Wales rookie James Botham vividly remembers the moment when he discovered the man he once thought was, like his grandfather, also one of England’s greatest cricketers.
“I knew about it, but it was only real when I heard it from my grandmother (Kath Botham),” recalls the 22-year-old Cardiff Blues flanker.
“We were all playing cricket in the yard and he has a cigar in one hand, which he put in his mouth, a glass of wine in the other with a cricket bat!
“I asked my grandmother ‘was he good at cricket?’ She said ‘he was okay at one point!’.
“When I played cricket myself in school, I realized it a little bit more because people tried to get inside me when I came out.
“That’s all really beyond me, it doesn’t really bother me,” added Botham, who is about to win his first Testcap against Georgia in an Autumn Nations Cup match in Llanelli on Saturday.
“Alright” is something of an understatement.
Ian Botham played 102 tests for England from 1977-1992.
One of the best all-round cricketers of his generation, he transformed the 1981 series against Australia so much in favor of England after his resignation as captain that it became known as “Botham’s Ashes”.
The fact that his grandson is about to play for Wales owes a lot to the rugby career of Liam Botham, Ian’s son and James’ father.
Liam played for Cardiff when James was born in the Welsh capital.
But with his father’s move to Newcastle, in the North East of England, James attended Sedbergh School in Cumbria, a well-known rugby nursery whose ‘old boys’ former England captain Will Carling, England’s World Cup-winning center Will Greenwood and the current Wales support is Tomas Francis.
But Botham, who came straight from school to Cardiff as an 18-year-old after doing 500-mile lap rips for training sessions, insisted he had never had any doubts about where his loyalties lay.
– ‘Always Wales’ –
“Everyone makes me sad – saying ‘your grandpa couldn’t be more English if he tried!’ but I was born down here and since I was a child I had had the Welsh flag painted on the wall in my room, ”he said.
“I’ve always wanted to play for Wales and that’s why I stuck to it and made the long journey from Sedbergh to Wales to hopefully get myself in. It paid off.”
Botham, who said the most important advice he had received from his grandfather was to “have fun”, was only called into the Wales squad on Monday after playing just 13 professional games.
But now that Wales has lost their last six tests, he has been catapulted straight to the starting XV by coach Wayne Pivac.
“I had no idea, but got a call on Sunday evening to say I was in camp,” Botham said. “Then they announced the team to the players and it had my name on it.
“I just looked at it and thought ‘this can’t be real!’ but it is. I can’t wait to get there now. “
Coronavirus restrictions mean Saturday’s match will take place behind closed doors.
And while grateful for the support he has received from all of his family, it is his late great-grandfather, Gerry Waller – Kath Botham’s father – whose absence James will feel most acutely when he walks away from Parc Y Scarlets.
“Unfortunately, the most important man there for all my games was my great-grandfather,” he said.
“He was there at every game and then came with his pack of Jelly Babies. It was a good sight at the end of the game, especially as a kid.
“Before he died, I promised I would try to play for Wales. He will look down on me from above. I hope I can make him proud this weekend.”
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