August 2, 1981 – When Ian Botham scripted an Ashes win with a sensational spell

Australians were 87/3 in the Birmingham Test while chasing a target of 151 before Botham's spell.

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Published - Aug 02, 2020, 13:05 IST | Updated - Aug 02, 2020, 13:05 IST


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Post World War II, it was Australia who won a majority of the Ashes series but England tried to sneak in a couple of them between the 1950s and 1980s. England registered a 2-0 series in 1977 which was only their 2nd Ashes series win in 21 years. But they followed it with a 5-1 victory on the Australian soil in 1978/79 which till date remains as the biggest away series win in the Ashes. Australia won the following series played at home by a 3-0 margin but was not considered in the Ashes.

The following Ashes series, however, was hosted by England in 1981 but a 3-match ODI series was played prior to the Test series. Australia warmed-up for this tour by playing a 3-match unofficial ODI series and an unofficial Test in Sri Lanka (Yet to be a full-member nation). The Australian team was strongly challenged by the Lankans as they lost two One-Dayers by 1 run and 6 runs to lose the series 1-2. The unofficial Test ended in a draw but the Australians got packed up for 124 and 178 respectively.

The ODI series in England began with an Australian defeat but the visitors bounced back to take the series 2-1 margin. The Aussies got much-needed confidence before the Test series which they began with a 4-wicket win in Nottingham. The 2nd Test at the Lord’s ended in a draw but Australia was set to take a 2-0 lead at Headingley after enforcing the follow-on. But an unbeaten 148-ball 149 for Ian Botham scripted England’s fightback as the hosts rattled Aussies to 111 and sneaked an 18-run victory.

A series lead in the sight!

The Australians didn’t seem to be shaken by Botham’s classic in Leeds as they put themselves in a strong position. Terry Alderman’s 5-wicket haul limited the England team to 189 after they elected to bat first in Birmingham. Contributions from the middle-order helped Australia reach 258 and hold a lead of 69 runs. England, in their 2nd essay, were reduced to 167/7 by a 5-wicket haul from Ray Bright. However, an unbeaten 37 from John Emburey helped England finish on 219 and set a target of 151 to the Aussies.

Play of 3rd day ended with Australia one wicket down for 9 runs on the board. The score became 29/3 on 4th day morning as England seemed to replicate their Headingley performance. However, Allan Border (40) and Graham Yallop had other plans as they put on a crucial partnership of 58 runs for the 4th wicket. But both the set batsmen fell in a quick span leaving Australia at 105/5. Even at this stage, the Aussies seemed to be on driver seat as only 46 runs were left to be chased.

Botham’s Ashes!

Australia’s total reached 114/5 by end of the 58th over of the innings and England’s winning chances were left over to Ian Botham for producing a miracle. After a sensational batting performance in Leeds, Botham was rather quiet in Birmingham where he scored only 29 runs in two innings and picked only one wicket in the first innings. Botham conceded only nine runs across eight overs in his first two spells out of which six were maidens but failed to pick up a wicket. Soon after Australia’s 5th wicket fell, Botham was brought back for his 3rd spell.

The all-rounder paid his captain’s trust by cleaning up Rodney Marsh with the 10th ball of his new spell. Ray Bright was trapped in front on the very next delivery as the Aussies were left at 114/7. Only one run came in Botham’s next over which was followed by a maiden. Aussies were later pushed to 120/8 when Botham got Dennis Lillee edge one to the wicketkeeper. Botham wrapped up the match in his 6th over of the spell as he cleaned up Martin Kent and Alderman to bundle the Aussies out for 121.

Botham ended up with the figures of 5/14 but all those five wickets came in a sequence of 28 balls at the cost of one run. England regained the Ashes by taking a lead of 3-1 in Manchester with a 103-run win. Ian Botham smashed a 102-ball 108 in the second innings and received his 3rd consecutive player of the match award. The 6th and final Test of the series at The Oval ended in a draw where Ian Botham scalped a 6-wicket haul in the first innings.