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Ian Botham lets the “old man” out on his final day in First-Class cricket

Ian Botham © Getty Images
Ian Botham © Getty Images

Ian Botham, always one of the greatest characters on and off the cricket ground, had decided to end his First-Class career in style on July 19, 1993. Abhishek Mukherjee looks at an incident that embarrassed David Boon, no less.

It may have been Ian Botham’s last First-Class match, but he was not going to let it pass just like that: Botham was all about style, and this was not going to be an exception. He was going to make it to the news: if not with bat or ball, then it had to be with one of his famous antics.

The Australians toured England in 1993 — a series that is immortalised in history for Shane Warne’s “Ball of the Century”. Botham, of course, was out of contention, but he got an opportunity to have one final go at the antipodeans in their tour match against Durham at The Racecourse. He had told David Graveney (Tom’s nephew and Durham captain) that he would retire from First-Class cricket after the match.

The match

Durham got off to a good start after Graveney elected to bat, with Graeme Fowler and Wayne Larkins putting up 91. Stewart Hutton contributed as well, but Larkins stole the show with a spectacular 192-ball 151. Botham lit up the ground later in the day, reminding his old enemies of his golden days: he scored 32 in 37 balls. Anderson Cummins made merry as well, and Graveney declared overnight on 385 for eight.

Simon Brown’s left-arm pace turned out to be a bit too hot for the Australians to handle: they were reduced to 113 for seven, and it was only a gutsy 100-run partnership between Ian Healy (who was left stranded on 70) and Paul Reiffel that bailed Australia to some extent.

The follow-on, however, was not averted: Graveney asked Allan Border’s team to bat again after a lead of 164 (Botham’s figures read 6-2-21-0). The tourists lost Mark Taylor early, but Matthew Hayden and David Boon saw them off to stumps, and carried the momentum to the last day. Both registered hundreds, and the 225-run stand bailed the Australians out of danger.

Botham formally announced retirement on the last day of the match in Daily Mirror. He also gave a somewhat extended press conference during a rain break. Graveney had held Botham back, using him sparingly. With the match meandering to a draw, he came on to bowl what would be his 11th — and final — over of the innings.

Meat and two veg

The first five balls were sent down without any incident (though he imitated Jeff Thomson’s bowling action). Boon, perhaps the only man on the ground who could match Botham as a character, was on strike. Botham reached the top of his bowling mark for the last ball of his First-Class career. Then, as Boon (and everyone else on the ground) had expected him to run in, Botham did something unexpected.

Botham later told The Guardian: “Boony (Boon) was struggling for his Test place and was deadly serious. But he just about fell over laughing and shouted, ‘Beefy, you can’t do this to me.’ I was midway though my run-up and he’d spotted that I’d unzipped my fly and hauled out the meat and two veg. The old man was dangling in the wind as I steamed in. If I’d got it on target I would’ve bowled him. I thought it was a nice way to go out.”

Much to his credit, Botham carried this to such perfection that there was nobody outside the playing arena realised what had happened. It must be noted here there trousers with zips had been near-extinct in cricket in 1993, so Botham putting a pair on while taking field must have been an odd sight.

When news got out, however, Wisden was not too lenient, and called the act “unbecoming and flippant.” But then, as Simon Wilde wrote in Botham’s biography, “He (Botham) had been determined to do something memorable, even if it meant a Harvey Smith-style gesture.”

Botham received a huge applause when he took the sweater from the umpire. Kim Hughes, present at the ground, later told Wilde: “Even the old grumps who usually moaned about his (Botham’s) lost commitment got to their feet.”

The final act

As the last over of the match approached, Botham decided to pull off one final trick from his hat. He got Chris Scott to remove his wicket-keeping gloves and pads, and kept wickets without pads and in batting gloves. Then, with the crowd in ruptures and cameras clicking all around him, Ian Terence Botham left the green for one final time.

What followed?

-          Australia retained the Ashes by a convincing 4-1 margin.

-          Botham and Boon got together again. After the immense success of Boony (a small, talking Boon figurine that came free with the purchase of beer), Victoria Bitter decided to add a miniature Botham (Beefy) as well. Boony and Beefy turned out to be an instant hit.

Brief scores:

Durham 385 for 8 decl. (Wayne Larkins 151, Anderson Cummins 69, Stewart Hutton 47, Graeme Fowler 41) drew with Australians 221 (Ian Healy 70*, Simon Brown 7 for 70) and 295 for 3 (Matthew Hayden 151 not out, David Boon 112).

(Abhishek Mukherjee is the Deputy Editor and Cricket Historian at CricketCountry. He blogs at http://ovshake.blogspot.in and can be followed on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/ovshake42)

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