Sunday, December 23, 2007

"Head On" by Ian Botham

The updated tale of Sir Ian Botham OBE, England's beefiest ever cricketer, is a good read - an open, revealing and well written "autobiography". Unlike Botham's previous foray into the genre, "Don't tell Kath", no ghost is credited - the publishers say only that Botham had "editorial assistance"- but it is difficult to believe that there was one skilled writer who had a firmly guiding hand on the text. Whoever that was has done an excellent job.
In 1983 Botham was having a lean spell and some in the media were calling for him to be dropped. At a press conference England captain Bob Willis responded to these calls by asking "Which two players do you gentlemen suggest we should bring in to replace him?" This sums up the unique feature of Botham's game - he was one of the few international cricketers who could have been chosen either as a specialist batsman or as a specialist bowler - but as an all-rounder he was irreplaceable. His fame and his devil-may-care personality always made Botham a target and anyone who thinks that the "feral media" is a modern phenomenon should turn to Both's accounts of how he was first pursued by them more than twenty years ago. True he brought some of the problems on himself - a fact that he honestly acknowledges - but he was certainly hounded and shabbily treated at times.
Writing about his long stint as a Sky commentator Sir Ian says "I'm simply stating things as I see them" - and that neatly describes the whole book. There are heroes (Viv Richards, John Arlott and his long-suffering wife Kath...) and villains (Ian Chappell, Imran Khan, Ted Dexter, Peter Roebuck...) and Both is not a forgiving man when aggrieved. But he is passionately loyal to his friends and his work for Leukaemia research reveals that deep down his heart is perhaps his beefiest organ of all.
Botham is perceptive on some of the ills of modern cricket - and especially England cricket. Here he is on England in Australia for example:
"We looked like schoolboys playing against the world's best, never more so than on that last morning in Adelaide. What was going on in that dressing room? What on earth had been said, so that when the English batsmen came out they scored just 30-odd runs in the whole of the thirty-over morning session? What were they thinking? But it wasn't just in Adelaide. Every single pressure session was lost right through the series. Whenever the pressure was on, the Australians came to the party and the England players stayed at home. I can't think of a single crucial passage of play where we came out ahead. Many of the same players were on the winning side against Australia sixteen months previously, but Australia learned lessons from that and England did not."
Spot on! And it's difficult to disagree with Botham's diagnosis of (one) of the causes of the problems either:
"I counted twenty-five people wearing England shirts out in the middle before the start of one Test - who the hell were they all? As well as the players, the coach and the physio, England had a batting coach, a bowling coach, security men, flunkeys of one sort and another, a dietician to tell them what to eat and even a team psych¬ologist to motivate them. Since when did you need a psychologist to play cricket? I never took any notice of those idiots - how many overs have they ever bowled? From the results the team achieved, the psychologist obviously did a great job."
Both is no fool, but like Shane Warne who in some ways he resembles, he can sometimes be a fool to himself. When truly great cricketers like Warne or Botham speak the current crop of players and administrators would do well to listen. But will they? Don't hold your breath!