Show Hide image

The Week so Far

1. Europe

The Eurosceptic True Finns party made its largest parliamentary gains in Finland on 18 April. Its share of the vote leapt from 4 to 19 per cent after a backlash against the EU bailouts of Greece, Ireland and Portugal.

2. Asia

Armenia has made chess a mandatory subject in primary schools in an attempt to produce a new generation of champions. The government is spending $1.43m on the scheme, which it hopes will "foster schoolchildren's intellectual development".

3. Africa

Allegations of vote-rigging marred presidential elections in Nigeria on 16 April. Riots erupted in the northern states when the incumbent, Goodluck Jonathan, received overwhelming majorities in his native south - including 99.6 per cent of the vote in his home state, Bayelsa.

4. Latin America

The Cuban president, Raúl Castro, launched a raft of constitutional changes on 17 April at Cuba's first Communist Party congress in 14 years. The changes included limiting presidents - including himself - to two five-year terms and allowing Cubans to buy and sell their cars and homes for the first time. Castro's brother, Fidel, praised the moves.

5. Middle East

Two Palestinian teenagers have confessed to murdering five members of an Israeli family in the settlement of Itamar in March. Amjad Awad, 19, and Hakim Awad, 18, admitted killing Ehud and Ruth Fogel, as well as their three children.

6. North America

Tornadoes swept the south-eastern United States, killing more than 45 over three days. Some 241 tornadoes were spotted from North Carolina to Texas.

7. Technology

The Ministry of Defence accidentally published UK nuclear submarine secrets on the internet. Blacked-out parts of a report became visible when copied and pasted into another document. The supposedly redacted parts of the MoD report revealed what could cause a core meltdown on British nuclear submarines.

8. Business

The long-term deposit ratings of Irish Life and Permanent, Allied Irish Banks and the Bank of Ireland were downgraded to junk status by the rating agency Moody's on 18 April - meaning investors are unlikely to get a return. The move came a week after Ireland's sovereign debt was downgraded to one notch above junk by the rating agency.

9. Entertainment

The pop singer George Michael has covered Stevie Wonder's "You and I (We Can Conquer the World)" as an early wedding present for Prince William and Kate Middleton. He will not, however, be attending the wedding: "They should be surrounded by people they love, not dodgy ex-con pop stars."

10. People

John Cleese has revealed that he turned down the chance to be a Lib Dem peer in 1999 because living in England through winter was "too much of a price to pay". The former Python was offered the peerage by Paddy Ashdown after donating generously to the Lib Dems. Cleese says he also turned down a CBE in 1996 because he thought it was "silly".

This article first appeared in the 25 April 2011 issue of the New Statesman, Easter special

Show Hide image

An English hero for the ages: Ian Botham at 60

Botham blends his sportsmanship and deep-seated passion for cricket with a lust for life.

Begging W H Auden’s pardon, it is possible both to honour and to value the vertical man, and in the case of Ian Botham, who turned 60 on 24 November, it is our bounden duty. No sportsman has given Britons so much to enjoy in the past half-century and no sportsman is loved more. Two decades after he retired from first-class cricket, his reputation as one of life’s champions remains unassailable.

No mere cricketer is he, either. Botham is a philanthropist, having raised more than £12m for various charities, notably Leukaemia and Lymphoma Research. In December, 30 years after his first walk from John o’Groats to Land’s End, he will set off again, in South Africa, where England are on tour. And he really does walk, too, not amble. As somebody who accompanied him on one of his dozen walks said: “You can’t keep up with him. The man is a phenomenon.”

Of all postwar sportsmen, only Bobby Charlton and, at a pinch, Henry Cooper come close to matching Botham’s enduring popularity. But Charlton, a shy man who was scarred by the Munich plane crash of 1958 (and may never have recovered from its emotional effects), has never comfortably occupied a public stage; and Cooper, being a boxer, had a solitary role. Botham, by contrast, spoke for England. Whenever he picked up his bat, or had a ball in his hand, he left spectators in no doubt.

Others have also spoken for England. Bobby Moore and Martin Johnson, captains respectively of England’s World Cup-winning football and rugby teams, were great players but did not reach out to people as naturally as Botham. Nick Faldo, Lester Piggott, Sebastian Coe and, to bring us up to date, Lewis Hamilton have beaten the best in the world, but they lacked those qualities that Botham displayed so freely. That is not to mark them down. They were, and are, champions. But Botham was born under a different star.

It was John Arlott, the great cricket commentator, who first spotted his uniqueness. Covering a match at Taunton in 1974, he asked the young colt to carry his bags up the rickety staircase to the press box, where Arlott, wearing his oenophile’s hat, pulled out a bottle of red wine and invited Botham to drink. Forty years later Botham is a discriminating wine drinker – and maker. Along with his friend and fellow England great Bob Willis, and their Australian wine­making pal Geoff Merrill, he has put his name to a notable Shiraz, “BMW”.

Arlott, with his nose for talent and good company, saw something in the young Botham that Brian Close, his captain at Somerset, was beginning to bring out. Later, Mike Brearley, as England captain, drew out something even more remarkable. As Rodgers and Hammerstein wrote, you’ve got to be carefully taught. And Botham, a fine team man as well as a supreme individual performer, has never withheld praise from those who enabled him to find his voice.

If sport reveals character, then cricket is the game that reveals it most clearly. In no other sport is the individual performance rooted so firmly in a team context. Every over brings a contest of skill and intelligence between batsman and bowler but only a team can win the match. “A cricketer,” as Arlott said, “is showing you something of himself all the time.”

Cricket also reveals national character more than any other sport. Football may be the most popular game in the world but cricket, and cricketers, tell us far more about England and Englishness. It is instructive, in this regard, to hear what Philippe Auclair, a French journalist and author long resident in London, has to say about Botham: “He is essentially an 18th-century Englishman.” In one! It’s not difficult to sense a kinship with Tom Jones, Fielding’s embodiment of 18th-century life, who began his journey, as readers may recall, in Somerset.

A country boy who played for Worcestershire after leaving Somerset, and who lives by choice in North Yorkshire, Botham is an old-fashioned Englishman. Although nobody has yet found him listening to the parson’s sermon, he is conservative with a small and upper-case C, a robust monarchist, handy with rod and gun, and happiest with a beaker in front of him. He represents (though he would never claim to be a representative) all those people who understand instinctively what England means, not in a narrow way, but through something that is in the blood.

Above all, he will be remembered for ever as the hero of 1981. Even now it takes some believing that Botham bowled and batted with such striking success that the Australians, who were one up after two Tests, were crushed. Some of us who were actually at Headingley for the famous third Test – thousands who claim to have been there were not – recall the odds of 500-1 on an England victory going up on the electronic scoreboard that Saturday evening.

Botham made 149 not out as England, following on, beat the Aussies by 18 runs. For three hours the country seemed to stop. In the next Test, at Edgbaston, Botham took five wickets for one run as Australia fell under his spell. Then, at Old Trafford, on a dank Saturday afternoon, he played the most memorable innings of his life and one of the greatest innings ever played by an Englishman: 118 magnificent, joyful runs. Joy: that’s the word. Botham brought joy into people’s lives.

Yet it was the final Test at the Oval, which ended in a draw, that brought from him a performance no less remarkable than those from before. He bowled 89 overs in that match, flat out, continuing to run in when others withdrew with injury. That was the team man coming to the fore. Little wonder his comrades thought the world of him.

Modest, loyal, respectful to opponents, grateful to all who have lent him a hand, and supported throughout a turbulent life by Kath, his rock of a wife, and their three children, this is a cricketing hero to rank with W G Grace, Jack Hobbs, Wally Hammond and Fred Trueman. A feature in the lives of all who saw him, and a very English hero. 

This article first appeared in the 26 November 2015 issue of the New Statesman, Terror vs the State