to Heathrow. Both was coming down to earth. The Hudson joke was wearing thin, and soon he would be an ex-agent.
In any case, the Hudson regime had been just another dip in Both's roller coaster of a life. More important, only a couple of months earlier, the warmhearted prince in Botham had reemerged when, with no prompting from any agent, he announced that he would walk the length of Britain, the 874 miles from John O'Groats in Scotland to Land's End. A few years earlier, visiting the Pediatrics Unit at Musgrove Park Hospital in Taunton, he had been genuinely overwhelmed at seeing kids the same age as his own dying of leukemia, and on a walking tour later on in the Lake District with his wife he had had the idea of this marathon hike to raise money for a leukemia research charity. Suggestions that he might be doing it for the publicity engendered a typical Botham response. If anybody said that, he promised, he would bend his nose for him.
It was late fall when he started, and the Scottish weather soon turned bitter. At first he had been accompanied by dozens of supporters. Within a few days they were down to three, though others would fall in and out again all through the Long March. It was 35 days later, at 3:45 in the afternoon, that Land's End loomed out of the mist. The walk was part Roman triumph and part an expiation of minor misdoings in the past. Eventually it earned more than $1 million for the leukemia charity, and Mrs. Thatcher would invite Both to tea at the House of Commons.
Almost inevitably, though, before the walk was over, Guy the Gorilla showed up. BOTHAM IN WALK SCUFFLE WITH P.C., the headlines ran. While Both, with a ragtag army of about 50 followers, was crossing Bodmin Moor in Cornwall in a winter fog, police constable Peter Fleming, 39, had advised him to be careful of the traffic and was punched three times for his trouble. And it sounded as if, this time, the real hero was P.C. Fleming, refusing to press charges because, he said, "I am a big supporter of the cause Ian Botham is championing." Furthermore, the police said, it was taken into account that Botham was suffering from back strain and sore feet.
That sort of tolerance, though, could not be expected from the English sports-writers who traveled to the Caribbean this spring to cover the England-West Indies series. The latter side being without argument the best cricket team in the world, English cricket fans had little expectation that their team would win, but at least they expected a fight—or even a new Botham miracle.
They didn't get it. As the newspapers howled for his blood, Botham sulked in his room, refused to practice with the rest of the team, did little on the field and worse still, seemed not to care about it. Ian Wooldridge, one of England's finest sports columnists, noted of Botham's performance in Port of Spain, Trindad: "For much of the grueling Test match here Ian Botham has worn the disgruntled scowl of the street gang bully who has met his match. Against the great West Indian war machine he has looked a very ordinary cricketer, contributing just two runs to England's catastrophic first innings and bowling so badly at times that even his colleagues have shaken their heads in disbelief." And later: "The dismaying suspicion is that Botham's problems have less to do with the waning of a titanic talent than the pressure he has created for himself by a flamboyant lifestyle and a restless urge to hit life for six."
It would be life, though, that very soon would be doing the six-hitting. Shortly after his return to England, he found himself in the worst trouble of his life. It became public when, on May 18, The Mail on Sunday, the newspaper he was suing, came out with a new story. It began, "This is one of the most difficult days of my life...." and under the byline of who else but Ian Botham, it went on, "The fact is that I have, at various times in the past, smoked pot."
What had happened was that Botham had apparently struck a deal with the newspaper. Because he was pressed by escalating lawyers' fees—he was also suing another newspaper—he accepted The Mail on Sunday's offer of a sum amounting to those legal fees in return for a "confession" of sorts.
He might well have thought that this minor humiliation would be the only price he would have to pay. He was wrong. Suspension for two months by the Test Cricket and County Board was the verdict.
And so to Weston in the rain, the start of August and a bleak-seeming future. "I should be bloody fishing," he said. "Up in Scotland. Switch off the mayhem of this bloody sport. You know, it took me eight years to catch my first salmon." And, later, privately, his visitor would wonder how a man like Botham could be so patient.
Because the next morning when the rain had stopped in the little Avon town, he went in—against Worcestershire—and smashed an unbeaten 104 off just 65 balls. There were seven sixes—all right, home runs—and 10 fours in that total. "I haven't been away for two years on a desert island," said a happy Both.
That was on Aug. 4. On Aug. 10, it was Northamptonshire's bowling he set about, in a one-day game. He was unbeaten again, this time for 175, including an insane 13 sixes, a new record for the one-day format. It was one run short of a record for a highest score—but the innings had been interrupted for 10 minutes by a shower. He dumped sixes, The Mail recorded, "on to the tops of marquees, over ice-cream vans, into factories and, on one occasion, almost into the car park of the Dog and Duck public house."
A few days later he would watch England go down to New Zealand on TV. "He couldn't understand it," Peter Roebuck, his Somerset captain, said. "Why didn't somebody crack 'em over the top, cause a few waves, see if they panic?"
The call he now confidently awaited, to rejoin the national team, came the following Saturday. Next morning the switchboard at The Oval, the London stadium where another New Zealand match was being played, was jammed early, and even before the office opened, the ticket line stretched down the road. In Australia, where England will play for the Ashes again this winter, the news that Both might be back had the fans in a crazy ticket rush for games, some of which wouldn't be played until 1987.
When the third and final Test against New Zealand started on Aug. 22, the crowd gave Botham a noisy greeting when he came out with England to field, and a roar later when Gatting, his captain, called on him to bowl.
Bruce Edgar, at bat for New Zealand, now faced not only Botham but also an almost palpable wave of emotion from the crowd, and cricket buffs will debate for years the effect that had on him. First balls from fast bowlers tend to be just looseners, and this one was short and a little wide.
But Edgar poked at it, it snicked the edge of his bat and he was out. caught at close range. It was just 12:21 p.m. The crowd roared. Botham had now equaled Lillee's alltime record of 355 Test wickets—and Lillee was a pure bowler, not a batsman at all.
Just six minutes later Botham sent one down that cut in sharply and beat Jeff Crowe's bat. You could barely hear Both start to yell his triumph before a huge, happy roar began to well up again from the crowd as Lillee's record went.
It wasn't quite the end of the story. By the rules of the boys' adventure tale, which seemed to have taken over, Botham should now have picked up his bat and won the game for England. But reality, in the form of the tail end of Hurricane Charlie, would move in, lashing England with storms that would cause the game to be abandoned.
When the rain started, Botham had been at bat. He'd had no time to hit a century, but before the players had to scurry for shelter, he was at 59. An unremarkable score, except that 24 of them—2 sixes and 3 fours—came off a single over (an over is six balls bowled), which merely happened to equal a Test match record.
For the moment, anyway, England has a hero again; this was confirmed on Sept. 9, when British selectors announced that Both would be on the national team that would start play against Australia in Brisbane on Nov. 14.
It was just as well. Public hangings have been abolished in England since 1868, and nobody really wants them back. Not even for the Test and County Cricket Board.