Ian Botham's performances in World Cup matches, for the most part, belied his status as one of the greatest allrounders ever. Now with age not on his side, dogged by injuries, and his bulk fully justifying the sobriquet 'Guy the Gorilla', the irrepressible Botham came up with a vintage performance against the Old Enemy. It was a throwback to the heady days of 1981 and had the English fans reveling with nostalgia and in the excitement of the evening.
As Australia batted first in daylight, Botham came on to bowl only second change. That itself was an indication of the decline in his abilities, as the pretenders to his throne, Derek Pringle, Chris Lewis, and Philip DeFreitas took the new ball ahead of him. At one time or another, all three were deemed to be inheritors to his crown. But not one of them, or any of the others, came even remotely close to emulating his Herculean feats. If he felt downcast at the privileged position of spearhead being taken away from him by men of far less ability, Botham did not show it.
Australia were sailing at 145 for four when he struck. He bowled Allan Border for 16, and soon there was a dramatic turnaround. In the next over Botham was simply devastating. He had Ian Healy caught by Neil Fairbrother for nine, and then trapped Peter Taylor plumb in front and had Craig McDermott caught by DeFreitas, both for ducks.
Botham had taken three wickets in one over, and four in the space of seven deliveries without conceding a run. Australia had slumped from 145 for four to 155 for eight. The Botham magic had burst to the fore one more time. The broad, triumphant grin was fully in evidence once again, and for the umpteenth time, the legendary allrounder had turned a match single-handedly.
Australia stumbled to 171 all out in 49 overs. Botham finished with four for 31 off his 10 overs. But his heroics had not ended for the day. He came out to open the batting with his captain Graham Gooch and gave the team a rousing start. The two veterans put on 107 runs, and if there was any doubt about the outcome of the match, this stand dispelled it in no uncertain manner.
Botham hit up a typically belligerent 53 off 77 deliveries with six boundaries. Gooch scored 58 and England romped home by 8 wickets in 40.5 overs. Ian Botham was once again the star of the show. When he was in such a mood there was little the opposition could do to contain him.
England maintained their unbeaten run, registering a third victory, while the game against Pakistan was abandoned due to rain when they were on the verge of a win. The English were on a high and they could not have been more pleased with the form of their match-winner of yore. Botham himself was delighted as he said: "I have made more comebacks than Frank Sinatra." This was an encore by Botham, a final reminder that players of his class come once in many a generation.
Australia 171 all out (49 overs), England 173 for 2 wickets (40.5 overs)
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