In England's squad of 13 for this crucial Ashes pipe-opener at Edgbaston, they had two "next Ian Bothams" to choose from - Surrey's Adam Hollioake and Kent's Mark Ealham. Meanwhile at Birmingham this weekend the bonny old bear himself, bushy-tailed, brushed and blazered, is burbling on in the Sky commentary-box. They could pick a "Next Ian Botham XI". It could tour the country, raking it in. How about, just offhand, David Capel, Dermot Reeve, Chris Lewis, Craig White, Dominic Cork, Ronnie Irani, Ian Greig, plus a few, such as Richard Ellison, Phil DeFreitas, and Derek Pringle, who were even "next Bothams" while the original model was still in his prime.
This very day, 6 June, is an anniversary that illustrates, rather poignantly I think, how short a span a great sportsman has in which to leave the vivid air signed with his honour. In 1977, on 6 June, a gawky 21-year-old West Country colt had his very first experience of the big time. I can remember as if it was last Wednesday when, just before the packed-house play began in England's one-dayer against the Australians, the announcer at the Oval, Alan Curtis, said: "Twelfth man for England will be IT Botham, Somerset." You could hear a murmur ripple round the vast crowd: "Who the heck's he?"
They soon knew - within a month, when he was given his first chance in the Trent Bridge Test. Not long before tea, the Queen, in the Midlands for the Silver Jubilee celebrations, took her front-row place in the Pavilion before meeting the teams in the interval, precisely the moment the captain Mike Brearley was helping to set the callow kid's field for his second spell. He galloped in, took four for 13 in 34 deliveries and broke the spine of the Aussie batting. Fit for a Queen.
I daresay Her Majesty hadn't a clue what was happening. "Oh, they're cheering again. How nice." Not aware that she was in on the birth of a legend.
The unfolding dramas at Edgbaston this weekend will engender warm memories. Twelve years ago, on the rest-day Sunday of the 1985 Ashes Test, we played golf at the Belfrey, a newish and swish course. …