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Cricket
Sir Ian Botham batting in the 1985 Ashes Series
Sir Ian Botham played in seven Ashes series, he was on the winning side in five of them.

THE SIR IAN BOTHAM ASHES INTERVIEW, 2013

THE SIR IAN BOTHAM “ASHES” INTERVIEW, 2013

What were your Ashes memories?

I think like any kid, at a young age I was more interested in playing cricket than watching. That was certainly the case for me before the age of seven. I remember watching Kenny Barrington, an England batsman in the 1950s and 1960s and enjoying the way he played. I also admired Fred Trueman, in the ‘halycon days’, as Fred would have told you. I remember the Australians, and although I did not see Don Bradman play as I grew older I found out more and more of his legend and his remarkable record. I was lucky enough to play against other Australian greats like Dennis Lillee and Jeff Thomson. And I recall people like Bill Lawry – you talk about Raoul Dravid being the wall, well he was the bunker. He had a terrific record, and there there were plenty of other great players from that era – Neil Harvey. Paul Sheahan was a cracking fielder, too.

I have lots of great memories, but I think it was probably around the early 1970s when I first began to really take notice. The Australians had great players, but so did England in those days. One thing that did strike me as a youngster was that the conditions would be very different in Australia. Back then you got half-an-hour highlights at midnight from the previous day. And I remember seeing bright sunshine from Australia. The pitch looked white. And when I watched it in England it seemed to be dull, green and overcast. That was something that stuck in my mind as a kid: it made me really want to go to Australia, to see what it was like over there. I wanted to play there.

I didn’t go to any of the Tests as a youngster. Out in Somerset we were pretty isolated in those days. And at that age I was more interested in playing than watching.

Why did you choose cricket over football?

I was offered terms at Crystal Palace – they were a very good side in those days and they really wanted me to go. My father simply said to me that he felt I was a better cricketer than a footballer, and I took that advice. I was 15 when I turned down football and from then on cricket was my sole focus. A few weeks after leaving school at 15 I moved to London and became part of the Lord’s ground staff. I was up there for about four weeks. It game me a real appetite for the game. Somerset had registered me at the age of 14 but they couldn’t afford to train me properly, so I became a ‘Lord’s nipper’. It was great fun and I made a lot of friends there while learning a fair bit, too – about cricket and about life. As a kid aged 15 going on 16 with no money in London it opened my eyes somewhat. It stood me in pretty good stead for the rest of my life. They were great days and I still keep in touch with the ground staff from then. It is an enjoyable side to the game, and very sociable.

Read More: Sir Ian Botham's greatest test XI

How has cricket changed from when you played to now?

Certainly at the highest level it is less sociable. We used to be in and out of each other’s dressing rooms, and now you have to have ice baths after play, and what have you. It’s a different science. That is why it is so difficult to compare players from 10 years ago to those of today. And when someone asks you to compare, say, Bradman to Kevin Pietersen there is no way ...

You made your Test debut against Australia, so you have always had a big rivalry against the Antipodeans?

Yes, I made my debut in 1977 at Trent Bridge. I loved playing against the Aussies. I have always respected them, and for a nation with a population of less than inside the M25 to watch what they have achieved in sport, and how competitive they are – they are the most competitive people I have ever met – it’s amazing how much they have achieved. At one point I think they held about 11 World Cups, which is remarkable for a country of that size. They are a sporting phenomenon. At times they can be a little obnoxious but they commit to their sportsmen, that’s for sure.

Australians are aggressive, they play the game hard, they are athletic – they always produce good quick bowlers and highly competitive batsmen. They are never far away from the races. They are probably struggling now in the Test arena more than they have ever done in my time as a player and commentator.

The Australian press love to bag you, as they want their side to win. But I don’t think they are any worse than the British press; in fact I think we are worse. You know what you are going to get in Australia. You know how they work and you know at times they can be extremely fickle, one-eyed and boring. But I don’t think that changes too much from country to country: if a side is playing poorly they will cop a lot of flak from their own press. That is the way it is.

In that first Test, in which I got a five-wicket haul, there were so many things going on around me: what it meant playing for England. I was an uncomplicated cricketer and just went out there and bowled. There was no preconceived ideas – all I wanted to do was play well. That was how I played the game: I played it hard. It could have been four wickets; it could have been six. Records mean nothing to me, you have to understand that. I know how many Test hundreds and wickets I’ve got, because it’s brandished on Sky Sports every time I’m commentating, but the other stuff I’ve not got a clue.

Read More: Six of the best Ashes test matches

What was it like to tour Australia?

When I first went over there I thought it was fantastic  – it was everything I wanted it to be. It was the start of a great journey for me personally. But you don’t really see a great deal of the country as a player: you tend to see airports; hotels; and grounds. It’s a merry-go-round. The great thing about being a commentator now is that I get to explore a lot more and get out and about, catch up with old friends and go and spend a day or two with them, or go off and play golf, or fishing, with them. That is the things about team sports: you make a lot of friends, and I like to stay in touch with my Australian friends. I like the weather, their climate and their way of life. Although I don’t like the snakes so much!

What is your favourite ground Down Under?

To be honest with you there is not a bad ground in Australia, and they are all good for different reasons, but Adelaide has always been my favourite, if I had to pick one. It’s very special, firstly as I have some very close friends down there. They are rebuilding it at the moment – they will have it all done before the coming Ashes series – and I’m looking forward to seeing those refurbishments. I don’t think they will spoil it as they are conscious of not doing so. The Melbourne Cricket Ground is pretty special on Boxing Day, too. I also played at the Gabba for a year, which was terrific. That ground has changed a lot since I was there – when I first played there they had a dog track round the outside! Now it is a super stadium and they have levelled off a lot of the slope. Then there is the history of the Sydney Cricket Ground – I remember the old hill. They all have great memories for me, even Perth is wonderful.

Can we talk about the Ashes 1981, and Headingley in particular?

It is there in the history books, the quotes will be just the same! All the stories, like being checked out of the hotel, is all there in abundance. I can’t get sick out it as it is part of cricket history, but I try and avoid it now. It was a great moment in time but it has been written about it so much – there is plenty out there for people to indulge in without me having to go through it yet again. As I said in my autobiography that summer changed my life, in fantastic ways. I went from England cricketer playing well to ... it was everything the country needed in ‘81. The country was burning. We had the race riots, the miners’ strikes, it was terrible at he time. Then along came this guy from Somerset and he had a fair amount of luck on a very ordinary wicket – he middled a few, edged a few – and went out there with nothing to lose and we ended up winning the game. And Bob Willis starred, getting 8-43.

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