Head on – Ian Botham: The Autobiography

Published: 2008
Pages: 384
Author: Botham, Ian
Publisher: Ebury Press
Rating: 3 stars

Head on - Ian Botham: The Autobiography

This is the first biography I have read on Ian Botham since Botham My Autobiography which was published in 1984 and co-written with Peter Hayter the son of his former manager Reg Hayter.

In Head On, Botham gives no credit in the way of ‘as told to’; if Botham did write this book on his own, it is certainly a commendable effort, as it is very well written. But if the truth be told I did not learn a great deal more about the legend of Ian Botham than I had from the 1984 offering.

It did remind me of the thing that annoyed me about the earlier book, and which has not improved with his latest autobiography; the amount of copy dedicated to his wife ‘Cath’!

Okay ‘Beefy’ we get it! You were a shocker to live with and Kath had a lot to put up with, and was/is a great mother and deserves a gold medal for having put up with you for all of these years, but please tell us once or even twice during the book but not once or twice every chapter.

Not since Cecil Parkin dedicated a chapter to his wife in his amusing autobiography Cricket Triumphs and Troubles has a spouse been given so much credit, and at least Mr Parkin had the excuse that his better half spent hours facing up to her husband in the nets ‘and many’s the time she’s gone home with me with her finger nails turned black and blue by blows from my bowling’. So he could perfect his bowling style.

When reviewing Shane Warne My Autobiography, Malcolm Conn suggested a better name for the book would have been: Whatever It was, It wasn’t My Fault. Although not as guilty of this as Warne, Botham still concedes; ‘it had (the Botham personality) a less appealing side – it was never my fault, someone else was always to blame’. So throughout the book ‘Both’ always finds a ‘scapegoat’ except of course for his treatment of Cath.

Apart from these minor criticisms the book itself moves along at a fair clip and is very enjoyable, with Ian Botham seemingly giving full disclosure on all of the major achievements and controversies of his eventful career.

I had forgotten just what a great cricketer Ian Botham was, never again will I tolerate people telling me that Botham was the poorer of the four great all rounders of his contemporaries; messers Imran Khan, Kapil Dev and Richard Hadlee, or for that matter that ‘Freddie’ Flintoff is even in the same class as ‘Beefy’ Botham.

Botham as many a great player has, undoubtedly played on when past his best, but for a period (close to five years), he was arguably the best player in the world, and certainly potentially the most dangerous.

It seemed in the period 1977-1982, Botham was either scoring a ton or claiming a ‘Michelle’ or both in every Test match in which he played. In just his 19th Test he claimed his 100th wicket, and in his 21st Test he scored his 1000th Test run.

Botham lines up a few ex-team-mates:

Geoff Boycott; ‘no one was looking forward to facing the Australian pace attack of Lillee, Dymock and Pascoe on such a surface’ (green top). Boycott suddenly announced “my neck’s stiff, I don’t think I’m going to be able to play”. In the end he was forced to play.

Chris Old; “on the morning of the match, just 40 forty minutes before we were due to take the field, Chris sidled up to me and said, ‘sorry Both, I can’t play’. I did a double take. ‘what? What do you mean?’ “I’ve been stung”. “well where have you been stung? The arm? The leg? The arse?” “just somewhere,” He said. (in the end Chris Old did not play).

Peter Roebuck; who Botham blamed for the sacking of Viv Richards and Joel Garner from Somerset. “such was my fury with him that I could quite happily have watched him drowning in the river behind the Taunton ground without feeling any need to pull him out, but the only emotion he inspires in me now is pity”.

He also shows humility on occasions; on breaking Dennis Lillee’s Test wicket taking record; “although I’d now headed Dennis Lillee’s record, however, I never for a moment considered myself a better bowler than him. Dennis was the ultimate bowling machine, the best I’ve ever seen, and the fact that I’d taken more wickets didn’t for a minute fool me into thinking I was his equal with a ball in my hand”.

Botham made many celebrity fans during his cricket career including Elton John and Eric Clapton, and was also very close to the legendary cricket radio commentator John Arlott, so close in fact he was one of the pall bearers at Arlott’s funeral.

He briefly covers ball tampering and the much discussed court case involving himself and Imran Khan, and in shades of Darryl Hair: “The one umpire, Don Oslear, who had the courage to stand up and confirm that ball-tampering had taken place was treated in the same way: he was removed from the umpires list and never stood in another Test”.

Botham aims a real diatribe at the English team that lost the last Ashes series 5-0. Still I would have liked to hear his opinion on things such as ‘chucking’ and twenty/20.

If you want to learn about a living legend of the game than I can highly recommend Head On, by Ian Botham.

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