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Bite-sized briefing: world

The UN climate change conference opened in Copenhagen on 7 December. A leaked draft of a Danish document pointed to a divide between developed and developing countries on a future deal. But commentators noted the paper dated from November and was likely to be out of date.

Greenhouse gases threaten human health, acknowledged the US. This may mean the American Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) can order cuts in emissions without the approval of Congress.

South Africa will reduce carbon emissions by 34 per cent by 2020, it pledged at the conference. It said it would need financial aid from developed countries to do so.

Five car bombs in Baghdad killed at least 127 people and wounded 448 on 8 December. The blasts were near government buildings. Officials blamed al-Qaeda trying to destabilise the country before February's elections.

The past decade was the warmest on record, according to the World Meteorological Organisation. This year is poised to be the fifth-warmest in 160 years.

Afghanistan's security forces need international funding for the next 15 years, President Hamid Karzai said. The US defence secretary, Robert Gates, said the US would not abandon the state.

Hundreds of Somalis protested in Mogadishu against al-Shahab, the militant group that controls large parts of the country. The group is held responsible for a suicide attack last week, which it denies.

In Pakistan, two bombs killed 48 people and injured more than 100. The attacks took place in Lahore and Peshawar. No one has yet claimed responsibility.

Japan has agreed a stimulus plan of ¥7.2trn (£48bn). The return of deflation has sparked fears in the country that growth could stall.

Barack Obama announced plans to boost US employment, including winding up the $700bn (£425bn) bank bailout and using remaining money to lend to small businesses. US unemployment stands at 10 per cent.

In Chile, six people were charged over the death of the ex-president Eduardo Frei Montalva (right) in 1982. The judge said there was now evidence that Frei, a vocal critic of Augusto Pinochet, had been poisoned in hospital.

The Philippines government resumed peace talks with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, a separatist group from the south of the country. Previous talks collapsed 16 months ago.

Drug trafficking in Africa is turning it into a major crime hub, the head of the UN drugs agency warned. Fifty to 60 tonnes of cocaine are trafficked across West Africa every year, he said.

Egypt's head of antiquities requested that the Rosetta Stone be loaned to Egypt by the British Museum. A 1970 UN agreement states that artefacts belong to their country of origin. The museum says it will consider the request.

Iceland's recession deepened in the third quarter of 2009; output plunged at the fastest pace on record. The economy is expected to continue shrinking next year.

A hunger-striking West Saharan activist is refusing medical care. Aminatou Haidar campaigns for the independence of the disputed region. She was expelled to the Canary Islands in mid-November and has not eaten since.

Jerusalem should be the capital of both Israeli and Palestinian states, EU ministers said. Palestinians welcomed the statement but Israel, which currently claims sovereignty over the city, said it contained "nothing new".

Russian internet censorship claims have spread across the blogosphere after a provider, Yota, admitted blocking access to sites.

Romania's opposition party, the Social Democrats, contested the presidential election result. Polls had predicted a victory for the party's Mircea Geoana, but Traian Basescu won by under 1 per cent.

This article first appeared in the 14 December 2009 issue of the New Statesman, The Muslim Jesus

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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