Beyond the headlines -- uncovering the Ian Botham phenomenon

It can almost be taken as read that a new book with Simon Wilde’s name on the cover will be an outstanding addition to the year’s crop of sports titles.

The Sunday Times cricket correspondent has been shortlisted three times for William Hill Sports Book of the Year with his portraits of Ranjitsinhji, of Shane Warne and his study of modern fast bowlers.

Now Wilde has turned his attention to Sir Ian Botham with an examination of the life and times of the great all-rounder that coincides with the 30th anniversary of Botham’s astounding contribution to the 1981 Ashes series.

His 149 not out to set up the incredible 500-1 upset at Headingley, his five wickets in 28 balls to win he Edgbaston Test from another seemingly impossible position -- these were the feats that created a national hero. But Wilde looks well beyond mere facts and figures.

Ian Botham: The Power and the Glory describes how Botham’s arrival on the international coincided with the first big influx of commercial and television revenue into sport, enabling him to leave behind the cash-strapped times he experienced after leaving state school in Yeovil at 15.

And how, in an era short on glamour and personalities, Botham brought an irresistible cocktail of talent, energy and swagger and ultimately was well rewarded.  He was a sportsman who gave the whole country a lift, proving that Britain could still produce champions, even from modest backgrounds such as his, winning a fund of goodwill that he managed to keep despite frequent brushes with controversy.

The book recalls that Botham helped win a new audience for cricket, too. Before Botham, many saw it as a staid, boring game. But ‘Beefy’ played it with an irreverent dash that stuck up two fingers at the cricket establishment.

He dressed extravagantly, favouring striped blazers and unusual hats, long hair and droopy moustaches. He got into trouble over punch-ups, drugs and girls, even earning a two-month ban from playing after admitting to smoking marijuana. And while this outraged some in the game, Botham’s behaviour made him a tabloid newspaper star.

Yet he kept on achieving remarkable things with impeccable timing and implausible frequency. He gave the media everything they needed -- for front pages and back. For the journalists assigned to follow his exploits, he was a dream -- a walking headline machine.

Publishers Simon and Schuster reveal that Wilde interviewed 100 people, including David Gower, Viv Richards, David Lloyd, Graham Gooch and Mike Gatting, to produce a unique account of Botham’s life and success within a wider cultural and political context.

Not all of Wilde’s interviewees will have been ready to eulogise cricket’s acknowledged colossus.  The input from Peter Roebuck, for example, should make interesting reading, given that Botham blamed Roebuck for the sacking of Viv Richards and Joel Garner by Somerset in 1986 and had admitted subsequently that he held his former captain in such contempt that had he found him drowning in the River Tone next to the club’s Taunton home ground he would have felt no compulsion to rescue him.

*Simon Wilde is the author of Ranji: The Strange Genius of Ranjitsinhji, of Shane Warne: Portrait of a Flawed Genius, and of Letting Rip: Fast Bowling Threat from Lillee to Waqar amongst other titles.

Ian Botham: The Power and The Glory is published on April 14 by Simon and Schuster. BUY NOW. Also available in Kindle format.


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