Liam Botham, born on August 26, 1977, is the son of former England captain and legendary all-rounder Ian Botham. Jaideep Vaidya goes through the life and sporting career of Botham junior.
It’s never easy being the blood relation of someone who is a marvel in their field. With sportsmen, the expectations rise further with the mass expecting you to not only take up the sport of your relative, but also go one-up on them in your career. Those expectations touch the tip of the Everest when your father is your country’s golden boy and a legend of the game, with feats to match up to that are near impossible. And, then, imagine if your godfather is also one of the greatest players the world has ever seen in the sport!
Liam Botham never had it easy when he was born on an August day in 1977 to Kathy and Ian Botham. While Botham senior had not quite scaled the heights that he would eventually reach by the end of his career, the magnitude of expectations were not even palpable when he was photographed as a child with a cricket bat in his hand. His father would add to the melodrama in the British press when he announced his good friend Viv Richards as the boy’s godfather. Righto, this is going to be a cakewalk now, isn’t it?
However, Botham took up the challenge and decided to follow in his father’s footsteps. He took to cricket and rugby as a boy and was soon picked for the England Under-15 side, something which even Botham senior hadn’t managed. A selection in the Hampshire Second XI was to follow and Botham, in his debut game against Worcestershire, told an army of journalists present at the county ground in Southampton that he planned to be even better than his dad. And just before the scribes could think of a scathing pun-ridden headline in case he failed, Botham backed his claims with a four-wicket haul. The second coming had begun.
Two days short of his 19th birthday, Botham made his First Class debut for Hampshire against Middlesex. As it turned out, he was hastily summoned into the team from the Second XI at five minutes’ notice when a player got ruled out due to injury. Botham came on and went on to dismiss Mike Gatting on the first ball of his second over in First Class cricket; he ended with figures of five for 67. The second coming was now steaming through, or was it?
Unfortunately for the cricketing populace, Botham would go on to play just two more First Class matches before, in 1997, aged 20, he weighed up his career options and switched to rugby. Media pressure was definitely one of the reasons, as his father would later go on to admit, but “it was also based on how he thought the two sports would develop and what the opportunities would be for him in each of them.”
“I’d never pushed Liam into professional sport,” wrote Botham senior in his autobiography Head On. “I was there to help, encourage and advise him if he needed it, but it was his choice what he did with his life.”
Botham senior went on to admit that Liam had huge potential as a cricketer and the pressure of being his son was one of the factors that brought about the change in career, although “he had natural ability as a sportsman, determination and a strong will to win and was now on the verge of a professional career either in cricket or rugby.” Botham wrote, “Had he had any other father and any other surname, he might well have been an England all-rounder like his dad; he really was that good. He could have gone all the way.”
In 1997, Botham junior played rugby union for England Under-21s, before playing in Cardiff and, later, Newcastle. With him in their ranks, the Newcastle Falcons won the Tetley Bitter Cup and reached the final of the European Shield. In 2003, Botham switched to rugby league when he signed for Super League club Leeds Rhinos, and then the following year he played for a struggling Wigan side towards the end of the season.
In 2005, aged just 27, he announced his retirement from playing due to a neck injury. He did play in Andrew Flintoff’s Testimonial match in 2006, where he played a significant role in England XI’s victory over Lancashire, which briefly sparked rumours that he could return to cricket. The same year, Hampshire organised a testimonial for him, where his father and Flintoff made unexpected appearances at the Rose Bowl, as umpires.
In 2006, Botham also set up a company with his friend James Miller — Botham & Miller — which offered executive sporting trips to South Africa, Australia and other destinations. However, there was to be no return to playing cricket, nor any other sport, much to the disappointment of the many.