Cricket

From the bank clerk to Botham: cricket’s previous SPOTY winners

4:04 PM ET

Ben Stokes’ World Cup and Ashes heroics helped him romp to the BBC’s Sports Personality of the Year (SPOTY) award for 2019, making him cricket’s first winner of the gong for 14 years. Here are the men in whose footsteps he follows…

Jim Laker (1956)

The third winner of the Sports Review of the Year, as it was then known, and the first of many to demonstrate that its subsequent focus on “personality” was misplaced. Laker’s award-seizing feat may have been attention-grabbing – 19 wickets for 90 at Old Trafford, 10 for 53 in the second innings and all that – but the man himself was anything but.

Colin Cowdrey dubbed him the “calm destroyer” as he wheeled his way through Australia’s resistance, before flopping his sweater over his shoulder and ambling off to the pavilion, job done. That evening he stopped off for a pie and a pint in a pub in Lichfield (en route to another match against the Australians at The Oval) and not a soul noticed he was there. His Austrian wife Lilly wasn’t exactly overwhelmed either. “Jim, did you do something good today?” she asked him that evening, after spending the day fielding endless phonecalls.

David Steele (1975)

From Henry Cooper in 1967 to Nigel Mansell in 1986 and Damon Hill in 1994, SPOTY has had a long and illustrious association with gallant losers. But few were more gallant than Northamptonshire’s David Steele, the “bank clerk who went to war” in the 1975 Ashes. He pitted his bespectacled, greying features against the fearsome duo of Dennis Lillee and Jeff Thomson, and if he didn’t exactly win, then he barely took a backwards step in racking up consecutive scores of 50, 45, 73, 93, 39 and 66 in his three Tests of that summer.

On his watch, England dug in for three draws, but surrendered the Ashes 1-0 having been routed in his absence, by an innings in the series opener at Edgbaston. To add to his legend, Steele (or “Groucho Marx” as Thomson is said to have dubbed him) got lost en route to the crease for his maiden innings at Lord’s, ending up in the basement toilets after descending too many flights of stairs.

Ian Botham (1981)

Okay, so every now and again, SPOTY’s “personality” epithet gets it spot on. Botham was rightly immortalised by his feats in the summer of 1981, but long before he put Australia to the sword with his swashbucklings at Headingley, Edgbaston and Old Trafford, he had been the coming man in the British sporting imagination. He finished third in the SPOTY standings in 1978, his first full year of Test cricket, and second a year later (when his feat of doing the 1000-run/100-wicket double in 21 Tests was trumped by Seb Coe and his three world records in 41 days).

But at the third time of asking, there could be no other winner. The runner-up, Steve Davis, snooker’s self-styled ‘Mr Interesting’ never stood a chance. He would finish second once again in 1985 after yet more Aussie-bashing derring-do, by which stage his bleach-blond mullet and waistline-to-shoulderline ratio had made him look even larger than life than ever before.

Andrew Flintoff (2005)

In the seminal summer of 2005, Andrew Flintoff became the ultimate Boy’s Own hero, a salt-of-the-earth Prestonian who could bat like a blacksmith, bowl like a galumphing wildebeest, and drink anyone left standing under the table. In a summer writ large with some of the most towering personalities cricket has ever produced – Shane Warne and the newcomer Kevin Pietersen among them – Flintoff bested them all, first with his startling seizure of the second Test at Edgbaston (that over to Ricky Ponting, or the “hello massive” six off Brett Lee? Take your pick) but then, in the wake of Ashes glory at The Oval, with the most heroic display of public inebriation ever countenanced.

As he staggered to Trafalgar Square with eyes as pied as a piper’s, Freddie proved he was one of us, the bloke from the pub who had answered his country’s call. And, in the final summer before Test cricket disappeared from terrestrial TV, he seemed also to be the last break-out star that the grand old game would be capable of producing…

Article source: http://www.espncricinfo.com/ci/content/story/1210187.html?CMP=OTC-RSS

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