He was fined roughly $150—in England possession of such a tiny amount would normally bring only a police caution. Later, while not denying that, like most of his contemporaries, he had smoked a little pot now and then, he declared that what angered him most was the way the four cops had gone straight upstairs, returning instantly with the "substance." And how, the following morning, before word had had time to get round, just one reporter from a particular Fleet Street tabloid had shown up at his house. "A hell of a coincidence, don't you think?" he asked.
It was indeed. Botham was once more going to be crucified in London's notorious yellow press, as he had been again and again since his annus mirabilis of 1981.
Bobby Thomson's epic home run 35 autumns ago made for the Miracle of Coogan's Bluff in baseball. That was the stuff of miracles, right enough. But how about three miracles in a row by one man? Turn the clock ahead to July 20, 1981, to England vs. Australia, the third match in a series of six.
Australia had won the first, the second had ended in a draw, and the third the Aussies seemed to have well in hand, having hit 401 first-innings runs. In cricket each 11-man team bats twice, normally alternately. But England's feeble 174 in reply meant that Australia was able to invoke the humiliating "follow-on rule," i.e., to compel England's team to bat again immediately.
When it did, the Australian fast-bowling attack, spearheaded by the ferocious Dennis Lillee with his 30-yard run-up and delivery of the ball (slightly smaller, slightly heavier than a baseball) at about 100 mph, started slicing through the English batting order as easily as it had in the first innings. By midafternoon, with only three men left, England was still 92 runs behind, and the Aussies had another innings in hand. Fans streamed from the ground, unwilling to watch England's terminal agony, and bookies were offering an absurd 500 to 1 against an English win and getting few takers.
It was at this point that Both took a hand. He started quietly, but then, quite suddenly, he seemed to go berserk, not in the modern, devalued sense of the word but in the real Old Norse style, berserkr, literally bear-shirt, a man transformed by the gods into an exalted, ferocious, unassailable, ax-wielding terror—only now the battle ax was some three pounds of seasoned willow with which Both, mustached and bearded, a grin splitting his face, flayed the Australian fast bowling. He smashed the ball to the boundary 26 times for four, with one magnificent six. It was, said the normally staid Times next morning, "a marvellous piece of savagery." At the end of play that afternoon, he was undefeated with 145 runs.
Miraculously, the game would continue the next morning, and the Aussies, who had checked out of their hotel, hastily had to check back in again. Even so, they were still favorites to win. In cricket you can't bat without a partner; Botham lost the last of his, fast-bowler Bob Willis, very quickly after the restart next morning, so that now Australia needed just 130. But Botham seemed to have bewitched the Aussies. The following day England, absurdly, had won by 18 runs—and the series was tied 1-1.
In the fourth Test, though, by the final innings the Aussies seemed to be in a commanding position. All they needed were 151 runs to win, and they were just 46 short of that, with five batsmen in hand, when England's captain, Mike Brearley, tossed the ball to Both. "Keep it tight," he said. In other words, just keep the scoring rate down if you can.
He did more than that. In the next 40 minutes of that historic August afternoon, Botham, no longer in his berserkr bear mode but crashing down to bowl like some huge farmhorse granted the gift of speed, devastated the Australians, taking their last five wickets at the expense of one run—the equivalent of, say, striking out the side in a bases-loaded situation in five consecutive innings—winning the game for England.
Later he would speak casually about his second miracle of the summer. The Aussies, he said, had just "bottled out"—which is English slang for a sudden loss of nerve. "They couldn't handle it." he said. "It was lions-and-Christians stuff. Suddenly, instead of Lillee running in at Melbourne and 90,000 bloody dingoes yelling, 'Lillee, Lillee, Lillee!' or 'kill, kill, kill!' it was me going at them, and the crowd was with me...."