Ian Botham v Australia, 149 not out, Headingley 1981 - 10 Great Innings

Yes, Ian Botham's Headingley innings is predictable and yes, you all know about it, but we don't care. We're doing it.

Australia hit 401-9 and declared. England responded with a weak 174 all out and Australia asked them to follow-on. Batting again, England folded to 135-7. They had three wickets left, were still virtually a hundred behind with Australia able to bat again, yet somehow England won.

Ian Botham hit 149 not out off only 148 balls, supported by Graham Dilley, 56; Chris Old, 17; and Bob Willis - albeit only briefly. Then Bob Willis produced the most overlooked world-famous bowling performance of all time, taking 8-43. Australia were all out for 111 and England could celebrate, except Bob Willis who was really grumpy about it for some reason.

For many years we actually thought that we remembered this innings, but what we actually remembered was about fifty BBC replays of it when the cricket was rained off in later years.

One of the reasons why it's so great is that it stands as a high-water mark for sporting competitiveness. Some would say for the 'never say die attitude', but we hate that expression. 'Never say die' is just kidding yourself. Trying your damnedest to win, even when all hope seems gone, is admirable.

There are a great many occasions when cricketers show extraordinary fight in similar circumstances and lose. This justifies those attempts. But more than that, it's how cricketers SHOULD approach the game.

On the face of it, the game was lost with seven wickets down, but what Ian Botham, Graham Dilley et al did so well was to shift the pressure. At seven wickets down, the pressure was firmly on England. You could give up then. Alternatively, you could recognise the fact that with each run, it would get easier for you and harder for your opponents. It's only a small amount, but keep doing it and eventually you get into credit. Having come from so far behind the effect was magnified.

This is why Bob Willis's eight wickets are given a lower billing than Ian Botham's hundred. Obviously, Willis couldn't have taken those wickets without Botham's innings for one thing, but secondly, by the point Australia came in to bat, they felt overwhelmed.

It's the most straightforward piece of sporting psychology there is: Someone with a will to win will always beat someone with a fear of losing.

The Australians certainly didn't go out there with a fear of losing, but Ian Botham created that fear. Some players respond to a situation. Ian Botham influenced it.

10 Great Innings

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Tuesday, May 01, 2012

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