Beefy Talks about Bob Willis, Stokes, Durham, Comentry and Wine.

Interesting interview.

'I think about Bob lots': Sir Ian Botham on scattering his friend Willis' ashes in Adelaide

This week Sir Ian Botham will join friends at an vineyard to help scatter of his great mate and longtime brother-in-arms Bob Willis.

The Ashes — as appropriate as it is poignant. For all the ferocity of the 25 Tests the two men played together against Australia, the ceremony’s location will reflect, among other things, the enduring friendships they made here, away from the heat of battle.

The death of Willis in early December was the most grievous of many changes in Botham’s life in recent months, which he contemplates when we meet in a coffee shop.

As part of a wide-ranging conversation we discuss wine, Willis, bushfires and Ben Stokes, five-day Test cricket and his departure from Sky, since when he has largely disappeared from public view.

Botham is wintering in Melbourne, where he has established a wine company that has sold a remarkable one million bottles in the first full year of business operation. It is enthusing him as, for the first time in half a century, he enters a year that will not be centred on cricket.

Its success contrasts with the sadness he felt at the loss of someone he describes as ‘like a big brother’, who he will be honouring on Friday at the premises of their mutual friend, renowned Australian winemaker Geoff Merrill.

‘Bob absolutely loved Australia and particularly Adelaide,’ says Botham. ‘There are a lot of moments I find myself thinking, “Bob would like that”, or, “What would he think of this?” quite often when I’m doing the wines. I think about him a lot.

‘It could be the places where we were together. Adelaide was maybe his favourite place on the planet. He put it in his will that he’d like some of his ashes scattered there. I will view it as a celebration of a great man and a great friend, and I’m sure there will be some very good bottles opened.’

Through his deeds on the cricket field and epic charity walks, it is easy to think of Botham as bullet-proof, but the events of the past few months have made him feel more mortal. The last year or so has also seen him contend with having both hips replaced plus spinal surgery — as much a legacy of the gruelling treks along cambered roads as the thousands of overs bowled in his career.

‘We’ve lost a few close friends in the last few months. It’s been quite a weird time,’ he says. ‘John Lever (former England team-mate) was at Bob’s funeral and I remember being with him at Graham Dilley’s in Worcester a few years ago.

‘JK said to me, “You know what, we are starting to see each other more at these events”, and of course he was right. Time catches up. We are 64, not 34 any more.’

He then inserts a note of levity while contemplating the passage of time. ‘I’ve been married 44 years today — another miracle,’ he says, smiling across at wife Kath.

It might all be a cue for most people to slow down, but this being Botham, he has no intention of doing any such thing with his new-found freedom from the TV commentary box.

Yesterday he was organising a charity golf day, quickly sold out, in Melbourne to raise money for Australia’s bushfire victims. He was motivated not just by his empathy with Australian people but his personal experience of how terrifying the blazes can be.

‘A few years ago I was nearly caught in one with Dean Jones (former Australia adversary) when we were playing golf out in the country area of Victoria where he lives. These sirens went off and suddenly this fire came over the top of the hill and we were down on the course. We jumped in the buggy and headed to the lake in the middle of it, and by the time we got there it had gone past us, travelling at 40mph.

‘I have seen these with my own eyes, they are like rollercoasters. We were lucky because the grass was short on the golf course and it missed us. We were about to jump in the lake.

‘The great thing is that I can play golf properly again with the hips and the back surgery. The past 18 months, it has been challenging. I was on crutches and in a s***load of pain a lot of the time, but I’m back playing.’

The end of his broadcasting job does not mean Botham is entirely stepping away from cricket and he is continuing as chairman of Durham. But after 50 years, the game is no longer the anchor in his life.

‘I was registered as a Somerset player at 14, but I hadn’t thought about it until you mentioned it. I’m hands-on at Durham and I’m very fond of the whole set-up. We are in a much healthier position now and there are great people who have come in.

‘Players are coming back to us who left because of the insecurity a few years ago. Our academy will produce players. We’ve got Cameron Bancroft back and anywhere you have Ben Stokes and Mark Wood is going to be good.’

Botham understands better than anyone what it is like to be in Stokes’s elevated position. He sees something of his 1980s self in the all-rounder and was not surprised he was recently targeted at the Wanderers in Johannesburg.

‘You can see what happens there. You’ve got this long tunnel and they wait for you, the idiots. I can think of a dozen cricketers who have lost it there. Talk to Warney or other players around the world and they say the same thing. You’ve got to turn the other cheek, Ben knows that, but we are human. He sets his standards very high, he walks off a bit cross with himself and he gets abuse. I want to know what were the security blokes doing standing there laughing?

‘He is the biggest draw in world cricket, pure box office. He is tough, streetwise and what happened to him a few years ago (the Bristol brawl in 2017) has done him good in the long term, maybe taught him a few lessons. At Durham he is fantastic with the team. If he gets time off, he will wander in and see the boys, talk to any of them. He’s a Durham cricketer.

‘He’s a competitor and like I was he wants to be involved in everything. He has real leadership skills — I would be very surprised if he is not the next England captain.’

You will no longer be hearing such opinions from the Sky commentary box. Speaking for the first time since his departure, Botham clearly has no regrets about leaving. ‘I resigned, I retired, I wasn’t retired. I’d had a great time there but it was enough,’ he says. ‘The wine thing is what I want to do and I have sunk my teeth into it.

‘I was finding it quite difficult in the Sky commentary box — 23 years as a commentator is three years longer than my playing career and the game moves on.

‘It was starting to frustrate me because I was getting more involved in the wine but I couldn’t go places because I was committed there. Now I’m free as a bird. The standards in the wine business have to be high and keep going up, which is why I am very close to it. It’s also very nice that it’s much easier for Kath to come with me when I go away now.’

A lot of his time is split between Australia, New Zealand (his favourite country) and Spain, with more travelling expected as Botham Wines grows. ‘We are in 14 countries. A lot of the wine comes from South Australia and West Australia, but we are also doing two English wines, from Kent.

‘The boys from Argentina came over and I blended the Malbec on our kitchen table. They’ve sent it back to me and it’s like “Wow”.’

Another cricket connection he will not be letting go is the campaign to keep five-day Test cricket, which he strongly supports. His vantage point, spending prolonged spells in the Antipodes for several years now, is an interesting one.

When it comes to the length of matches he has noticed, in particular, a waning in support for the Twenty20 Big Bash League.

‘The idea of four-day Tests is ridiculous and I’m confident we can see it off. There are too many people against it: Virat Kohli, Allan Border, Steve Smith, who’s a very nice guy, incidentally. You might as well just rip up the history books.
‘They seem to want yet more one-day cricket, but look at the Big Bash here. People have got bored with it because it’s going on too long. They got greedy. Quite a lot of the sides are struggling to get the numbers through the gates, whatever porky pies they tell you. And the players know it.’

Test cricket made Botham famous, to the degree where his one-time agent Tim Hudson saw a future for him in Hollywood. Hudson is another who passed away in December.

‘I had a period of time with him and I had not seen him since. Some of his ideas were good, quite a few people thought that, but he got out of control. It was an experience, my time with him.’

For now, he will keep cramming in the experiences. ‘I’ve had a wonderful week here, been to the tennis and done some over-indulging,’ he says. ‘Plenty of work as well, there’s a lot to do.’

Just noticed the spelling in the title of ‘commentary’.


Firstly, I know full well how to spell commentary and secondly so does my autocorrect - so it’s a mystery how that has slipped through the net.


Just noticed the spelling in the title of ‘commentary’.


Firstly, I know full well how to spell commentary and secondly so does my autocorrect - so it’s a mystery how that has slipped through the net.
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