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Lord's Ashes classics: 1981 Published: 17 December 2012

Ian Botham (left)  at Lord's in 1981 - it was to be his last Test as captain
Ian Botham (left) at Lord's in 1981 - it was to be his last Test as captain

In the third of our series, we go back to 1981 to revisit Botham's lowest ebb - which became the famous turning point in one of the greatest Test series of all time...

It has become a part of cricketing folklore; the deafening silence of the Lord's Long Room as England's captain Ian Botham returned, just six minutes after heading out into the action, having completed a pair by being clean bowled by Ray Bright.

Botham retreated to the Pavilion on the final day with England's lead healthy enough - thanks largely to a partnership of 123 from David Gower and Geoffrey Boycott - to ensure a draw in what had been a rain and bad-light affected Test match.

But his side were already 1-0 down in their Ashes defence after a four-wicket defeat at Trent Bridge and Botham, who had started the summer already under pressure thanks to a Test captaincy record standing at played 10, won 0, drawn 7 lost 3, combined with an alarming drop in form which had seen him score just one half-century and take his wickets at 33.08 in that time, found no relief in the result.

Indeed, what happened across six-days at Lord's became arguably Botham's lowest ebb; the culmination of a 12-month period in which he had had fallen spectacularly from the golden boy of English sport to a captain on the brink of resignation - and subsequently, stunning redemption.

Damp squib

As Wisden recalls, Lord's Test's during that period were far from vintage: "Lord's and Test-match time in recent years have become synonymous with bad weather, controversy and abysmal public relations, redeemed only partially by isolated individual performances. The second Test followed this morbid trend."

Botham, who had been appointed on a one-Test basis for the first two matches of the summer, started by losing the toss and being inserted by Kim Hughes, on a pitch noted as 'dry, with erratic bounce' and England limped to 191/4 on an opening day affected by bad-light. Nightwatchman John Emburey prolonged his skipper's first appearance with a doughty 31 and Geoff Lawson made sure it lasted just three balls, trapping Botham LBW for 0. It was one of seven wickets for Lawson, who recorded the-then second best figures by an Australian at Lord's with 7/81.

The Umpires drew the ire of the crowd on the second evening when bad-light took longer out of the game than it should have thanks, to a misunderstanding of the regulations, but when play resumed on day three England briefly assumed a position of dominance as they reduced the tourists to 81/4.

A half century from Allan Border, strong contributions from Rod Marsh, Bright, number ten Dennis Lillie and Bob Willis' no ball problem helped the Australian's rally though, and by the time they were bowled out Monday (which was day four following a rest day on the Sunday) had constructed a 34-run lead.

England needed a steady hand to make the match secure, and there have been few better at that task than Boycott. The Yorkshire opener steadied the ship, alongside the marginally more aggressive David Gower, to England first to 129/2 overnight. Boycott fell for a painstaking 60 off 211 balls while Gower made the highest score of the match (89). He departed in the middle of a mini-collapse of 0/3 when the score was on 217 which culminated with Botham's wicket, but the skipper was still able to declare eight wickets down.

Australia briefly set hearts pounding when they were 17/3 shortly after Tea with the pitch turning for Emburey, but Graeme Wood steered his side to safety with 62 and Botham's reign ended with the tourists on 90/4.

Alec Bedser, the Chairman of Selectors, claimed that Botham had been pushed before he jumped, but whatever the circumstances which led to Mike Brearley being reinstated as captain, it led to one of the most spectacular turnarounds ever seen in a sporting arena at Headingley.


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