Wednesday, 13 January 2016

1982: England v India - Ian Botham 208

Ben Stokes recently set a new English record for the fastest double century in Test cricket, so this week I am taking a look back at the previous record set in 1982 by Ian Botham.  

Realistically it was always going to be a tough for Ian Botham to follow up his 1981 exploits during the next English summer. But such was the ability and belief possessed by the all-rounder, he gave it a bloody good go. The 1982 home series against India may not have contained the same drama as Botham's 149* or 5/1 in 28 balls or 118, yet his 208 at The Oval demonstrated the destructive nature of the man. Come the end of the innings, Sunil Gavaskar had a broken tibia, and Beefy had scored the fastest double hundred in Test match history (based on balls faced).

Botham was certainly in the middle of a purple patch with bat in hand. After his two Ashes hundreds, Botham scored 440 runs at an average of 55 during the winter tour to India, including four half centuries and a very responsible 142 in the final Test at Kanpur. Batting at number five in the last two Tests of the series, Botham's form was so good that he backed himself to score 1000 Test runs in the calendar year at odds of 6/1 - he must have collected his winnings, as he would end 1982 with 1095 runs to his name - and as the first two Tests of the 1982 home series emphasised, his hunger for runs (and wickets) continued.

The 1982 rebel tour to South Africa had stripped England of many key players, with Allan Lamb and Derek Pringle both making their Test debuts at Lord's under the captaincy of Bob Willis, who had taken over from Keith Fletcher. With all the instability surrounding the setup, England were vulnerable and after winning the toss and being reduced to 37/3, Botham's first innings 67 was vital. A total of 433 put England in the box seat, thanks in a big way to Phil Edmonds, Bob Taylor, Paul Allott and Willis taking the team from 166/6. Botham's 5/46 helped England enforce the follow-on, on their way to a seven wicket victory, and a confidence boosting win.

The next Test at Old Trafford was drawn, but not before Botham highlighted his liking for the Indian attack. After being struck on the toe by a Suru Nayak delivery, Botham needed a runner (David Gower) and decided to take the confusion of an extra man out of the equation by moving from 67 to 128 by hitting two sixes and nine fours, helping to drag England to 425 in his 50th Test. In just six Test matches during 1982 Botham had amassed 491 runs at 70.14, and without his presence in the team, England would have been in a spot of bother.

Botham did at least have a platform on which to start his innings in the third and final Test of the series at the Oval. The new opening partnership of Geoff Cook and Chris Tavare put on a stand of 96, and although both were dismissed in consecutive overs, an 89 third wicket partnership between Allan Lamb and David Gower steadied the ship, Botham walking to the wicket with England on 185/3, and immediately making his intentions clear. Unfortunately for the Indian skipper this would involve a great deal of personal pain.

Fielding at silly point is never fun, and with Botham at the crease, Sunil Gavaskar must have known he was in for a torrid time. The sound of ball on leg resonated around the Oval as Botham cracked a drive off Ravi Shastri into the left leg of the Indian fielder, with Gavaskar immediately taken from the field with what was later revealed as a broken tibia above the left ankle. "I knew I'd hit it hard. I'm sorry to have put Sunny out of the Test," Botham said at the close of play. Not only was he on his way to breaking a record, Botham was breaking bones too.

On a beautiful batting strip, Botham filled his boots, looking at home instantly as others around him appeared scratchy in comparison. "It was fairly ordinary at the Oval until Ian Botham got to the wicket," wrote Jim Laker wrote in the Daily Express, with Pat Gibson adding in the same paper that Botham was "simply in a world of his own". His 50 came in just 55 balls, and he would end the first day unbeaten on 82 (from 98 balls), with Lamb just four short of a maiden Test century. England ended the day on an dominant 329/3, with 160 runs coming in the final session. Botham had now scored 573 runs in 8 innings, and unfortunately for the tourists there was plenty more to come.

In achieving his highest Test score, Botham was praised endlessly, justifiably so. "There can no longer be any argument about who is the greatest all-rounder in the world," proclaimed Pat Gibson after Botham had blitzed his way to his highest Test score of 208, scored off of just 220 balls. In terms of balls faced it was widely acknowledged as the fastest ever, although records had not previously been kept on this, but either way it was a memorable innings. Botham's knock was so special that it took a mere 24 years for an Englishman to surpass his achievement.

In total, Botham hit 19 fours and 4 sixes in his innings, one of the maximums dislodging a tile on the pavilion roof. But it was not just a slogfest. "Another feature of Botham's innings was that it was a combination of aggressiveness and composure," Laker stated, with John Woodcock complimenting Botham on his straight hitting down the ground. Batting with Lamb at first - the Northants batsman reaching his century before being run out - and latterly Derek Randall, Botham made things look so easy. It must have been like bowling to Bradman at one end, and the Ilford Second XI at the other, as Graham Gooch might not quite as described it.

"The glory of Botham was that he looked as though he was batting in different conditions against a different attack from either Lamb or Randall," Gibson commented, Botham contributing 102 in a partnership of 151 with Randall as the Indians struggled to keep a lid on the great man. Even when the visitors decided to put five men back on the boundary, Botham sensibly milked the ones and twos on offer, during his assured innings. "For a guy to hit 200 in a Test Match and not give one chance has got to be one of the most remarkable innings I have seen for a very long time," Laker noted. This was not the only plaudit coming Botham's way.

"There's no holding him at the moment," Woodcock explained in his day two report. "His strength is astonishing. Bicep for bicep, thigh for thigh, chest measurement for chest measurement he must stand comparison with Larry Holmes, the heavyweight champion of the world". Holmes may have been lethal at the time with his hands in boxing gloves, but put a bat in Botham's hand and he was just as destructive.

Indeed Botham would inform the press that his new 3lbs bat - called the Attack, and personalised with extra grips on the handle - was part of the secret to his success. "The ball has gone off this one rather sweetly to the tune of 403 runs in three knocks against India this summer," Botham said, the Indians no doubt fully aware of the amount of runs he was accumulating against them. Botham was well on his way to achieving his aim of 1000 Test runs in 1982 - the Oval innings had taken his total to 699 - and it may have been more had Botham not chosen to bring out the reverse sweep.

It is interesting to note that even in Botham's moment of glory that there were some dissenting voices regarding his mode of dismissal. "He was caught, eventually, off that dreadful reverse sweep he plays," a clearly appalled Woodcock wrote. "Other than in a benefit game this shot has nothing to recommend in it". Hard to believe maybe to any younger readers out there, but this shot was frowned upon back in the 1980s, and it was even less popular after Mike Gatting's moment of madness in the 1987 World Cup final. But Botham would not be swayed on the matter.

"It must have earned me 100 runs since I first started to use it last year, so it is well worthwhile," Botham protested, probably a little bit peeved at having to field questions on his final ball rather than the 219 excellent ones before then. "A lot of people are making comments about my reverse sweep," he went on. "I certainly don't regret using it even though it resulted in the end of my innings".

"I felt absolutely exhausted. I just slumped in the dressing room and went into a deep sleep," Botham told the press on describing the end of his innings. He might have been excused for doing the same on the final day, along with the 1,444 unfortunate supporters who had to sit through England's turgid second innings which saw Bob Willis finally declare, leaving India 40 overs to score the 376 runs they needed for a victory.

Such was the boredom of the crowd, that a young Angus Loughran (Fantasy Football's Statto) invaded the pitch in protest at Tavare's slow innings (75 not out off of 208 balls), offering him a stool to sit down on whilst he batted. The match was drawn and England won the series, but Willis didn't earn many brownie points on that final day.

Surprisingly perhaps Botham was not named the man of the series. Kapil Dev's 292 runs at 73 and 10 wickets at 43.90 were seen as better than Botham's 403 runs (134.33) and 9 wickets (35.55), adjudicator Jim Laker expressing that Dev had to face a better bowling attack whilst batting. But there could be no disputing the man of the match. Botham's record breaking innings capped a remarkable year for the man, his run haul of 1,235 runs at an average of 65 since stepping down as captain an indication that he was truly happy to be back in the ranks again.

The Oval test marked the halfway point of Botham's Test career, his statistics mightily impressive; 2833 runs at 38.80 and 231 wickets at 23.06. Alas from this point on, the figures would be dented slightly. His next 51 Tests would see him score 2367 runs (28.86) and take 152 wickets (36.50), still useful numbers for an all-rounder, but just not what the public were used to. Time waits for no man though, and the years of toil would catch up on Beefy. As he explains in Don't Tell Kath, he had made a rod for his own back, yet even in a relative decline he would still give us glimpses of his genius.

31 wickets in the 1985 Ashes; his brief batting cameo in the Edgbaston Test of the same series; a wicket on his first ball back in Test cricket after his cannabis related ban; breaking Dennis Lillee's record for most wickets taken in Test cricket; his 138 at Brisbane in 1986/87; his 5/41 in Melbourne during the same tour when he was clearly unfit; his 4/31 and 53 against Australia in the 1992 World Cup. No wonder England were constantly searching for the new Ian Botham.

His splendid 208 at the Oval stands the test of time too. Currently the 9th fastest double century in Test cricket, it is the only innings in the top ten to have been made before 2001/02. He was obviously a man ahead of his time, and no doubt would have loved the Twenty20 scene. And maybe he could even have unleashed his reverse sweep without fear of condemnation.

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