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Cricket World Rewind: #OnThisDay - Sir Ian Botham and Bob Willis script historic Ashes win in 1981 Headingley Test

Ian Botham (L) with Geoffrey Boycott (R)
Ian Botham (L) with Geoffrey Boycott (R)

July 21, 1981 - When Australia arrived on the English shores in 1981, the home team had not won a Test in 10 matches. The visitors took England's unwanted streak to 12 as they won the opening Ashes Test by 4 wickets and then drew the next match at Lord's.


The way Australia batted in the first innings of the third Test at Headingley, they were headed towards another victory. It was opener John Dyson who set the platform for the Kangaroos with a measured century.

Skipper Kim Hughes and Graham Yallop also scored half-centuries as Australia finally declared for 401/9 from 155.2 overs, giving England a tricky period to negotiate towards the end of day two.

The opening pair of Graham Gooch and Geoffrey Boycott did that successfully but the Australian bowling attack comprising Geoff Lawson, Dennis Lillee and Terry Alderman made it very hard for the hosts to survive the next day. Lillee picked up 4 wickets while Alderman and Lawson bagged three each as England were bowled out for just 174 within 51 overs.

Sir Ian Botham was the only batsman to score a half-century for the side with David Gower with 24 being the next best. It was not the greatest of starts for England when Graham Gooch was dismissed for a duck in England's second innings. Following on, the team had lost 5 wickets for just 105 by the time Botham arrived to the pitch again.



The all-rounder was batting when the scoreboard lit up, showing odds of 500/1 against an England win. In fact, a couple of Australian players including Rod Marsh and Dennis Lillee took a punt with a 10-fer each and ended with laundry bags full of cash after the match. Even England wicketkeeper Bob Taylor put his bet, about which none of his teammates were aware at the time.

With practically nothing to lose, Botham swung his willow like a millionaire. He had Lady Luck on his side as a few edges did not go to hand. Once he was past the 50-run mark, the shots were played with better execution. Botham was joined at the centre by  Graham Dilley who scored a crucial half-century as the two put on 117 runs for the 8th wicket.

"I’m going to enjoy myself. It was as pure and simple as that. There was no magical wave of the wand that turned things around, as I said to Graham Dilley when he came out to join me, 'Let’s give it some humpty' and we did. The Aussies hated it, and with every blow that hit the boundary boards we enjoyed it that little bit more," said the all-rounder, reflecting on the knock 30 years later.

Courtesy of the unrestrained slogging, Botham finished with 149 not out off just 148 deliveries, including 27 fours and 1 six, giving Australia a 130-run target.



With the Aussies at 56/1, a win still seemed likely for the visitors. However, Bob Willis after getting the end of his choice ran downhill and through the Australian batting order. His barrage of short pitch bowling was too hot to handle for the Aussies.

Willis claimed 8 wickets while giving away just 43 runs from his 18 overs. The spell was so impactful that it found a place in most of his obituaries.

As a result, Australia were bowled out for just 111 in 36.1 overs and England won by 18 runs in a once-in-a-lifetime come from behind victory. This was only the second time that a team had won a Test match after following on after the 1894 Sydney Test where also England had beaten Australia.

England, who were going through a rough patch at that time, hugely benefited from the Botham-Willis' electrifying victory and went on to win the Ashes 3-1.


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