Botham's birthday bash

Reports begin to emerge of the 51st birthday celebrations of Ian Botham (below) which, so I read, contributes vastly to the �12m profit for Brisbane. Botham and his 20 pals manage to spend $5000 in a posh bistro on such high value items as liquorice-flavoured venison and the fine wines of his best mate, Geoff Merrill. Over to Ted Corbett.

November 27: Phil Tufnell, former England star slow left-arm bowler with, shall we say, a rather more adventurous spirit than Monty Panesar, is looking forward to a visit to a great white shark trapped in an inland lake. Eventually, Tufnell has to call the trip off which is a great relief because some of us have concerns about health and safety issues and a fear factor. But, no, I speak to shark and he is easy about Tufnell who does not frighten the poor animal at all! Reports begin to emerge of the 51st birthday celebrations of Ian Botham which, so I read, contributes vastly to the �12m profit for Brisbane. Botham and his 20 pals manage to spend $5000 in a posh bistro on such high value items as liquorice-flavoured venison and the fine wines of his best mate, Geoff Merrill. His birthday present is a double magnum of 2002 reserve shiraz but Botham, generous as ever towards a charity that sends him walking round the world in the last quarter of a century, pays $4,500 for another double magnum which he will auction when he returns home. All for the Leukemia Fund and, as Aussies have it, good on him.

November 28: The taxi driver who takes us to the airport for our trip to Adelaide is a former Aussie Rules coach so his views on how England can get the best from Steve Harmison, their under-performing fast bowler, may well be relevant. "Mate," says this master of sports psychology, "I'd give him a slap." I must miss this particular remedy when I read Mike Brearley's book on captaincy but I guess it is worth a try and the next time I have an in-depth chat with Duncan Fletcher, the England coach, I will mention the idea. Walking round the Adelaide shopping malls I meet Andrew Flintoff, the England captain, but he is intent on being the good father with his daughter on his shoulders and his wife Rachael wheeling the — quite unnecessary — baby buggy alongside. Little Holly is the only one of the three who looks totally content; but who would not be, aged two, ten feet up in the air and protected by a father built like a tower block.

November 29: Mike Coward, writer and television personality, hosts a dinner in which he interviews Matthew Hoggard, Darren Gough and Adam Gilchrist. "I am most impressed that Hoggard goes out of his way to praise the work put in by the England bowling coach Kevin Shine who takes a lot of stick for the poor bowling performances of Steve Harmison," says Coward, an old friend of this diary. So am I since everyone who plays, reads a book about or watches cricket in the last 100 years seems to have an opinion on Harmison's faults and how to cure them. Shine is the nomination of Troy Cooley, who is recommended by Dennis Lillee, who also wants to put Harmison back on the right path. Cooley is listening to Hoggard's praise for Shine and joins in the applause. Just round the corner from the Coward dinner, we watch as Mr. and Mrs. Flintoff enjoy an evening together and while he is waiting for his oversized steak to arrive comes across to our table and shows off his tattoo. Yes, that's right, the one that covers half his upper arm. "It takes three and a half hours to complete," he says, "and a lot of pain." A wit on my table turns to me and says: "That is a huge tattoo. I think he must have more printer's ink in his veins than you have."

November 30: We find ourselves staying in the same hotel that I first use in 1982 when I am covering the Bob Willis tour which England come close to winning even though the players who go on the rebel trip to South Africa are banned and for reasons best known to the selectors Mike Gatting is left at home. It is my first Test tour and naturally I am impressed to be among all those high-powered players. One of them acquires the devotion of a local lady and in order to enjoy her company all the more he insists that his room mate find accommodation elsewhere. This poor soul, now an international umpire of some repute, spends all night in the lift. At this time Adelaide is a town of ill-repute and Hindley Street, where our hotel is located, even more so. Opposite us are all the facilities young men can possibly require, including a night club which stages — look away now if you are of a timid disposition — naked women's mud wrestling. I hear it is excellent entertainment. Now the hotel is full of Barmy Army types: polite, quiet and full of good chat about the cricket. Interesting that Matthew Hoggard sings their praises at a press briefing this week and that Matthew Hayden says that cricket's renewed popularity is their doing. "I cannot tell you the feeling that you get when you go out to play in a stadium that is bursting at the seams," he says. Hoggard adds: "When they start singing and chanting late in the first Test the hairs stand up on the back of my neck."

December 1: Ms. King and I find a posh Italian restaurant to celebrate the 20th anniversary of our companionship where, once again, we bump into Andrew Flintoff, a happy England captain since his side have runs on the board and few wickets down. We drink a little champagne and are then presented with a piece of beef so large I am unsure whether we ought to don crampons and climb to its summit. In the end we manage to eat about half, complaining the while that Australians have very large appetites. In fact on my seventh visit to this island continent which is once famed for its sporting levels I observe that Aussies are only a few steps behind Britain when it comes to the obesity level.

December 2: Ian Bell, one of the least ostentatious of the England players, is sent to the press conference with a brief to reveal the source of their new spirit. It seems that they decide confession is good for the soul and for their cricket and in a team meeting stand up one after another and admit they play badly in the first Test. Including Andrew Flintoff, whose idea it is to have the session. Certainly it leads to a far better performance and the idea is bound to spread.

December 3: Another Test, another set of dress regulations. At Brisbane they are relaxed about clothing; in Adelaide one reporter has to buy a shirt with a collar to get into the ground; in Perth it appears that the code is so strict that ladies will not be able to wear short skirts, halter tops or, well, anything that will be very acceptable at Ascot when the Queen is making her rounds.