CLR James in his book “Beyond the Boundary” wrote, “Cricket is an art, not a bastard or a poor relation, but a full member of the community. Cricket is first and foremost a dramatic spectacle. It belong with the theatre, ballet, opera and dance”. It’s about those magical moments where the drama unfolds and makes it moment of immortality. Here is one such moment from the famous 1981 Ashes that will be written in cricketing folklore for years to come.
The 1981 Ashes series was known as the “Botham Series”. His inspired performance in the third Test at Headingley, Leeds brought England back from the brink and boosted their confidence. Australia batted for nearly two days scoring 401/9 dec.
England in reply were reeling at 6/112 until Botham scored a 54-ball half century to give them some respite. England ending at 174 all out. They were made to follow on but nothing would change as England struggled once again with the scoreboard reading 7/135, and possibly looking at an innings defeat. Again, it was Botham who came to their rescue, scoring a majestic 149 which allowed them to set Australia a total of 130. And the rest, as they say is history.
They went to Birmingham still reeling from a certain disbelief after a victory in the third Test, although the mood in the camp was that of patriotism after the wedding of Charles and Diana. Australia on the other hand were left dejected after failing in a paltry chase.
The only change for England was the inclusion of off-spinner, John Emburey as Graham Dilley withdrew at the last moment after dislocating his shoulder. Edgbaston wasn’t easy for batting as the hosts found out managing 189 in the first innings. Mike Brearley’s 48 was the top score of the England innings.
In the second innings Australia were 203 for five at one point, Emburey found enough assistance from the pitch to polish off the tail, reducing Australia’s lead to 69 runs. At the end of second day’s play tempers flared as Kim Hughes clashed with Brearley. He was fed up of England’s short stuff and started to behave in a puzzling manner; disregarding singles and cynically applauding the English bowlers.
England managed 20 runs more than they got at the first time and those 20 runs were enough. It was largely due to a dogged resistance from Chris Old (37) and Embuery (23). Australia were chasing another low total of 151.
Willis and Old came out all cylinders firing reducing the visitors to 29 for three. Graham Yallop and Allan Border stopped the slide and added 56 crucial runs for the fourth wicket.
With over 70 runs to play with, the crowds fuelled with alcoholic beverages chanted for Willis and Botham to be brought on. Willis toiled hard for an hour but went wicket-less signaling it was time for Botham. But Botham was reluctant to bowl as he felt off-spinner Peter Willey was the better option.
As England was heading out after the tea interval, wicket-keeper Bob Taylor noticed that Botham was putting on his tennis shoes instead of the bowling boots. Brearley went straight to him and enquired: “What are you doing?” A subdued Botham replied: “You are all right captain, you don’t want me to bowl.” Brearley told him to put on his boots. He tried it again and Taylor questioned Brearley whether he really he wants Botham to bowl. This time a more authoritative voice yelled, “Get your bowling boots on.”
Willey was warming up when Emburey removed Border for 40 but Australia were still 46 runs shy of victory. Brearley tossed the ball to Botham who still seemed reluctant to bowl. What transpired next turned out to be a major part of cricketing folklore.
Botham removed the last five batsmen in just 28 balls and conceded a single. First, Rod Marsh’s middle stump went cartwheeling after he tried a flick through midwicket. Off the very next ball Ray Bright was trapped plumb in front. Dennis Lillee survived the hat-trick but went down caught behind chasing a wide delivery. Martin Kent was the only recognised batsman but he too couldn’t last after trying to clip Botham to the leg side only to find the ball brush his pads en route the off stump.
Brearley in his book “Phoenix from the Ashes” wrote: “Every time he took a wicket his arms went in the air, his chest filled and waist drawn in.” When Botham removed Terry Alderman who couldn’t handle the pace and was cleaned bowled, it marked a huge turnaround for English Cricket. England finally found their heroes. At 3:30 pm, Australia were coasting to victory but an hour later the English players were sprinting off the field. Barring Brearley, no captain would have had the audacity to ask Botham to put on his bowling boots.