Botham started his first-class career in 1974 with Somerset. In 1985 he resigned from the Somerset County Cricket Club to protest the sacking of his friends Viv Richards and Joel Garner. He joined Worcestershire, playing for them between 1986 and 1991. In 1992, he joined County Championship newcomers Durham before retiring midway through the 1993 season, poignantly after Durham's match against the touring Australians. In 1974, when playing against Hampshire and facing the West-Indian fast bowler Andy Roberts, a bouncer hit him straight in the mouth. He spat out teeth and simply carried on
Botham finshed with 5,200 career runs at an average of 33.54; taking 383 wickets at an average of 28.40; and holding 120 catches. He is recognised as one of England's greatest Test players. He was also England's captain for 12 Tests in 1980 and 1981. As captain Botham is generally considered to have been unsuccessful in that role. His tenure was brief and he achieved no win, 8 draws and 4 losses. In his defence, 9 of his matches as captain were against the best team of the time, the West Indies.
Compared with many of cricket's greatest players, most of whom were specialists, Botham's averages are fairly ordinary but this overlooks the fact of Botham's all-rounder status, which is uncommonly achieved at world-class level. Of note Botham's first 202 wickets came at 21.20 per wicket, while his final 181 cost on average 36.43 a piece; the first figure one that would make Botham one of the greatest bowlers of the modern era, ranking alongside the West Indian greats Curtly Ambrose (career average 20.99), Malcolm Marshall (career average 20.94), and Joel Garner (career average 20.97), but the second number depicts a player who, as a specialist bowler, would be unable to sustain a place in many test teams. This difference can be at least partially attributed to Botham's bowling pace being severely diminished by back injury.
Botham's batting - although never the equal of his bowling abilities - declined as well, with a batting average of 38.80 for his first 51 tests substantially higher than the 28.87 he managed in his last 51 tests, again a number that would be considered unsatisfactory for a specialist batsman in most Test sides.
Despite the obvious decline in his form, Botham retained his reputation of playing to extremes and so, if he played well, he could seem to win a match on his own. He was renowned as a big-hitting batsman, but with a surprisingly classical technique, and as a fast-medium paced swing bowler who could be very effective indeed when atmospheric conditions favoured his style.
Botham scored a century and took 5 wickets in an innings in the same Test match on 5 occasions; no-one else has managed this feat more than twice. In 1980, playing against India, he became the first player to score a century and take ten wickets in a Test match (Alan Davidson was the first to score 100 runs and take 10 wickets in a Test but that did not include a century).
During the 1981 Ashes (see below), Botham set a record of six sixes in a single Ashes Test Match at Old Trafford. That record remained unbroken until August 7 2005 when Andrew Flintoff scored five in the first innings and four in the second innings of the second Test at Edgbaston, and again until September 12 2005, when Kevin Pietersen hit seven sixes in the second innings of the last Test at The Oval.
He resigned the captaincy after a loss and a draw in the first two Tests of the 1981 Ashes series. The resignation itself was the cause of controversy, with Alec Bedser, the Chairman of the selection panel, making it clear to the media that Botham would have been fired in any event. Botham himself refers to the event as his "dismissal" in his autobiography. In this Test, his last as England captain, Botham was dismissed for a pair, the game being the Second Test, played at Lord's. He returned to an embarrassed silence in the pavilion and after the previous year's events at the centenary Test, this possibly was the final straw. For the rest of his cricketing career, Botham always refused to acknowledge the pavilion members when he played at Lord's.
Mike Brearley, the captain Botham had replaced, took over the reins for the Third Test scheduled for 16 to 21 July, at Headingley. Australia won the toss and elected to bat. They batted all day Thursday and most of Friday, declaring after tea at 401 for 9, John Dyson having made 102 and Botham having taken 6 for 95. The England openers Graham Gooch and Geoff Boycott survived the remaining few overs, and England finished the day on 7 for no wicket.
The next day, Saturday, was a disaster for England: Gooch was out in the first over of the day, and although Boycott and Brearley then attempted to dig in, they were both out before lunch. None of the other batsmen got going at all with the exception of Botham who top scored with 50 — his first half century since his first Test as captain 13 matches earlier. England were all out in the third session for 174. Australia enforced the follow on and piled on the pressure, Gooch was out for 0 on the third ball of the first over caught by Terry Alderman off the bowling of Dennis Lillee. By the close, England had struggled to just 6 for 1, still 221 behind Australia.
Sunday 19 July was a rest day and the papers roasted the lamentable England team. Morale was not improved by the news that Ladbrokes were offering 500-1 against England winning the match. (Controversially, the Australian wicket keeper Rod Marsh and opening bowler Dennis Lillee both placed bets on England to win, claiming that 500-1 were silly odds on any two-horse race.)
On Monday morning the odds began to look generous as first Brearley, then David Gower and Mike Gatting all fell cheaply to reduce England to 41 for 4. Boycott was still anchored at the other end however and he and Peter Willey added 50 runs before lunch. In the afternoon however, Willey was out for 33 and England were in deep trouble at 105 for 5 as Botham walked out to bat. Matters did not improve as first Geoff Boycott and then Bob Taylor were soon dismissed. At 135 for 7 an innings defeat looked almost certain.
By all accounts, both teams' players thought Australia would win the match. When Graham Dilley joined him at the crease, Botham reportedly said, "Right then, let's have a bit of fun...". With able support from Dilley (56) and Chris Old (29), Botham hit out and by the close of play was 145 not out with Bob Willis hanging on at the other end on 1 not out. England's lead was just 124 but there was hope. On the final day's play there was time for just four more runs from Botham before Willis was out and Botham was left on 149 not out. Wisden rated this innings as the 4th best of all time.
Willis' real contribution was with the ball. After Botham took the first wicket, Willis skittled Australia out for just 111, finishing with figures of 8 for 43 - rated by Wisden as the 7th best bowling performance of all time. England had won by just 18 runs. It was only the second time in history that a team following on had won a Test match.
The next Test match, at Edgbaston, looked almost as hopeless for England. In a low scoring match (no-one made a score over 48), Australia needed 151 to win. At 105-5, things looked a little worrying for them, but an Australian win was still the most likely result. Botham then took 5 wickets for 1 run in 28 balls to give England the win by 29 runs. Later, Brearley said that Botham hadn't wanted to bowl and had to be persuaded.
The Old Trafford Test was less of a turnaround and more of a team performance than the previous two Tests, but Botham again was England's hero, scoring 118 in what Lillee claimed was a better innings than his Headingley heroics. His sixes in this innings have themselves become a part of cricketing folklore; three of the five were from Lillee's bowling, two of them in the same over. Remarkably, even though he seemed to take his eye off the ball while hooking some fearsome Lillee bouncers, his sheer power and strength carried the ball over the boundary ropes. Botham had joined Chris Tavaré with the score at 104-5. Botham then scored 118 in a partnership of 149 before he was dismissed. In total Botham batted for 5 hours shorter than Tavaré and yet scored 40 more runs. England won the match, then drew the last match at The Oval (Botham took 6 wickets in the first innings) to take the series 3-1. Unsurprisingly, Botham was named man of the series, scoring 399 runs and taking 34 wickets.
A talented footballer as well as cricketer, Botham had to choose very early in his career whether to play professional football or cricket. At one point during his career, in an effort to get fit after an injury, he joined football club Scunthorpe United in March 1980, where he played as a centre forward and made 11 appearances in the Football League. He also had a spell at Yeovil Town.