James Botham will extend his family’s sporting dynasty into the Test match rugby union arena on Saturday when he plays for Wales.
The 22-year-old has recalled words of advice from his grandfather – England cricket great Sir Ian Botham – as he prepares to face Autumn Nations Cup opponents Georgia.
Botham, who admits he once asked grandmother Kath if Ian was “any good at cricket”, will achieve his Wales dream after playing just 13 professional games for Cardiff Blues.
As a youngster, Cardiff-born Botham had the Welsh flag painted on his bedroom wall and would make regular 500-mile round trips from school in Cumbria to train with the Blues.
His father Liam played rugby league and union, turning out for Leeds Rhinos, Newcastle Falcons and Cardiff RFC, and he also toured South Africa with Sir Clive Woodward’s England squad 20 years ago.
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But Botham junior is now making the headlines and he said: “I was born in Wales, I always wanted to play for Wales and that’s why I have stuck to it and done the long journey from Sedbergh down to Wales to hopefully get myself in. It has paid off.
“He [Ian] says ‘be professional about it, ignore the haters you will always get, keep your head down, try and become the best you can, and the perks come with it. Don’t get ahead of yourself. Enjoy yourself – that’s the main thing’.
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 and I can’t wait to go out there now.
“I knew of it [Botham’s spectacular cricket career], but it wasn’t really until I got told by my gran.
“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!
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“I did ask the question to my grandmother ‘was he any good at cricket?’. She said ‘he was alright at some point!’.
“Then 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.
“Everyone has got their own opinions. You give people no reason to doubt and get on with it and there is no going back, really.”
Ongoing restrictions mean Saturday’s game will take place behind closed doors at Parc y Scarlets, denying the Botham family an opportunity to recognise his feat in person.
Wales’ post-match capping ceremonies these days, though, include family Zoom calls, so he should be able to share some of the moment with them.
Botham added: “They have always been there from day one helping me, shipping me around to places.
“Sadly, the main man who was there for all my games was my great-grandfather [Kath’s father Gerry Waller], who can’t be there this Saturday. Before he died, I did promise I would try to play for Wales.
“He will be looking down on me from up there and hopefully I can do him proud.
“He would be there every game and he 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.”
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Botham was only officially called into the Wales squad on Monday – he was due to play for the Blues against Italian side Benetton that night – before gaining a Test team call-up just 72 hours later.
“They announced the team for the players and my name was on there,” he said. “I was just looking at it thinking ‘this can’t be real!’, but it is and I can’t wait to go out there now.
“Georgia rely on the set-piece to get them going forward and into the game. Bringing dominance, getting myself over the ball and doing what I can with the boys around me is my goal.”
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