Botham’s Mullet

Ian Botham in 1985


I still remember recoiling at the sight that greeted me at the county ground in the early days of the 1985 season.  There was Vic Marks gingerly stretching by the pavilion; over there, Colin Dredge was complaining of a tweaked hamstring before the start of May; and harrumphing with the groundstaff was someone with the slab like frame of England’s greatest all-rounder.  But what was that on his head?

Botham had never seemed to take much notice of fashion before.  Low key jeans and T-shirts, the occasional Pringle V.  But this summer, the summer of his re-emergence after a winter lay-off, all that changed.  Tim Hudson, pony-tailed eccentric, was now managing Beefy’s affairs.  Not only was he going to make ITB a gazillionaire as a Hollywood movie star (sic) – he was going to turn him into a fashion icon.  Cue daft jackets, funny hats…and the do.  Hudson was the least-welcomed outsider in Taunton since Judge Jeffreys set up his Bloody Assizes in the county town.

Just as well Botham delivered the goods against the Old Foe that summer – his last as a top level competitor with both bat and ball.  He tore in for England with the ball and tore up county attacks for Somerset with the bat.  Otherwise 85 would be remembered as the Year of the Mullet.  It was perpetrated by Messrs Combers of Taunton – surprisingly still in business.  I know this because Botham was featured live on Noel Edmonds’ Late, Late Breakfast Show having it done.  My Nan also sat next to him under the dryers one day.

I wonder if he regrets it, looking back?


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International player of the decade: Richard Hadlee


I could have gone for any of about a dozen West Indians.  Or one of the Indian top six.  Instead, I’ve gone for Paddles.

Hadlee for me is the bowler of the 80s. When the MCC gathered together the world’s best players for its Bicentennial Test in 1987, it was inevitable that when Marshall took the new ball from one end, Hadlee should be at the other.

There was a sense that he was a “made” player.  Sure, he had abundant talent, but he seemed to extract every ounce from that talent by sheer hard work and dedication.  There was something austere about him – sergeant-major moustache, sweat bands at his wrists – that seemed anachronistic in this louche decade.  He was better suited to the fifties, when you could imagine his image – furrowed of brow and short-sleever slung over his shoulder – being among the more collectible of cigarette cards.

His bowling, in those 83 and 86 series in England, was efficiency personified.  Gone was the galloping long-distance run up of his youth.  He glided in off twelve paces, an action as honed as there has ever been, to deliver those snapping, spitting leg-cutters.  He wasted nothing – a delivery, an ounce of energy, or words in the batsman’s direction.

His batting was a decadent counterpoint to the metronomic bowling – he was as wildly exuberant with the bat as he was disciplined with the ball.  He only averaged 27 with the bat in Tests with two hundreds – a poor return for such prodigious talent.  I remember thunderous back foot drives and savage pulls over mid-wicket.

He was a model 80s international, too, in his dedication to the county game.  Like Marshall at Hampshire, Hadlee gave his adopted county his all.  He was as Nottingham as DH Lawrence – in whose novels he might well have made a fleeting guest appearance, perhaps as a police constable investigating odd goings-on amongst the mining folk, raising a sceptical eyebrow and jotting it all down in his notebook

He did the double in 1984, studiously ticking off the runs and wickets in a foolscap notebook at the close of every game.  He left nothing to chance.  No wonder he and Botham didn’t get on.

He recently criticised Brett Lee for his MCG mauling of the hapless Piers Morgan.  It wasn’t cricket, and might put the youngsters off.  Entirely appropriate.  If the game needed a guardian for its nobler values, or a lad in Mumbai or Manchester a role model, none fits the bill better than Sir Richard Hadlee.

So the Kiwi takes the crown for me.  Who would your cricketer of the 80s be?


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Forgotten Heroes: Peter West

peter west


Years ago, the credentials required to be a cricket broadcaster were quite different than they are today.  Now, any oaf who chanced his way to a few Test caps can settle his ample posterior behind the mic and pontificate to the nation without a trace of wit or wisdom.  Then, it was essential to have a way with words.  Sure, the ex-pros had their place – usually summarizing at the end of an over.  But anchoring the whole shebang called for a BBC lifer – the sort of fellow you could imagine commentating just as authoritatively from the Nuremburg trials as from the Stretford End.  Peter West, the subject of this short encomium, was such a man.

My earliest memories of Test matches on the telly invariably involve a beaming West, bald head sparkling like a billiard ball, welcoming the viewer to another day’s play.  The word “genial” was surely invented just for him.  He spoke to camera with impeccable good manners, never forgetting he was a guest in your living room.  His post-match interviews were conducted with the zest of the true enthusiast – his famous joust with a sullen Bob Willis at the close of the 81 Headingley Test is hilarious; it’s PG Wodehouse meets Lou Reed.

West regarded a day’s Test cricket as entertainment, pure and simple, and made it his business to jolly things along.  This met with limited success, especially when his tea time interlocutor was “Lord” Ted Dexter.  A man with no obvious sense of humour, Dexter deadpanned West’s whimsy at every opportunity, leading to some of the most excruciating pauses and taglines left twisting in the wind I can ever remember.

By the mid-80s, West was living on borrowed time.  The shape of things to come was there for all to see in the huddle of ex-pros who kept him company at close of play. Tom Graveney and Ray Illingworth usually partnered Lord Ted: sandwiched tightly together in the com box, with their odd range of suits and accents, they looked like dodgy uncles at a wedding, unclaimed by bride or groom.  Cricket broadcasting became professionalized – peopled exclusively by former professional cricketers – and simultaneously de-professionalized – that is, a specialized trade to be honed over years of hard graft.

1986 was West’s final year, after which he slipped off to the Cotswolds to write a very readable biography, Flannelled Fool and Muddied Oaf, tend his garden and potter around the golf course.  His successor was the unctuous Tony Lewis, pretty boys like Nicholas and Gower followed, and by the dawn of the 90s the urbane and literate TV anchorman was as good as extinct.

You can still catch the best of West on YouTube.  Like a waft of his preferred Mellow Virginia, he betokens a lost, less self-absorbed age.


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England cricketer of the decade: Phil Edmonds


Phil Edmonds famously bowled spin with the mentality of a fast bowler.  He bounced the batsman.  He gave poor fielding the double teapot.  He sledged – but probably in Greek.  He had a lovely lilting run up and action, and bowled fuller and with more air than most.  But, in truth, his aggressive left arm spin is not why he makes it as my England player of the decade.

He’s here not because of how he played, but because of who he was.  Philippe Henri Edmonds (note those undistinguished forenames transformed by the distinctive spelling a la francaise) was one of the most interesting characters ever to pull on an England sweater.  It is inconceivable that a man of his ilk could prosper in the world of professional cricket these days.  That’s nothing to do with lack of talent: he had it in abundance.  It’s all to do with attitude.  Can you imagine Henri submitting to the video analysis, dietary regimen or visualisation chicanery of the England back room boys?  He’d be rolling his eyeballs, drumming his fingers and whistling a little light Puccini before they’d even unzipped the laptop.

Edmonds was one of the last – no, THE last – of the great amateur England cricketers in the professional era.  Unless he was bowling, preferably when one of the world’s greatest was batting, or standing absurdly close at silly point (ditto) there were clearly plenty of other things he’d rather be doing.  Playing Test match cricket for England was merely a pleasant little diversion along the golden highway of his life.  Not for Phil a bathetic dotage, reliving his every Test match with chuckling chums in the Sky box (though I bet he would have made a fantastic commentator).  No, as soon as the cricket was done, he was off.  Millions to make, deals to strike, danger to court.

Vic Marks commented, during the 84 tour of India which revitalised Henri’s England career, that you could always tell who was the most important dignitary at an England drinks function, because Edmonds would be talking to him.  He certainly had hauteur, and I suspect that only colleagues who understood the meaning of the word would have gained his – fleeting – interest.  (Gower, perhaps?  Marks himself?)  He was not, by all accounts, the greatest team man.

His patrician bearing was thrown into sharper relief by the suburban nature of his Middlesex and England “spin twin”, John Emburey.  Odd couple indeed: where Edmonds was profligate, Emburey was niggardly.  Emburey stifled the runs; Edmonds bought the wickets.  They were a beguiling double act when bowling in tandem: the lord of the manor and the fitter’s mate.

He only played 50-odd tests – another one of the maverick talents English cricket occasionally produces, but seldom endures.  He left behind a series of indelible images: making a first class hundred with a hunk of untreated willow; rolling and tumbling to take a phenomenal catch on the boundary in the 85 Ashes which umpire Whitehead then disallowed; showing off his patchwork of bruises (courtesy of Patterson and co) on a Caribbean beach…

They don’t make ‘em like that any more.

Philippe Henri Edmonds – we salute you.

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January 21, 2014 · 9:13 pm

The way we were…


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January 9, 2014 · 6:22 pm