Ian Botham scored one of the best Ashes centuries ever seen at Old Trafford in an unforgettable series.
The country was already gripped by ‘Ashes fever’ before the series rolled in to Old Trafford in mid-August for the 5th Test of the 6-match Ashes series.
That was thanks mainly to the efforts of one man – Ian Botham, whose pivotal role was to see the 1981 series known forever as ‘Botham’s Ashes’.
The series had started badly for the then England captain with defeat at Trent Bridge, followed by a draw at Lord’s in which he recorded a ‘pair’. Botham resigned as captain and was replaced by Mike Brearley, but defeat loomed in the 3rd Test at Headingley when England were forced to follow-on.
What happened next seemed almost miraculous, as Botham hit 149 not out and Bob Willis, with an inspired 8-43 bowled England to one of the most unlikely victories in Test cricket.
When Botham then turned in a ferocious spell of bowling in the next Test, taking 5 wickets for one run at Edgbaston to take England to another astonishing victory – and a 2-1 series lead – the stage was set for a thrilling climax and the fans poured in to Old Trafford in the hope of witnessing another England triumph.
The shell-shocked Australians gave a debut to left-arm pace bowler Mike Whitney due to a mounting injury crisis, plucking him out of league cricket with Fleetwood, while Lancashire pace bowler Paul Allott was selected for a debut on his home ground following a fine season.
In front of an expectant, packed ground England struggled to 137-8 and only reached 231 due to Tavare’s 69 and new boy Allott’s 52 not out, while Lillee and Alderman with four wickets each had gained Australia an opportunity to get on top. Willis, Botham and Allott hit back strongly to bowl the visitors out for a paltry 130.
Mid-way through the third day England themselves had faltered at 104-5 in their second innings, when Botham strode to the crease and not only arrested a slump but won the game in two unforgettable hours.
Taking the attack to the Australian bowlers, Botham hit a record-breaking six sixes in an innings that the player himself believes to be in his top three of career performances with the bat.
The over that really ignited the day came with two hooked sixes and two savage cuts for four in one over off Dennis Lillee. It was thrilling to watch, and Botham raced to three figures off just 86 deliveries, hammering the Aussie attack to all parts of the ground. At the height of his onslaught, he crashed the new ball for 66 runs in 8 overs, adding 149 for the 6th wicket with Tavare, before departing for 118 to a standing ovation.
Rejuvenated England went on to make 404 and, despite centuries by Yallop and Border, ran out winners on the final day by 103 runs to clinch a memorable series 3-1.
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