The unlikely South African in England’s camp for World Cup final

Anthony Botha of Nottinghamshire CCC poses for a portrait during the Nottinghamshire CCC Photocall at Trent Bridge on March 31, 2017 in Nottingham, England.  (Photo by Alex Livesey/Getty Images)

Anthony Botha of Nottinghamshire CCC poses for a portrait during the Nottinghamshire CCC Photocall at Trent Bridge on March 31, 2017 in Nottingham, England. (Photo by Alex Livesey/Getty Images)

From Benoni to Lord’s, former Easterns and KwaZulu-Natal spinner Anthony Botha has had an interesting journey.

Economic realities of course mean that there are half-a-million South Africans working in Britain in all sorts of jobs, but for one expat in particular, Sunday will be a special day as he has been inside the inner circle of the England team as they prepare for Sunday’s World Cup final against New Zealand at Lord’s.

Anthony Botha was an understated cricketer in South Africa, playing 44 first-class matches for Easterns, KwaZulu-Natal and the national academy.

His high point came in 2002 when he helped bowl Easterns to the SuperSport Series title, hammering Western Province by 273 runs in the final in Benoni in one of the biggest upsets in domestic history.

Botha takes a wicket in Easterns’ famous domestic four-day title win in 2002. Photo: Duif du Toit/ Gallo Images.

But when he discovered his mother was English he gained a British passport and joined Derbyshire in 2004, quickly establishing himself in the county game as a resilient all-rounder.

As a left-handed batsman, he liked to be positive but he had enough technical expertise to hang in there when required.

His accurate left-arm spin and often dazzling fielding ability made him a very attractive package.

Between 2004 and 2011, when he had to retire due to a persistent elbow injury, he played 280 matches across the formats for Derbyshire and then Warwickshire.

He became a respected figure on the county circuit and has been helping out as an assistant coach for Nottinghamshire since late 2016.

Such is his standing in the English game that when England needed a left-hander to help with the throwdowns in the nets ahead of their semi-final clash with Australia and Mitchell Starc, they turned to Botha, who has stayed involved ahead of the final against the Black Caps and Trent Boult and Mitchell Santner.

And the 42-year-old Botha was effusive in his praise of the England camp.

“They’re in a really good place at the moment, Trevor Bayliss is just a great coach and a real legend. What strikes me the most about them is their humility. So I don’t think they’re approaching playing the final at home as pressure, but rather a great opportunity. They’re chuffed and see it as an honour to get to play in the final,” Botha told The Citizen at Lord’s on Saturday afternoon.

And England have certainly not had it easy getting to the final. They have had their challenges with injury and the English media and public, who tend to build them up as the world’s best after every win but then deride them as hopeless after any defeat.

Captain Eoin Morgan and his charges have been in knockout mode since beating favourites India in Birmingham three matches ago and that will stand them in good stead.

“We’re relaxed and very excited and we’ll enjoy the game regardless of the outcome. We want to take in as much as we can, it is a World Cup final and we won’t shy away from that. In general this tournament, scores have been a lot lower than the last three or four years in England, they’ve been hard pitches to adjust to, but New Zealand have done that brilliantly.

“I don’t think it’s going to be a high-scoring game, it’s going to be a bit of a battle, I think it will be a very good game of cricket because New Zealand are just such a stable side. Playing virtual knockout cricket has helped us, it lends itself to being more positive and aggressive, and it’s been nice in a way to be in the last-chance saloon for so long,” Morgan said at Lord’s on Saturday.

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