Magazine article The Spectator

My Beef with Botham

Magazine article The Spectator

My Beef with Botham

Article excerpt

Sir Ian Botham was my childhood hero. It saddens me to realise that he's a fool

In 1981, when I was ten and Ian Botham was 26, I thought he was God. Now, the week after Botham turned 60, the 44-year-old me thinks he's an arse. And that makes me sad.

The world is a simple place when you're ten. There are heroes and villains, victories and defeats. The very best victories are the ones that were nearly defeats. Headingley 1981, for example. No need for the details -- you know them already, not just from the match itself but from the hundreds of documentaries made about it since. I still lap them all up like an addict, silently mouthing along as Richie Benaud describes Botham's six going 'into the confectionery stall and out again'. But these days I can't help feeling that the innings -- the whole incredible series -- was simultaneously the best and the worst thing ever to happen to Botham. Because it made him a superstar, almost a myth. The only trouble with that is: how do you stop yourself believing your own myth?

Things weren't just simple for me in the 1980s, they were simple for Botham too. David Gower talks of the team meetings he would conduct as England captain, trying to determine who would field where for which opposing batsman, which bowler's weaknesses they could exploit and how... only for a visibly bored Botham to pipe up: 'Can't we just go out and beat them?' Fine, Ian -- or rather fine for you. You're a genius, it all came easily to you. But couldn't you have tried, for once, to put yourself in someone else's position? That of the rest of the team, who needed to work at it?

It was the same with your legendary 'socialising'. The England management probably didn't mind you finishing your last beer just as Graham Gooch started his early-morning jog -- they knew your vocabulary omitted the word 'hangover', so you could still stroll out a few hours later and launch Imran Khan into the Mound Stand. What they did mind was you taking half your team-mates to the bar with you, rendering them incapable of telling one end of a bat from the other, never mind knowing what to do with it.

But the real problem lies in Botham's bowling exploits -- or rather the way he has reacted to them. He took 383 Test wickets for England, which until this year put him at the top of the all-time list. …

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