Ian Botham

Knighted in 2007 for services to charity and cricket, Sir Ian Botham is widely regarded as one of the finest all-rounders in the history of cricket. Born in Oldfield, Cheshire on November 24, 1955, Botham made his first-class debut for Somerset against Lancashire in the County Championship in May, 1974, at the age of 18. He made his Test debut for England in the third Test against Australia at Trent Bridge, Nottingham in July, 1977 and just over two years and 21 matches later, on August 30, 1979, became the fastest player to score 1,000 runs and take 100 wickets in Test cricket.

A right-handed batsman and right-arm fast medium bowler, ‘Beefy’, as Botham was popularly known, scored an aggregate of 5,200 runs in Test cricket, at an average of 33.55, and took 383 wickets, at an average of 28.40. He achieved his highest Test score, 208, against India at the Kensington Oval, London on July 8, 1982 and his best bowling figures in a single innings, 8/34, against Pakistan at Lord’s, London on June 15, 1978.

However, Botham will always be best remembered for three match-winning performances, two with the bat and one with the ball, in the Ashes series in 1981, subsequently dubbed ‘Botham’s Ashes’. After losing the first Test at Trent Bridge and being out for a pair in the drawn second Test at Lord’s, Botham resigned the England captaincy and was replaced by his predecessor, Mike Brearley, who had been tempted out of retirement.

At Headingley, England followed on and were quoted at 500/1, at one point, to win the third Test. However, Botham produced a remarkable display of hitting, scoring an unbeaten 149, off just 148 deliveries, towards at second innings total of 356, setting Australia a total of 130 to win. In an inspired spell, England fast bowler Bob Willis produced figures of 8/43 in the second innings, reducing Australia to 111 all out, and the home team scored the unlikeliest of victories. In the fourth Test at Edgbaston, Botham took five wickets for one run in 28 balls, to put England 2-1 ahead in the six-match series, scored 118 in the second innings of the fifth Test at Old Trafford, which England also won, and took ten wickets in the drawn sixth Test at the Kensington Oval.

Lester Piggott

Born in Wantage, Berkshire on November 5, 1935, Lester Piggott was the greatest Flat jockey of his era and was held in awe by many of his horse racing contemporaries. He rode his first winner in Britain, The Chase, at Haydock in August, 1948, and his last, Palacegate Jack, at the same Merseyside track in October, 1994. In the intervening 46 years, Piggott rode 4,493 winners and became Champion Jockey eleven times, including eight years running between 1964 and 1971.

Piggott was uncommonly tall for a Flat jockey, at 5′ 8″, and his height, together with his idiosyncratic, short riding style, led to him being nicknamed the ‘Long Fellow’. He was also famously tight-lipped, mainly due to a hearing impairment and slight speech impediment, and was known, less kindly, as ‘Old Stone Face’. Piggott enjoyed fruitful associations with three of the most successful trainers in the history of British Flat racing, namely Sir Noel Murless, Vincent O’Brien and Sir Henry Cecil, and won 30 English Classics; he remains the leading jockey in the history of the Derby, with nine wins between 1954 and 1983.

Remarkably, Piggott also remains, far and away, the most successful jockey in the history of Royal Ascot, with 116 victories, including a record 11 in the Gold Cup, in an era when the Royal Meeting was confined to four days. He also rode Nijinsky, trained by Vincent O’Brien, to victory in the 2,000 Guineas, Derby and St. Leger in 1970, thereby completing the English Triple Crown.

Piggott retired from race riding for the first time in 1985, but was subsequently found guilty of tax fraud and sentenced to three years’ imprisonment, of which he served just over a year. He came out of retirement in 1990, famously winning the Breeders’ Cup Mile at Belmont Park, New York on Royal Academy, also trained by Vincent O’Brien, less than two weeks after his return to the saddle. He also won the 2,000 Guineas in 1992, on Rodrigo De Triano, trained by Peter Chapple-Hyam, before retiring for a second, and final, time in 1995.

World Cup Preview: England v Iran

The FIFA World Cup has a habit of throwing up some very interesting ties indeed. Chief among them this year is likely to be the politically charged Group B. England taking on Iran is a match that comes with some very intriguing political and cultural connotations.

While there is no real debate about who is the ‘better’ side out of the two, England have come unstuck against similarly motivated opponents in the past. Iran come into this in a bit of a conundrum themselves, but they are coached by well-loved former coach Carlos Queiroz. This has all of the makings of a classic FIFA World Cup tie, with two teams who are arriving in Qatar with very different expectations.

While England have dreams of lifting the famous trophy, Iran simply want to get to the knockout rounds. It would be a huge achievement, and the similar level of all three opponents outside of England does make an exit from the group more likely than one would first assume.

Who will win this tie?

That being said, England have made a habit of starting well at tournaments under Gareth Southgate. They come into this one expecting a tough match no doubt. The main worry definitely comes upfront; Iran striker Mehdi Taremi is a lethal forward and has been prolific for FC Porto both in Europe and in the domestic league.

England are a bit shaky at the back, but if they can overcome their defensive lapses at the back they should be fine here. Iran boast no real discernible quality further back in the team, and England should have enough pace, invention, and midfield technique to control the game and win with comfort.


Alex Higgins

Alex ‘Hurricane’ Higgins, who died in July 24, 2010, aged 61, did as much as anyone to raise the popularity of snooker with his mercurial talent. Brilliant, if inconsistent, on the table, Higgins was a singularly graceless loser and frequently came into conflict with the World Professional Billiards and Snooker Association because of his drunken, argumentitive, abusive, sometimes even violent, behaviour. Nevertheless, reflecting on his career at the time of his death, respected commentator Clive Everton said, ‘The public decides who its heroes are going to be, and Alex was one of them.’

Born in Belfast on March 18, 1949, started playing snooker, as a 12-year-old, in what he later referred to as the ‘dreaded’ Jam Pot, the billiard hall in the Donegall Road area of south Belfast. Just over a decade later, in 1972, he became, at the time, the youngest world champion ever, beating John Spencer 37-32 in the best-of-73 final at the Selly Park British Legion, Birmingham.

Higgins won the world championship again in 1982 and the penultimate frame of his semi-final against Jimmy White was one of the most memorable in the history of televised professional snooker. Trailing 14-15 and 0-59 in the best-of-31 match, with half a dozen reds remaining, Higgins produced a miraculous clearance of 69, despite running out of position time after time, to keep his hopes alive. Higgins swaggered back to his seat, raising a defiant index finger in the direction of the press box as he did so, and went on to win the match 16-15. Reflecting on footage of the penultimate frame, Jimmy White said, ‘I look like I’d been hit by a train.’

In the final, Higgins faced six-time world champion Ray Reardon. Higgins led 15-12, but Reardon drew level at 15-15, before Higgins produced some of his very best snooker, including a total clearance of 135 in the concluding frame, to win 18-15. The scenes of a tearful Higgins celebrating with his wife, Lynn, and his infant daughter, Lauren, helped changed the face of the game.