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Ian Botham becomes leading wicket-taker in Test cricket in his comeback game after serving ban

Ian Botham

Ian Botham picked up three wickets to become the leading wicket-taker in Test cricket when he returned to action for England after serving a ban for using cannabis © Getty Images

On August 21, 1986, Ian Botham became the leading wicket-taker in the history of Test cricket against New Zealand at The Oval. This was a comeback game for Botham — who returned after serving a ban imposed by the Test and Country Cricket Board (TCCB) for using cannabis. Sarang Bhalerao looks back at the triumphant moment in Botham’s career.

On August 21, 1986, Ian Botham was only two wickets away from being the highest wicket-taker in Test cricket when England took on New Zealand at The Oval. He had missed cricketing action during the previous few months as he was banned for using cannabis. But, Botham fought those turbulent times like the warrior he was — who successfully battled the the tough circumstances on the field of play.

Botham was England’s leading sports personality and his meteoric rise to the top was a compelling story. During the 1980s, he was a cynosure of all eyes with the newspapers eulogising him, criticising him and formulating opinions about him. The defining moment of his career came during the 1981 Ashes when he single-handedly won England the urn with his mind-boggling all-round performances: 149 at Headingley being the stand-out.

The ban

After England’s disastrous tour of West Indies in 1986, Botham got the shock of his life when the News of the World printed a story based on allegations by Vivien Kinsella, wife Botham’s ghost-writer Steve Whiting.

The headline read: “I SAW IAN BOTHAM TAKE HEROIN.”

Botham wanted to sue the organisation, but he had enough. On May 18, 1986, the Mail on Sunday carried front-page news on Botham with the following headline:

BOTHAM: I DID TAKE POT

According to Botham, the article in the News of the World had everything which he had confessed before and there was nothing new. The Test and County Cricket Board (TCCB) dropped the star all-rounder from the One-Day International (ODI) squad against India and announced that an investigation will be carried into the drugs charge.

Botham was found guilty of bringing the game into disrepute by using cannabis. There were several reactions from former players and there was a lot said and written about the star all-rounder.

“That Botham is a useless idiot. They should ban him for life,” said Denis Compton. If that wasn’t enough, Compton also said that Botham should be locked and the key should be thrown away.

While Botham was away, England suffered an awful lot. India beat England 2-0 and the reins of captaincy duties were shifted from David Gower to Mike Gatting.

The comeback

Botham had to prove his form and fitness before regaining his spot in the struggling English team. In his autobiography Botham My Autobiography, he said that Viv Richards egged him on to go and perform. Richards said, “Beef, you’re the man, now show them you’re the man.” Botham did show the selectors that he indeed was the man. He scored a 65-ball century against Worcestershire to help Somerset win only their third championship match of the season.

In a John Player League game, Botham came into bat at 18 for two with only 26 overs remaining. He hit 175 not out which included 13 sixes – a record in the competition. Botham’s critics were left speechless.

England captain Gatting pushed hard for Botham’s selection for the final Test against New Zealand at The Oval. England were beaten at Trent Bridge by eight wickets and had dearly missed Botham’s incisiveness. He was back in the side at The Oval.

The world-record holder

The overcast conditions at The Oval forced England to bowl first. There was plenty of cloud cover, which brought prodigious swing into play. New Zealand reached 17 for no loss — negotiating Graham Dilley and Gladstone Small’s spell. Botham was brought in as the first change bowler.

The first ball, according to Botham, wasn’t the worst he had bowled, but it also wasn’t the best one either. He writes in his autobiography, “Unkind observers have described it as a wide half-volley that the batsman had no need to play at; it goes without saying that, according to me, it was all part of a cunning plan.”

New Zealand opener Bruce Edgar dabbed a lifting delivery into the hands of Graham Gooch at the second slip. Gooch juggled the ball, but held onto the catch to mark a dramatic entry for Botham in Test cricket. Botham recalls, “I thought it quite amusing when Goochie came up to congratulate me saying: ‘Blimey, Beef. Who writes your scripts?’ So that wicket meant I was level with D.K.Lillee. I turned to the pavilion and gave it the typical victory gesture, then looked towards the selectors to see their reaction. The only one with a smile on his face was AC Smith, my long-time ally behind ‘enemy’ lines.”

The next ball was dramatic as well. Jeff Crowe came forward and edged the ball that fell short of John Emburey at the third slip. Botham says, “’Beefy comes back… levels all-time total of Test wickets first ball, goes past it second ball and is now on a hat-trick!’ could have been the headlines.” It didn’t take Botham too long to break the world-record. Crowe shuffled across his crease to a full delivery and was trapped right in front of the wicket.

Right since he opened his account by dismissing Greg Chappell with a long-hop in 1977 to scalping Crowe, Botham as a cricketer had come a long way. The harrowing period was not a thing of the past.

England dismissed New Zealand for 287. The hosts replied strongly with Gower and Gatting scoring centuries. Botham chipped in with a belligerent 36-ball 59 which included eight boundaries and two towering sixes.

The match was drawn and England lost the series. But, Botham’s presence in the team gave England the punch. He was well and truly back.

Brief scores:

New Zealand 287 (John Wright 119; Graham Dilley 4 for 92, Ian Botham 3 for 75) and 7 for no loss (John Wright 7*) drew with England 388 for 5 decl. (David Gower 131, Mike Gatting 121; Ewan Chatfield 3 for 73).

Man of the Match: John Wright

(Sarang Bhalerao hails from a family of doctors, but did his engineering. He then dumped a career in IT with Infosys to follow his heart and passion and became a writer with CricketCountry. A voracious reader, Sarang aspires to beat Google with his knowledge of the game! You can follow him on Twitter here)

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