Ian Botham gets the sack from Queensland

Ian Botham (left) chats with Queensland captain Allan Border during a Sheffield Shield match against South Australia at Brisbane in January 1988 © Getty Images

On March 22, 1988 Ian Botham played his last match for the Queensland Bulls in Sheffield Shield. Abhishek Mukherjee looks back a contract that ended in the most non-trivial of fashions.

Owing to his popularity in Australia and his Ashes achievements, Queensland Bulls had invited Ian Botham as their first-ever overseas player for a stint in 1987-88. He did a fair job, given his exposure to the Australian conditions. But his contract was terminated under the most bizarre of circumstances.

What happened before

It was the Sheffield Shield final, and Queensland team flew out to Perth. During the flight, Greg Ritchie had an argument with Queensland captain Allan Border, since the former was being left out of the side on a consistent basis. The argument became heated; Botham intervened, and talked to Border when Ritchie was not around.

Since the language used in these discussions was not exactly what you find in church masses, a passenger stood up and protested. Botham calmed him down, asked him to mind his own business, and returned to his own seat.

Botham checked into the allotted hotel along with his teammates. Not long after there was a rap on his door. It was the police. Without a word, an officer passed on a bat to Botham and asked him to sign it. Immediately after Botham had obliged, the policeman arrested him for assaulting a passenger on flight.

The Queensland team tried to bail Botham out. Border himself wanted to stand surety. However, according to the Western Australian laws, two landowners of the state had to stand as witnesses. The Queensland team had issues acquiring one.

This was when Dennis Lillee came to Botham’s rescue. He arrived at the prison with a six-pack crate of beer, and agreed to stand as witness. Botham got off with a fine of $800, and eventually went to WACA [Western Australian Cricket Association ground, Perth] to play the final.

Day One: Matthews creates inroads

A young Alan Mullally made his First-Class debut for Western Australia as their captain Graeme Wood won the toss and elected to bowl on a typically bouncy Perth ground. Mullally bowled the first over, and openers Robert Kerr and Trevor Barsby put on a sedate, composed opening partnership.

Then, with Queensland were 115 for one, left-arm fast bowler Chris Matthews, who had already represented Australia in Tests, removed Ritchie, and kept on striking at regular intervals. Glenn Timble became Mullally’s first First-Class wicket. Though Border scored a crucial 66, Botham disappointed with nine, and Matthews had taken four wickets as Queensland reached 245 for six at stumps.

Day Two: Matthews wrecks, Rackemann strikes back

Queensland did not last long on the second day. Matthews took the remaining four wickets, finishing with eight for 101 [it would remain his career-best figures], and Queensland had managed to reach 289.

Queensland’s formidable bowling attack included the likes of Craig McDermott, Carl Rackemann, Botham, Trevor Hohns, and Dirk Talezaar. Rackemann came to the forefront, picking up the first three wickets. Western Australia ended the day on 157 for four.

Day Three: Wood builds

Western Australia lost Ken MacLeay early, but from 186 for five Graeme Wood (141) and Wayne Andrews (71) added 136 crucial runs. The remaining wickets fell in a heap, and Western Australia were bowled out for 344. Rackemann took five for 69, Botham did not take any, and Western Australia were ahead by 55.

The Western Australian seamers struck early, taking four quick wickets — including Allan Border’s — by stumps. Queensland were 58 for four, just three runs ahead. Botham was at the crease, though.

Day Four: Botham and Hohns fight back

Queensland lost Ritchie early, but Botham (54) and Hohns (59 not out) added 74 for the sixth wicket. After that, Queensland folded for 216, Terry Alderman taking six for 91.

In response, with 162 to chase, Geoff Marsh and Mike Veletta played out time, and Western Australia finished the day on 71 without loss, leaving 91 runs to win.

Day Five: Western Australia win

Though Western Australia slipped to 82 for 3 from 78 without loss, Dirk Tazelaar taking all three. He eventually took 4 for 65 as Western Australia cruised to a six-wicket victory. Botham took Kim Hughes’ wicket, but did nothing else of note and watched Western Australia lift the Sheffield Shield.

Brief scores: Queensland 289 (Allan Border 66, Trevor Barsby 48, Robert Kerr 46; Chris Matthews 8 for 101) and 216 (Trevor Hohns 59*, Ian Botham 54; Terry Alderman 6 for 91) lost to Western Australia 344 (Graeme Wood 141, Wayne Andrews 71, Geoff Marsh 41; Carl Rackemann 5 for 69) and 162 for 5 (Mike Veletta 59, Dirk Tazelaar 4 for 65) by 5 wickets.

The aftermath

On his return to Brisbane, Botham was fined a further $5,000 by the Queensland team. On March 30, the 20 members of the Queensland Cricket Association had a two-and-a-half-hour conference. After a prolonged discussion, Allan Pettigrew of the committee proposed that Ian Botham should be sacked. The idea was seconded by Greg Chappell, and the decision was taken.

Carphone Group, the official sponsor of the Queensland side, terminated Botham’s three-year contract of $300,000 immediately, and threatened to withdraw Botham’s British Carphone contract [worth $500,000], though they did not withdraw their sponsorship from the Queensland side.

In typical Botham fashion, the great man responded “I’ve got more things to worry about than what is written over there. Five thousand dollars is about fifty quid at the present rate of sterling, so I’m really not too bothered.”

Graham Thomas, Chairman of the Carphone Group, was taken aback at Botham’s unfazed, remorseless attitude: “It was the straw which broke several camels’ backs. I was asked today what chance I thought Ian had of being kept on by Queensland and to be honest I said absolutely nil. It’s all so sad to see things start off so well and end so disgracefully.”

Botham did not play another First-Class match for any Australian state anymore, and left the country. The incident made headlines, and attracted of reactions from a lot of people, including the Australian Prime Minister Bob Hawke: “He let cricket down. He let Queensland down.” Hawke also added that it was the ‘right decision’.

(Abhishek Mukherjee is a cricket historian and Senior Cricket Writer at CricketCountry. He generally looks upon life as a journey involving two components – cricket and literature – though not as disjoint elements. A passionate follower of the history of the sport with an insatiable appetite for trivia and anecdotes, he has also a steady love affair with the incredible assortment of numbers that cricket has to offer. He also thinks he can bowl decent leg-breaks in street cricket, and blogs at http://ovshake.blogspot.in. He can be followed on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/ovshake and on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/ovshake42)