Besides being one of the legends of the sport, Ian Botham was one of its greatest characters © Getty Images
Besides being one of the legends of the sport, Ian Botham was one of its greatest characters © Getty Images

Born November 24, 1955, Ian Botham is regarded by many as England’s greatest all-rounder. There would be men who would argue about The Men from Kirkheaton (Wilfred Rhodes and George Hirst), Tony Greig, and Andrew Flintoff, but eventually only WG Grace’s legacy would make him stand the test of time, smirking from behind that bushy beard and throw a challenge to Botham. Abhishek Mukherjee lists 20 lesser-known facts about the Somerset and England legend.

Besides being one of the legends of the sport, Ian Botham was one of its greatest characters. No Englishman since WG Grace (with the possible exception of Harold Larwood), not even Jack Hobbs, Wally Hammond, or Kevin Pietersen, had captured the imagination of cricket supporters the way Botham had. From running Geoff Boycott out (they are still not on speaking terms, they say) to “giving it some humpty” at Headingley, Botham had done it all.

And then, there were the numbers to prove his pedigree. He was an all-rounder in the genuine sense of the word: not only could he make it to the side as only a bowler or batsman, he could win matches playing either role as well. It was he who, after being banned in 1986 for taking cannabis, came back to take two wickets in his first two overs, leaving a bemused Graham Gooch to ask: “Who writes your scripts?”

Here, then, is a list of facts about the legend.

1. How good was Botham?: There have been few players who could dominate a Test more than Botham. As many as 30 times have cricketers scored a hundred and taken a five-wicket haul in the same Test. Garry Sobers, Mushtaq Mohammad, Jacques Kallis, and Shakib Al Hasan — all champion all-rounders — have done it twice. It was just that Botham had achieved the feat five times, more than twice as much as anybody. He was also the first to score a hundred and take ten wickets in the same Test.

2. The first-born: Les (a cricketer, footballer, and athlete) and Marie Botham (a cricketer who also excelled at hockey and badminton) had tried for several children, only to result in miscarriages. They “almost lost” Botham as well; Marie had to be hospitalised for the last two trimesters, and the doctors had almost given up, but Marie “found the strength to battle it all”.

3. Morning shows the day: On one occasion, Marie had left Ian with some toys in a playpen and went to the kitchen, only to find the young man at her ankles. Confused, she put him inside again, and Ian managed to come out again. She repeated, but this time she noticed his activities from a crack inside the kitchen.

To quote Ian from Head On — Ian Botham: The Autobiography, “As soon as she was out of sight, I lifted up one side of the playpen, balanced it on the toy box while I crawled underneath and then put it back in position, leaving everything apparently undisturbed and no visible clue as to how the crime had been committed.”

Ian’s antics continued. He learned to escape the pram; before he turned eighteen months he somehow managed to reach the driver’s seat of an empty Army truck, fiddling with the handbrake once he was through with the steering wheel. He fell down from a wall, cracked his head, was kept under observation, and following the doctor’s advice, Les Botham actually made him a helmet of foam-rubber.

4. Signature style: Ian was seven when Marie found him scribbling something “over and over on a piece of paper” with his tongue hanging out in concentration. When she asked him, he replied: “Well, people are going to be asking me for my autograph one day, so I am practising it.”

5. Names: Everyone knows that Botham’s physique (probably) had earned him the nicknames Beefy and Guy the Gorilla. In his schooldays, however, his friends had a not-too-prestigious name for young Ian: the name “Bungalow” was a reference to the fact that Ian had “nothing upstairs”.

6. He really wanted to play: Botham wanted to make a career in sport, especially cricket, from his childhood days. He chose cricket, though he had received an offer from Crystal Palace. However, the Careers Master at Buckler’s Mead (his school) thought otherwise. When the well-wishing learnt that Botham wanted to make a career in sport, she famously asked: “But what are you really going to do for a living?”

7. Margaret was his first: It was in his mid-teens that hormones took over our hero. He asked Marie to get Lifebuoy soap. Marie, of course, was his mother, and the following conversation ensued:

Marie: Who is she and what’s her name?
Ian (blushing): Her name’s Margaret.
Marie: And what’s the big attraction?
Ian: She can run faster than me.

8. Football: Though he turned down the original offer from Crystal Palace, Botham’s love for football never seemed to desert him. At various points of time in his life Botham played for Scunthorpe as a centre-forward. He also played for Yeovil Town. He made 11 appearances in The Football League.

9. Viva Viv: Since Viv Richards joined Somerset, the two men became the best of friends, though it had started with a strange role reversal. On their first match together, Richards fell for a golden duck and Botham scored a hundred. However, Richards made up with five for 25 while Botham went wicketless. Botham told his mate: “Listen, Viv, from now on, you take the wickets and I’ll score the runs.”

The two shared an apartment, often made trips to the Bothams at Yeovil, where they got stuffed, used the washing machine, and got all the care they needed. When Mrs Botham visited them, she grew too scandalised by the look of the apartment. The bond grew deeper when they fell out with Peter Roebuck at Somerset. When Ian’s only son Liam was born, Viv was named godfather.

10. What goes around, comes around: Liam became a bosom friend of Dimitri Mascarenhas, with whom he shared an apartment. When Ian and his wife Kath (who was, incidentally, Brian Close’s goddaughter) visited them, they were appalled by the condition the apartment was in. There was a minor argument, which ended with Ian telling his son that Ian could do whatever he wanted to because he was an established cricketer.

However, Liam had the Botham blood in his veins, too. In a few weeks he made his First-Class debut against Middlesex at Portsmouth, and claimed five for 67 in the first innings. For once Ian Botham was silenced.

11. What do they know of Botham…?: Contrary to popular beliefs, Botham won his Knighthood for his “sustained efforts in raising money for leukaemia research.” It had all started in August 1977 when Botham was admitted to Musgrove Park Hospital to have a broken toe mended. Limping around inside the hospital, he went to a ward of children suffering from leukaemia with only a few months to live.

The sight changed his attitude to life: in 1985 he had his first charity walk — a 900-mile trek. He has helped raise over £10 million for the purpose. Statistics say that the survival rate of children suffering from leukaemia has gone up from 20 per cent to 80 per cent, and Botham had a large role to play.

12. Chappelli: Botham’s difference with Ian Chappell is one of the most talked-about cricket rifts. It had probably started when Botham was in Australia in 1976-77. Botham mentions in his autobiography that he overheard Chappell talking of “rubbishing England” rather loudly. Botham threatened Chappell of “trouble” if he carried on. Chappell did not pay heed, and Botham punched him. He also chased Chappell out of the bar, only to give up the chase when he saw a police car.

More followed next week, which apparently involved Botham (though Botham denied this) pressing an empty beer glass against Chappell’s cheek with the threat “I’ll f**king cut you from ear to ear.” Chappell responded: “Son, that won’t f**king impress me very much. In fact, (it) would be an act of cowardice. I’ll tell you what would impress me — if you cut me with a cricket ball.” Botham challenged him to a fight.

As late as in 2012, Botham was waiting for the Sky Sports team to pick him up outside Adelaide Oval, Chappell passed by and uttered something “provocative”. Botham confronted him, and another heated argument ensued. They had to be separated after they went for each other’s throats.

13. A Sunny captive: Being aware of Sunil Gavaskar’s cynophobia, Botham often brought random stray dogs into the Somerset dressing-room. Once, when Gavaskar was inside a phone booth, he kept a dog outside. This resulted in a long queue, since Gavaskar could not leave the booth. In the end The Little Master had to plead with Botham to take it away.

14. A matter of about fifty quid: Botham flew with the Queensland team to play the 1987-88 Sheffield Shield final at WACA. Allan Border and Greg Ritchie had an argument of sorts on board; Botham tried to stop them. He also tried to convince Border in Ritchie’s absence. The language turned a tad unparliamentary, and when a passenger tried to quiet them, Botham asked him to mind his own business.

Immediately after Botham checked in to his hotel, there was a rap at the hotel door: he was arrested for assault on the passenger. His teammates tried to rescue him; Border himself wanted to stand surety; but Western Australia laws clearly insisted two Western Australian witnesses.

Enter Dennis Lillee, with a six-pack beer crate and willingness to stand as witness. Botham got off with a A$800 fine. He played the final. He was later fined $5,000 more by Queensland, and was subsequently sacked (Greg Chappell seconded the idea). The reaction came in typical Botham style: “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.”

15. Patriotism: The Englishmen and Pakistanis were having a peaceful pre-match dinner at Melbourne the night before World Cup final, 1992. Unfortunately, Australian comedian Gerry Connolly had a rather unusual idea of impersonating the Queen, which did not go down too well with Botham and Gooch, who quit the dinner midway.

16. Maidens, overs, runs… : Botham’s incredible machismo earned him his fare share of female fans. He had an affair with Kylie Verrells, an Australian waitress, but the most famous of his relationships was with Lindy Field, former Miss Barbados, which involved a broken bed.

17. “Meat and two veg”: Botham was not going to bow out of cricket just like that. He announced retirement before the last day during Durham’s match against the touring Australians of 1993. On what was supposed to be his last over, Botham sent down five innocuous deliveries (though he mimicked Jeff Thomson’s action) before he, in his own words in an interview to The Guardian, “unzipped my fly and hauled out the meat and two veg. The old man was dangling in the wind as I steamed in.”

Surprisingly, it was done with such care that no one outside the ground realised what was going on. Word, however, got around, and Wisden condemned the action, calling it “unbecoming and flippant”.

18. Boonie and Lamby: David Boon came back to form a unique partnership with Botham, when Victoria Bitter decided to sell talking figurines of the duo that came free with the purchase of beer. They were called Beefy and Boonie. Quality Standard Beef and Lamb did the same, though this time Allan Lamb was teamed with Botham: the cartoon characters were called Beefy and Lamby.

19. Not his piece of cake: On a South Africa tour, David Gower and the rest of the Sky Sports team had arranged for Botham’s birthday cake, complete with “a beautifully iced, round chocolate cake, exactly the kind Beefy likes”. He chewed and immediately spat it out, his eyes almost popping out in astonishment and disgust.

It was then that a staff member asked: “Why, Mr Botham, do you not like elephant dung?”

20. A hard tweet: Whoever had been operating Botham’s Twitter handle had put up a picture of a phallus in August 2014. Botham later deleted the tweet and changed his password, and vehemently claimed that his Twitter account had been hacked, and someone else had uploaded the picture.

(Abhishek Mukherjee is an anatidaephobiac trying to perfect that Ashok Dinda leap. He pretends to be serious during his day job as Chief Editor of CricketCountry. He also tweets here.)