The 1981 cricket season did not start well for England all-rounder Ian Botham.
His form had deserted him, Australia were 1-0 up in the Ashes series after two Tests and he’d been dismissed for a pair of ducks at Lord’s.
According to popular belief, he resigned as England captain minutes before being sacked. Mike Brearley stepped into the breach and Botham played on – a seemingly broken man.
Except that he wasn’t.
Botham roared back at Headingley, Edgbaston and Old Trafford to rout the Aussies and play some of the most breath-taking cricket of his career.
In the Fifth Test at Old Trafford he smashed six sixes in one innings, scoring 118 in a partnership of 149 with Chris Tavare to give England a 3-1 lead in the six-match Ashes series.
The Manchester crowd soaked up every minute of Botham’s brilliance as England triumphed by 103 runs.
England won the toss at Old Trafford and elected to bat, scoring 231 in their first innings. Fearsome Australian fast bowler Dennis Lillee took five wickets for 55 runs in 24.1 overs. Botham was bowled for a duck!
The total looked on the low side, but England skittled the Australians out for just 130 with fast bowler Bob Willis taking four wickets for 63 runs in 14 overs.
Botham took three wickets for 28 and made three vital catches.
The England all-rounder was irrepressible in his country’s second innings. His 118 runs came from just 102 balls – and he scored 13 fours on top of his six sixes!
England were all out for 404 and the Australians managed 402 in reply. Botham took two further wickets as well as catching Lillee.
Lancashire bowler Paul Allott, born in Altrincham, made his England debut at the Old Trafford Test and Botham was named man of the match.
England eventually won the 1981 Ashes series 3-1 as the final Test at The Oval was drawn.
In the historic Third Test at Headingley, Botham came to the crease with England on 105 for five in the second innings, still needing 122 runs to avoid an innings defeat.
He scored an outstanding 149 not out to help set Australia a target of 130 to win.
Willis bowled a majestic spell of eight wickets for 43 runs to dismiss Australia for 111 and England became only the second team in Test history to win a match after being made to follow on.
Not surprisingly, Botham was made the man of the series – now known as Botham’s Ashes.
Throughout his career, England all-rounder Botham was no stranger to playing at Old Trafford. In July 1980, he was in action against the West Indies in the Third Test of a five-match series.
The match ended in a draw with rain interrupting play, but Botham did manage to take the wicket of his old friend Viv Richards. Bad weather ruined the series too with the West Indies eventually winning 1-0.
A more flamboyant hairstyle accompanied Botham to the Old Trafford crease in the one-day international against Australia in May 1985.
The England all-rounder struck a fine 72 off 82 balls as England were all out for 219. Australia scored 233 for six in reply to win the match. Once again Botham was player of the match.
England all-rounder Andrew Flintoff was following in Botham’s footsteps in the Third Test in the Ashes series at Old Trafford in August 1985.
England took a large first innings lead while Australian spin bowler Shane Warne celebrated gaining his 600th Test wicket.
The match was poised on a knife-edge on the final day as England had set Australia 423 to win and were determined to bowl them out.
Gates had to be locked an hour before the start of play as Old Trafford was full to capacity.
Flintoff went through an electrifying spell, taking the wicket of Adam Gilchrist, but Ricky Ponting battled at the crease for seven hours to score the first Australian century of the series.
He was dismissed with only four overs left, but Brett Lee and Glenn McGrath managed to hang on for a determined draw. England won the overall Ashes series 2-1.
Finally, one performance in Ashes matches at Old Trafford stands head-and-shoulders above all the rest.
It took place in July 1956 when England and Australia stood at one match all in the five-Test series with one match drawn.
England started the Fourth Test confidently scoring 459 runs in their first innings.
And then the fireworks began. England spin bowler Jim Laker ripped through the Australian innings taking nine wickets for 37 runs. The Aussies were skittled out for just 84.
The visitors were forced to follow on – and Laker pounced again. This time he went one better taking all 10 wickets for 53 runs!
Australia were all out for 205 and lost by an innings and 170 runs.
Laker’s extraordinary figures are unbeaten and will probably remain so for ever more.
Little wonder he enjoyed a small glass of wine at the end of proceedings!