KEN PIESSE’S INTRODUCTION: Time to introduce our specialist guest everyone. Let’s go back 40 years to the winter of 1981. It was an ever-so-cold mid-July Saturday night in Melbourne and all-Australia, in living rooms around the country, was rejoicing. England was on the ropes. We had ‘em. There could be no escape. Even Harry Houdini would have found an excuse to walk away.
Unbeknown to you Sir Ian, while you and Graham Dilley were about to fire a few counter punches in front of those Tetley-swilling Yorkies, down the road here in Prahran at the newspaper offices of the Sunday Observer where I was sports editor, we had our 1am city edition to update.
Watching the tv and seeing the score line – as outlined in your programs tonight – I decided that the Ashes were coming home and made that our banner headline. About 3am our time as Beefy and Dill mounted their extraordinary comeback, I had second thoughts… but it was all too late. We’d gone to press and the newspaper trucks were already in delivery mode.
Thanks to Sir Ian, Dilley and the gentleman fast bowler Bob Willis who charged in and went thru us, the 1981 Ashes took an incredible U-turn.
Instead of being 2-zip up with the Tests to play it was 1-1 and thanks to Beefy and others, the Poms won at Leeds and also won each of the next two Tests. Captain and master strategist Mike Brearley was soon being recommended for No. 10 Downing Street.
It was an unfathomable, extraordinary turnaround – and sheer genius on the behalf of our guest of honor.
Four or five years earlier Sir Ian, then just 20 or 21, and his mate Graham Stevenson became semi regulars in our mid week team, known as the Plastics… we’d invariably fold under any sort of blow torch.
Stevo would open with our star new ball bowler and captain Ron Reed, with Ian first change.
In August that year, Ian made his Ashes debut and took two lots of five-for in his first two Tests. Oops. We might just have an under estimated him.
Ladies and gentlemen, Sir Ian’s career stats are truly amazing, as is all his charity work around the world. His CV continues to expand and now includes the role of UK trade ambassador to Australia.
Australia has been a home away from home for him. Please can we be upstanding and as he enters through the back door here at Kooyong, given our Covid restrictions, can we give him the biggest-possible Aussie ACS welcome.
Ladies and gentleman, his Lordship, his Eminence, his Nibs, Sir Ian Botham.
And so began a delightful hour of ‘q and a’ with Sir Ian, on a wide range of topics from his love of Melbourne, to England’s on-field woes and of course one of his favourite of all years: 1981.
In Australia commentating for Channel 7 and Triple M radio, he loves Melbourne and after the Ashes conclude in Hobart, will take a month’s break here, alongside wife Kath and family.
‘I love Melbourne. Always have,’ he said.
He’d already represented England, at one-day level, when he first came to Melbourne, on a Whitbread Scholarship with his mate Graham Stevenson late in 1976.
They played at University under captain-coach John Hendry.
‘It was a very wet summer, and we ended up only playing four club games,’ he said. ‘The boys wanted to teach me how to surf so we had a lot of fun in the process.’
Botham averaged just 11 with the bat and 52 with the ball.
Run out for a duck in his first match against Northcote he was out for another duck against Essendon and the wily leg-spin of Keith Kirby.
Watching on beside Essendon’s long time scorer Mike Walsh, Botham eyed Kirby’s high-flung slower one and declared how he’d be taking him down. Within minutes of his arrival, he was walking back again, out stumped. ‘You were right,’ he muttered in Walsh’s direction as he unbuckled his pads.
Later that calendar year, he took five for 21 on debut in the Trent Bridge Test and followed with another ‘five-for’ in his second Test, at Headingley.
Back here, many of us were disbelieving. Yes, we’d seriously underrated him.
He was to become a magnificent allrounder and one of cricket’s ultimate Ashes legends: brave, provocative and outrageously talented.
The first to complete the rare Test ‘double’ of 5000 runs and 300 wickets, Sir Ian’s unforgettable heroics at Headingley in 1981 swung a Test match and a series.
What a moment it was. Holding a 1-0 lead, Australia seemed home and hosed in mid-match at Headingley with England, following on, 7-135 in its second innings, still 92 runs behind. The Ashes were coming home. There was no way out for the Poms.
Ladbroke’s even offered 500-1 odds for an English win.
Sir Ian clubbed an 87-ball century, to go with his six for 95 to snatch a slender lead and with Bob Willis taking eight-for in the spell of his career, England got home, somehow, by 10 runs.
Until 2019 and ‘Stokes Sunday’, there had to been a more dramatic Ashes Test at Yorkshire’s famous stronghold.
The Queen could have knighted Sir Ian there and then.
He was to be awarded an OBE in 1992 for his services to cricket and in 2007, was knighted.
In polite society he is known as Baron Botham of Ravensworth in the county of North Yorkshire; to his old teammates it’s simply ‘Beefy’.
Sir Ian has remained larger than life with his commentaries and regular appearances downunder.
Throughout he has never forgotten his humble beginnings and has the Keith Miller-knack of remembering names. We loved hosting one of the greatest names in the game.
It was a stellar night.
Story by KEN PIESSE, author of 60 cricket books and president of the Australian Cricket Society since 2006.