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The Week So Far

1. Europe

Germany's economy, the largest in Europe, grew by just 0.1 per cent in the second quarter of the year, despite expected growth of 0.5 per cent. Eurozone growth overall was 0.2 per cent, matching that of the UK and Spain, with France's GDP failing to rise.

2. Asia

Police in Delhi arrested the leading social activist Anna Hazare, who was preparing to start a fast in protest against a proposed anti-corruption law. More than 1,300 supporters of his Gandhi-inspired national campaign against government bribery and fraud were also detained on 16 August.

3. Africa

The Netherlands is returning £87m to the Libyan people from their nation's frozen assets. The Dutch foreign minister, Uri Rosenthal, said that Libyan money inside Dutch bank accounts had been given to the World Health Organisation and would be spent on medicines and hospitals.

4. Middle East

At least 61 civilians and security force members were killed on 15 August in a co-ordinated series of bombings by insurgents in more than a dozen cities across Iraq. The explosions came a fortnight after the government announced plans to negotiate a US military presence in the country beyond the planned troop withdrawal deadline of 31 December.

5. North America

Eighty-one members of the US House of Representatives are visiting Israel as guests of a charity that is affiliated with the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, a pro-Israel lobbying group. The trip, by a fifth of the House, is the largest of its kind ever made during a single recess.

6. Latin America

Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, president of Argentina, won the country's first national primary with 50 per cent of the vote. A victory in the general election in October would secure a second term for Kirchner, who is a member of the left-of-centre Justicialist Party.

7. Energy

Royal Dutch Shell located a second, smaller oil leak at an offshore platform in the North Sea, following an initial spill that, since 10 August, has discharged 1,300 barrels (216 tonnes) of oil to the east of Aberdeen. This is the biggest spill in UK waters for a decade. At its peak, the surface oil sheen extended 18 miles from the rig.

8. Technology

Police in Essex charged a man under the Serious Crime Act 2007, for allegedly sending BlackBerry messages encouraging people to join in a water fight. The statement of arrest appeared on the force's website, under the headline: "Police reassure residents they are working to keep county safe".

9. Nature

French and British biologists solved the mystery of the seven wing patterns of a Brazilian butterfly species. A defence "supergene" allows the Heliconius numata to mimic other species of butterfly in its environment.

10. People

The French designer Gabrielle "Coco" Chanel spied for the Nazis during the Second World War, a new biography by Hal Vaughan claims. Sleeping With the Enemy also alleges that Chanel was "fiercely" anti-Semitic

This article first appeared in the 22 August 2011 issue of the New Statesman, The answer to the riots?

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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