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Head On By Ian Botham

Release date: 10th June, 2008
Publisher: Ebury Press

List Price: 7.99
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Head On
By Ian Botham
Ebury Press

4sportsbooks.co.uk price: £4.99, saving 38% on rrp

Over the years, Ian Botham has been a rich source of innumerable biographies and 'autobiographies', most of questionable quality, but none of what preceded this latest, apparently genuinely autobiographical account, comes close to Head On, now published in paperback.

Botham's publishers maintain that he received only "editorial assistance" when writing this book - as opposed to having the whole text ghost written - and while critics have questioned the veracity of this statement, such is Botham's determined, bloody-minded nature that it's perfectly possible he did write every word.

Sir Ian Botham is, without a shadow of a doubt, the best cricketer your reviewer has ever seen in action, the complete all-rounder who almost single-handedly turned the 1981 Headingley test match against Australia (and the subsequent series) in England's favour when no-one gave them a prayer of even surviving to the fifth day, never mind winning the game. His swashbuckling 149 not out lingers in the memory to this day; it was a feat that made one proud to be English - assuming we're still allowed to say that.

A couple of years later, he was experiencing what was for him a lean spell which prompted more than one former cricketer and several journalists to call for him to be dropped from the England team. The then captain, Bob Willis, also outstanding in that famous Headingley test, responded by asking the assembled throng at a media briefing "Which two players do you gentlemen suggest we should bring in to replace him?"

Ian Botham's performances as a cricketer speak for themselves and will be forever enshrined within the record books. For example, he became the fastest ever all-rounder to achieve the magical test doubles of 1,000 runs and 100 wickets, 2,000 runs and 200 wickets, and 3,000 runs and 300 wickets. He scored a century and took five wickets in an innings in the same test match on five different occasions - a feat nobody else has managed more than twice. He even briefly held the world record for the greatest number of test wickets.

He is too modest a man to dwell on such matters here, but we do learn what persuaded him to start his now famous charity walks. Eventually, they assumed a momentum of their own and have resulted in him raising millions for Leukaemia Research, another sterling effort which was acknowledged with the award of a knighthood in May 2007. "Once you get into these things," he writes, "you just keep going." Over a few beers, Botham also managed to persuade at least three Australian cricketers to do the same thing. Egged on by 'Both', they raised several million themselves.

Thankfully, Botham never claims to be a saint - and nor was he. He admits to making some enormous mistakes and seriously bad calls: the short-lived association with Tim Hudson is recalled with more than a cringe and the extent to which the business relationship put a strain on his marriage is covered in detail.

Once Botham is 'done' with a topic, he moves on and if the book has a fault, it's that he doesn't spend enough time on some aspects of his cricketing career in particular. However, the technique also means he has time for his good friends such as Viv Richards and John Arlott, and he creates space for those upon whom he is not over-keen: Ian Chappell, Imran Khan and Peter Roebuck, ex-cricketers who were simply not in Botham's league. But then, few ever were.


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