Botham: Tests the ultimate form of cricket

English cricket great Ian Botham in Dunedin yesterday. Photo: Peter McIntosh
English cricket great Ian Botham in Dunedin yesterday. Photo: Peter McIntosh
Cricketing royalty Sir Ian Botham was in Dunedin yesterday to speak at the Otago Medical Research Foundation’s A Night to Remember. Cricket writer Adrian Seconi caught up with the great all-rounder.

When Ian Botham stretched his back shortly before our interview, I briefly wondered whether he thought he was at the top of his mark and started fretting.

Mercifully, the great former England all-rounder was just unwinding after a flight and proved to be engaging company.

The 62-year-old was in his prime during the 1980s. It was an era dominated by wonderfully talented all-rounders — some of the best to have played the game.

Pakistan’s Imran Khan, India’s Kapil Dev, our own Richard Hadlee and Botham carved out a special niche in the history of the game.

As a teenager I was besotted with their personal duels and imagined the outcome would largely depend on which one of the great all-rounders got on top.

Botham felt it too.

"My intention was always to be the best and to play against the best," he said.

"Wherever you were playing in the world, the first thing you would do was pick up the paper and see how the other all-rounders had gone.

"Oh, Imran got nought — yessss! Paddles [Hadlee] no wickets — yeah. ‘‘So there was a great rivalry but we were all great friends. We are still good friends.

"Richard Hadlee is such a different person now to when he was playing. He was very intense which you had to be.

"But he is much more relaxed now and I’m playing golf with him before the Christchurch test. That is something to look forward to — take his money."

The rivalry was not limited to all-rounders. Botham loved the challenge of bowling to good friend and West Indies batting maestro Viv Richards.

"I got him out a couple of times and he got me out once, which was very, very disheartening. He still reminds me of that one."

For the record, Botham scored 14 test hundreds and claimed 27 five-wicket bags. It is a remarkable achievement which marks him as arguably the best of the four if not the best of all time.

The hard-hitting right-hander would have been magnificent at twenty20 but he missed that bus. He retired 10 years before the abbreviated format was conceived and has some strong thoughts on the game.

"Twenty20 has a part to play. I think it is a great way to bring kids and people into the game.

"But it isn’t, in my opinion, what I call cricket.‘‘If we ever let the attention slip from test cricket then we are in real trouble.

"Test cricket is the flagship. It is a test of physical and mental stamina.

"You can lose a session and still win the match. It is a game which ebbs and flows.

"To me, that is where the real test is.

"It is interesting but a lot of T20 players, the reason they play T20 is they are not good enough to play test cricket. But they can do a good job in a T20 game where you don’t have the slips or have bowlers bouncing you and knocking your head off."

Botham believes cricket is in a transitional period and he wonders whether the game can sustain three formats. Moves to reduce the length of test cricket and the advent of day-night tests have not been well received by Botham. And he has a simple message for administrators.

"Stop playing with test cricket. Leave it alone. I object to day-night cricket because it is a totally different game.

"When the lights come on and they kick in, it is a different game.

"It is not test cricket. Test cricket is an even contest between bat and ball. Not something that changes at seven o’clock in the evening.

"We must stop tinkering and tampering with test cricket. Otherwise you are just going to have to rip up the history books and start all over again."

Botham is a commentator these days and has been in Australia covering England’s tour. He will return to Australia on Monday but not for long. He is playing in the New Zealand Open [golf] which gets under way in Queenstown on March 1. His wife, Kathy, is a "passionate" Highlanders fan and the couple will be back in Dunedin next Friday night for the Highlanders’ opening Super Rugby game against the Blues at Forsyth Barr Stadium.

"She is very much into the Highlanders so we will see their opening game. And for my sins ... I’ve been a Blues fans."

Second thoughts, maybe Imran Khan was a better all-rounder than Beefy.

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