Remembering Botham’s Ashes

Thirty years ago this week, Ian Botham’s talismanic performance won England a memorable Ashes victory at Edgbaston. It had all started at Headingly the week before. Steve Beauchampé talks to pace bowler Graham Dilley, who with Botham, helped turn the series. 

Edgbaston Cricket - as was If there were a cricketing equivalent of the Best Supporting Actor Oscar, then 1981’s recipient would perhaps have been Graham Dilley. As first Ian Botham, then Bob Willis, salvaged England’s summer with amazing match winning performances against Australia in the Third Test at Headingly, Kent paceman Dilley’s batting and catching ensured him good coverage on the highlights video.

With England already 1-0 down in the series, Dilley’s 2-78 in Australia’s first innings 401 (Botham took 6-95) and 13 in England’s miserable 174 (Botham made 50) were forgettable contributions. As England, following on, slipped to 135-7 in came Dilley at No. 9 to join Botham for what should have been an early finish. “The game was over and we’d lost, time to pack your bags and go home.” says Dilley. “Skipper Mike Brearley gave me no instructions so I asked Ian what we should do. The pitch was very difficult and he said that we wouldn’t survive long just blocking, so we might as well have a swing if the ball was in the right area.” Facing Dennis Lillee and Terry Alderman (who between them had already taken 14 wickets in the match) as well as Geoff Lawson, only a fool, Rod Marsh or Lillee himself, would have bet against Australia (lest anyone forget, that’s precisely what Marsh and Lillee did!).

Soon Botham was rattling along like a train, Dilley matching him. “I might even have outscored him, but to be honest we weren’t really counting the runs. I still wasn’t confident though as you were never really in on that pitch and needed a lot of luck just to survive and frankly, Australia’s 401 should have been a winning score.” After a stand of 117 Dilley and his stumps finally perished, giving Alderman his fifth wicket of the innings and eighth of the match. Dilley’s 56 came from just 75 balls and included nine fours; but England were still only 25 runs ahead. “Back in the dressing room the atmosphere had changed from our being 100% certain of defeat to 90% sure, but that change was significant as at least we’d put up a fight and ensured that they’d have to bat again.” Chris Old joined Botham to add a further 67 for the ninth wicket before Willis, despite making only two, stuck around long enough to help Botham add an additional 37 before becoming Alderman’s sixth victim. Botham remained unbeaten on 149, 114 of them in boundaries, with England’s lead a fragile 129.

“At fifty runs on we thought we might embarrass them by taking a couple of wickets”, recalls Dilley, “but when the lead reached 100, particularly on that pitch, we started thinking victory was just possible – unlikely, but possible.”

Australia started reasonably, reaching 56-1, before Willis switched ends and things started happening: “Suddenly it was 58-3 and the ball was behaving badly, leaping around all over the place and we knew we were going to win. The change happened very quickly, but it wasn’t just getting the wickets, it was the manner in which we took them, not bad shots or run outs, just unplayable deliveries.” 58-3 soon became 68-6 but big-hitting wicketkeeper Rod Marsh was still at the crease – until he hooked Willis to the deep fine leg boundary. Graham Dilley: “I can’t remember much about the ball coming towards me, but I remember taking the catch and then checking how close I was to the rope.” [Very close Graham]. “Some players ran towards Bob but then some of the slips came over to me. Botham arrives and the first thing that he tells me is that as it was in the air Brearley, seeing that I was under it, exclaimed “Oh God, it’s Picker”, I thought, thanks Ian.” 74-7!

Willis finished with 8-43, Australia were skittled for 111 and England had won by 18 runs! Dilley however, has mixed memories of the match: “I was picked as a bowler but hadn’t performed with the ball all series so I knew this would be my last game. If it had been me taking eight wickets then it would have been the best thing ever, but as it was two weeks later I was bowling for Kent Second XI against The Army, while Botham was taking 5-11 in the Fourth Test at Edgbaston.”