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How much is this bat worth?

By

May 12, 2011

If it is indeed possible for a piece of sporting equipment to contain magic, then a very special cricket bat coming up for auction on June 1 must surely be infused with a healthy dose. It is the bat which Sir Ian Botham used in one of cricket's truly legendary performances, thirty years ago next month – the fabled Headingly test of 1981.

Botham found himself at the wicket with England in a genuinely hopeless position. Australia batted first and scored 401, England had been forced to follow on after a first innings of 174 and were seven down for 137 in the second innings, still 90 runs adrift of an innings defeat, when Botham reportedly said to batting partner Peter Willey, "right then, let's have a bit of fun...".

What happened next turned not just the game, but the series, his career, made him a genuine national hero and if there was one single act which earned him a Knighthood, it was this one. This is the Duncan Fearnly bat with which the fourth best innings of all-time was played.

In terms of authority, Wisden remains the cricketer's bible. Its diligence in maintaining historical perspective is so robust (check out the weightings criteria) that Botham's outrageous innings that afternoon in 1981 has put him among esteemed company indeed.

Only Sir Donald Bradman's 270 for Australia (v England at Melbourne in 1936-37), Brian Lara's 153* for West Indies (v Australia at Bridgetown in 1998) and Graham Gooch's 154* for England (v West Indies at Headingley in 1991) are rated better by Wisden, in the entire history of the sport. In fifth place was a faultless Bradman 299 not out.

In the Wisden ranking, the importance of the match, the state of the wicket, the quality of the opposition, and another dozen criteria are fastidiously ranked to obtain an accurate picture of the importance of the innings. Sadly, in ranking this the fourth most important innings of all-time, several key criteria were not considered. Botham had just stood down as Captain of the English team after losing all form with the bat.

So too, the English economy and indeed the outlook of the entire nation was in bad shape. In its national sport, the English cricket team was being subjected to ritual humiliation at the hands of the colonial up-starts. Headingly was the third of a five match bi-annual test series between the nations and the score before the match was a one-zip lead to Australia with the second test thoroughly deserving of an Australian win.

Botham arrived at the wicket with just two batsmen of dubious quality remaining in the shed, and his "bit of fun" gathered momentum as it went. 148 balls later, he had clubbed 27 fours and a six to score better than a run a ball for his 149 not out, but more importantly, England had assembled a lead of 130 runs for Australia to chase.

Bob Willis then completed the fairy tale for England by taking 8/43 and scuttling the Australians 20 runs short. It was only the second time in the history of test cricket, that a team had followed on and won. That feat had only been done once before in 1894-95, though it has since happened in India when VVS Laxman scored 281 (for the sixth best innings of all time) to turn a game and a series against Australia.

Wisden described the innings as "some of the most outrageous hitting ever seen at this level", and it's not hard to find footage of the innings on Youtube. Watching the ease with which Botham smashed balls to the boundary, I couldn't help but wish we'd seen him play in the Twenty20 format.

One of the reasons the innings was rated so highly, was that Botham smashed his 149 not out against a very capable Australian pace attack containing Dennis Lillee, Terry Alderman and Geoff Lawson.

What Botham's inspirational performances that summer did for a bleak Britain beset by economic woes was truly uplifting. Wisden called Botham, "England's last authentic cricketing hero" and this is the bat her carried in his finest hour.

I'm still amazed that items like this can be purchased so affordably. Bonhams estimates the bat and stump will sell for between GBP$2,000 and GBP$2,500.

I might buy it myself for that!

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About the Author
Mike Hanlon Mike grew up thinking he would become a mathematician, accidentally started motorcycle racing, got a job writing road tests for a motorcycle magazine while at university, and became a writer. As a travelling photojournalist during his early career, his work was published in a dozen languages across 20+ countries. He went on to edit or manage over 50 print publications, with target audiences ranging from pensioners to plumbers, many different sports, many car and motorcycle magazines, with many more in the fields of communication - narrow subject magazines on topics such as advertising, marketing, visual communications, design, presentation and direct marketing. Then came the internet and Mike managed internet projects for Australia's largest multimedia company, Telstra.com.au (Australia's largest Telco), Seek.com.au (Australia's largest employment site), top100.com.au, hitwise.com, and a dozen other internet start-ups before founding Gizmag in 2002. Now he writes and thinks. All articles by Mike Hanlon
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11 Comments

SarahM Pull your head in. The Editor knows best!

Ronnie

I remember this day well, Botham showed his true self and batted himself into the history books. I think the estimated price will be knocked for six,

robinyatesuk2003

No offence, but did I miss something? When did GizMag become a sports news publication?

For an organization that normally reports on science and technology, it appears that this particular article is not even - ahem - in the ballpark.

If there had been a report on some technological development with regards to the design of the bat, I suppose the article would at least have made some sense. It otherwise appears to be severely out of place.

SarahM

Who cares?, it\'s not Bradman\'s

Terry Penrose

Sarah did you read the article? \"If it is indeed possible for a piece of sporting equipment to contain magic\"

they are reporting on magic...... you dont see magic everyday

Dan79

The bat is worth close to whatever an old piece of wood is worth. If you believe that the magic lies in that plank instead of the man operating it, than you probably believe the makeup advertisements as well, and think that beautiful movies on your DVD are thanks to the plastic and print industries, rather than being the work of the real people in cinema. The article is interesting by itself, but putting it in Gizmag seems displaced to me.

Ender Wigin

SarahM I\'m with you on this one and that said, from a technology point of view it might be important to appreciate that the bat used was really little more than a chunk of wood, unlike the much lighter and more powerful bats used in today\'s cricket. The improvements in bat design though come with a cost as today\'s bats have about one fifth of the durability of the older bats.

What this means then is that the ability for a batsman to maintain control as fatigue sets in becomes problematic. Botham\'s innings was as much about overcoming the limitations of technology as it was for setting a rampant opposition to the stalls. I saw this game on TV and couldn\'t believe it, especially when the \'chook\' then rolled us in what seemed like a blink of an eye! The big winner was Duncan Fearnly, a so so bat maker (imo) that saw sales spike!

Strategic Futurist

Loved the story. Long live the magic all around us in such a tech oriented society!

Warren Gang

I could pay $0.50 and use it to start fire in my fireplace

wiarus2000

LOL @ \'The Editor knows best!\'

I\'ll believe that one when I see Sports Illustrated showing the Large Hadron Collider wearing a bikini in their swimsuit edition!

Dave R

This is not the 149 bat. The real one is in a private collection and has been exhibited at the Lord\'s museum.

Simon161264
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