In June 1974 a young 18-year-old from Yeovil made the headlines for the first time and has rarely been out of them since. The young all-rounder got his first taste of the high life in an amazing game at a packed Taunton where Somerset entertained Hampshire in a Benson & Hedges Cup quarter-final.
Ian Terrence Botham had joined Somerset only a couple of months earlier, having made his debut in September 1973. He enjoyed a modest start to his professional career and news of his selection for this big cup match drew some healthy criticism from Somerset’s regulars, the majority of whom were completely unexcited by his presence in the side. And their pessimism was not unwarranted; going into the game the young man’s career included four first-class appearances in which he scored 13, 2, 26, 2 & 1! He had just one wicket to justify his 53 overs bowled.
His one-day experience amounted to four John Player Sunday League fixtures, in which he had scored only 25 runs in total, and he had made his bow in the Benson & Hedges Cup in one qualifying game – ironically against Hampshire – where his bowling figures were 1 for 52 from 11 overs and he scored just 3.
So very few in the crowd of 6,500 were expecting much as the burly youngster walked to the middle at about 5.30 p.m. with Somerset placed at 113 for 7, still 70 runs short of victory in a game they had dominated at times but were now throwing away with some aplomb.
Yet it had all started so well for the home side on a baking hot day. By 11.40 a.m. Hampshire had lost the backbone of their batting with Gordon Greenidge, Barry Richards, David Turner and Richard Gilliat all back in the dressing room with the score on just 22 having been 22-0. Botham had played his part in this collapse, forcing Richards to play on with Graham Burgess getting two with Turner run out for a duck.
But it would take 31 overs and 95 runs before the next wicket fell as Trevor Jesty and Peter Sainsbury seized the initiative with an impressive stand to swing the game back in the favour of their team. Jesty always enjoyed playing against Somerset and his 79 was vital as Hampshire finished on 182 all out from 53.3 of their 55 overs.
Botham’s figures were impressive and his 11 overs enjoyed a return of 2 for 33. Hallam Moseley finished things off when he removed fellow West Indian Andy Roberts for 4 to finish with 3 for 28.
The game was very much Somerset’s to lose and they batted initially like they were trying to throw the game away. They slipped to 37 for 3 with Viv Richards, Merv Kitchen and Peter Dashing all failing miserably. A stand of 48 between Derek Taylor (33) and skipper Brian Close (28) restored some respectability. At 89 for 5 the game was in the balance and someone in Somerset’s colours needed to take the game to their visitors.
But with the score on 113 Somerset lost two more wickets and Botham strode out to bat at number 9. The batsmen had crossed as Herman caught Parks so it would be Tom Cartwright on strike and he threw the bat at Jesty and was also out caught by Herman. 113 for 5 had become 113 for 8 and all hope looked to have gone.
Botham was joined by Moseley – hardly renowned for his batting skills – with just Bob Clapp as support at number 11. The Barbadian Moseley played with great caution, only playing shots when he had too and leaving all the wide deliveries for the keeper’s gloves. Botham started to put bat to ball, almost in defiance as much as anything else, but when he hooked his first six high out of the ground then his confidence grew. With 45 overs gone the home side were 131 for 8 and needing 52 more.
Hampshire brought back Roberts to finish things off. He was one of the fastest bowlers in the world with a furious, aggressive action supported by remarkable accuracy. His bouncer was deemed one of the most dangerous in world cricket and it was with a short one that the bowler had felled Colin Cowdrey earlier that summer.
He dug one into Botham who bravely tried to hook but missed it, and the ball struck the side of his face instead and the sound of ball hitting face was heard by all in the packed stands. With blood pouring out from the split gums and lips Botham fell as Hampshire’s players gathered around him. He waved away their offers of help insisting he was OK. He would eventually lose four teeth from this delivery.
He batted on, maybe through youthful exuberance, and overs 45 to 50 produced 34 runs – including another enormous Botham six – leaving Somerset needing 18 to win from 5 overs.
Then, at the start of the 53rd over with the total on 176, Roberts nailed Moseley leg before wicket. He had made 24 valuable runs in a stand of 63. The crowd showed their warm appreciation for a player who had just scored one of his highest one-day scores.
Somerset needed only 7 to win but with Clapp walking out as last man it was Hampshire who were suddenly favourites again. Clapp’s previous highest score was 1 not out and here he was about to face the fury of one the fastest bowlers in the world. His first ball struck the pad and squirmed towards square leg and Botham screamed for the leg bye to give him the strike. He defended until the last ball when he smacked one into the outfield for an easy two. But Botham needed three to keep strike so called his partner for a daring third. Clapp made his ground with a flying dive after keeper Stephenson had removed the bails as Hampshire appealed for the run out to win the game. Not out!
Somerset were 180 for 9 with two overs to go, the final one from Roberts. Botham left the first two Bob Herman deliveries which were wide of the crease. He swung at balls 3, 4 and 5 but failed to connect. Botham managed to middle Herman’s last delivery and the ball smacked into the boundary boards – Somerset had won this amazing game by one wicket with Botham 45 not out at the end.
There was utter pandemonium. Spectators ran onto the field as Botham ran back to the pavilion. After the game the former Gloucestershire player Charlie Bennett announced Botham as the man of the match. Turning to the youngster Barnett said: “Today we saw a young man who batted with great bravery for his 45 not out and also bowled and fielded with great spirit. I think we are going to hear a lot more of Ian Botham!”
You could say that again.
The next day with his name on most of the back pages of the national newspapers Botham went to the dentist. He admits these days that he would probably have retired hurt had he been more experienced. But the crowd at Taunton on Wednesday 12th June 1974 are glad he didn’t on a day when a star was most definitely born.