'Was he any good at cricket?': Wales debutant Botham at ease with famous name

Julian Guyer
·3-min read
Famous family - Ian Botham's grandson, James, will make his Wales rugby ebut againsy Georgia
Famous family - Ian Botham's grandson, James, will make his Wales rugby ebut againsy Georgia

Wales rugby debutant James Botham remembers vividly the moment he became aware the man he once thought of just as his grandfather was also one of England's greatest cricketers.

"I knew of it, but it wasn't really until I got told by my gran (Kath Botham)," recalled the 22-year-old Cardiff Blues flanker.

"We were all playing cricket in the garden and he's got a cigar in one hand, which he put in his mouth, a glass of wine in the other with a cricket bat!

"I did ask the question to my grandmother 'was he any good at cricket?'. She said 'he was alright at some point!'.

"Growing up in school playing cricket myself I realised it a bit more, as people would try and get into me when I came out to bat.

"That all just goes over my head really, it doesn't really bother me," added Botham, who is set to win his first Test cap against Georgia in an Autumn Nations Cup clash at Llanelli on Saturday.

"Alright" is something of an understatement.

Ian Botham played 102 Tests for England from 1977-1992.

One of the finest all-round cricketers of his generation, he so transformed the 1981 series against Australia in England's favour after resigning as captain, it became known as "Botham's Ashes".

That his grandson is about to play for Wales owes much to the rugby career of Liam Botham, Ian's son and James' father.

Liam was playing for Cardiff when James was born in the Welsh capital.

But his father's move to Newcastle, northeast England, saw James educated at Sedbergh School in Cumbria, a noted rugby nursery whose 'old boys' include former England captain Will Carling, World Cup-winning England centre Will Greenwood and current Wales prop Tomas Francis.

But Botham, who joined Cardiff straight from school as an 18-year-old after making 500-mile round rips for training sessions, insisted he'd never had doubts about where his allegiance lay.

- 'Always Wales' -

"Everyone gives me grief about it –- saying 'your grandad couldn't be more English if he tried!' but I was born down here and since I was a kid I had the Welsh flag painted in my room on the wall," he said.

"I always wanted to play for Wales and that's why I've stuck to it and done the long journey from Sedbergh down to Wales to hopefully get myself in. It's paid off."

Botham, who said the main piece of advice he'd received from his grandfather, was to "enjoy yourself" only got called into the Wales squad on Monday after playing just 13 professional games.

But with Wales having lost their last six Tests, he has been catapulted straight into the starting XV by coach Wayne Pivac.

"I didn't have a clue, but was called on Sunday night to say I was in camp," said Botham. "Then they announced the team for the players and my name was on there.

"I was just looking at it thinking 'this can't be real!' but it is. I can't wait to go out there now."

Coronavirus restrictions mean Saturday's match will be behind closed doors.

And while he is grateful for the support he's received from all his family, it is his late great-grandfather, Gerry Waller -- Kath Botham's father -- whose absence James will feel most acutely when he runs out at Parc Y Scarlets.

"Sadly, the main man who was there for all my games was my great-grandfather," he said.

"He was there every game and would come up afterwards with his packet of Jelly Babies. It was a good sight at the end of the game, especially as a kid.

"Before he died, I did promise I would try to play for Wales. He will be looking down on me from up there. Hopefully, I can do him proud on the weekend."

jdg/dj