Ian Terence Botham is to be knighted by the Queen in her birthday honours this year. This BBC Story mentions that Botham is being conferred the knighthood for his services to charity and to cricket. The fact that charity has been mentioned ahead of cricket is perhaps insightful. Be that as it may, what makes Botham Sir Botham, as far as the noble game goes?
Is it his test performances against Australia? But then, his batting average against them is lower than his career average.
Is it the swashbuckling nature of his batting? But then, his performances in one-day internationals is quite ordinary – no centuries, an average of under 24 and a strike rate of less than 80. (Well, considering England as a nation does not seem to have learnt its one-day ropes, I suppose we’ll let that pass.)
Botham is Botham not for his statistics and records but for the totality of the impact he has had on the game. His performances seem to linger in the public memory forever.
He dominated the 1980-81 Ashes all right, but think of any other test series (let alone Ashes series) that is referred to as a player’s series. Botham’s Ashes is unique on that count. There is a possibility that the 2005 epic may end up being remembered as Flintoff’s Ashes, but don’t bet on that yet.
The Golden Jubilee test against India is another example. Yes, he dominated the test match with his batting and his bowling, so it is only fair that it be referred to as Botham’s Test. But I don’t recall a Hadlee’s Test or an Imran’s Test.
Another feature that characterised Botham is his ability to take wickets with virtually nothing deliveries. Regularly. Remember his first test wicket? Or his last? And the many more in-between? He certainly does have a powerful fairy godmother, and this facet of his performance makes him an endearing hero with the crowds, much like the action heroes of popular movies, who always get that spot of luck.
Botham also seemed to have hired God as his scriptwriter. Remember his 355th wicket with the first ball of his comeback test? Or his last one-day international against Australia in the 1992 World Cup?
A legend is someone who makes life difficult for people to follow his footsteps. The clearest evidence of this in the case of our new knight is England’s perennial search for “the next Botham.” Some names that roll off the top of my mind include, in no particular order, Philip DeFreitas, David Capel, Dermot Reeve, Chris Lewis, Ronnie Irani and, of course, Andrew Flintoff. Of course, only the last-named looks worthy of that tag, but the search in England seems endless. What are the odds that the next all-rounder will be referred to as “the next Flintoff”? More likely “the next Sir Ian.”