Sir Ian Botham in Hyde Park with his grandson, James

Credit: PA

A young boy is crouched down, hands outstretched, awaiting a catch in a game of back-garden cricket as his grandfather takes guard in front of the wicket.

It is a scene familiar to families up and down the country. The difference for that boy in question, James Botham, was that his grandad, Ian, was arguably England’s greatest ever cricketer, and now a peer of the realm. 

"He would have a cigar in his mouth, a glass of wine in one hand and a cricket bat in the other!" recalls James, the 22-year-old flanker who makes his Wales debut on Saturday against Georgia. "I did ask the question to my grandmother: ‘Was he any good at cricket?’ She said: ‘He was alright at some point!’"

The older James got, the more the achievements of his grandfather shaped his own sporting experiences – to the extent that he was considered something of a scalp for his cricketing age-grade opponents. 

"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."

Autumn Nations Cup: Wales team to face Georgia

Botham is now the third generation of his family to reach the top of professional sport. Sir Ian’s exploits need no reiteration but his son, and James’ father, Liam was no slouch: he played both rugby league and rugby union, including four years with Cardiff RFC and Newcastle Falcons. After being told of his Wales call-up, James rang Liam first, then Ian, to inform them of the good news.

Ian might be the quintessential English patriot, but for James the dream was always to represent Wales. Despite being raised in Northumbria, he was born in Cardiff and returned to the city with the Cardiff Blues academy in 2016, making 500-mile round trips twice a week to start his professional career with his home region.

"Everyone gives me grief about it – saying, ‘Your granddad 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."

Naturally, ahead of embarking on a potentially long Test career, Botham has turned to his grandfather for advice.

"He doesn’t say too much. I think that’s the best way as if you start thinking about it too much you overthink. He says, ‘Be professional about it, ignore the haters you’ll always get, keep your head down and 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’."

James Botham in action for Cardiff Blues


Of course to focus too much on Botham’s ancestors would do him a disservice. The flanker’s rise has been meteoric and his physicality will be required if Wales are to snap their losing streak against Georgia in Llanelli. 

He has delivered some standout performances in the Pro14 for the Blues, playing alongside another recent Wales call-up in back-row Shane Lewis-Hughes and impressing Pivac’s coaching staff. Botham has already recorded 63 tackles in four starts in the Pro14 this season with a tackle success rate of 96 per cent, while also winning four turnovers.

"I’m over the moon. Obviously since I was kid I dreamt of this moment. For it now to be a reality, it still hasn’t sunk in yet. I couldn’t thank everyone around me more for helping me get here and giving me the opportunity," he admits.

"It’s just a matter of learning, getting on the same page as everyone else in the team, getting the calls right. At the Blues we’ve got our own calls, then it’s completely different here so time does help, but in a professional environment you learn quickly. Everyone has been really helpful and given 100 per cent time to me. I think I’m on the same page now, so it’s great.

"It’s getting out there and being physical. 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. Hopefully I can do them all proud and we come up with a ‘W’. 

"With results previously we’ve been unfortunate. Everyone wants to kick on and I’m pretty sure we will. We’ve got a new mindset – the team has changed a fair bit, and I’m looking forward to it, that’s for sure."

One person Botham will be thinking of when he takes to the field will be Gerry Waller, his great-grandfather, who passed away five years ago, and never missed one of James’ matches.

"Sadly the main man who was there for all my games was my great-grandfather who can’t be there this Saturday. 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 and hopefully it would come. It is just a shame. He will be looking down on me from up there. Hopefully I can do him proud on the weekend."