Atherton called to give evidence on tampering

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The Independent Online
England cricket captain Mike Atherton is to be called to give evidence on ball tampering in the High Court libel action by Ian Botham and Allan Lamb against Imran Khan.

Imran's QC, George Carman, said he would be asking Atherton to comment on remarks contained in his 1995 autobiography, Mike Atherton: A Test of Cricket - Know the Game, which includes a chapter headed "Ball Tampering". His stint in the witness box is likely to come on the eve of England's first test with Pakistan, which starts at Lord's next Thursday.

On the third day of his cross examination of Botham, Mr Carman ran through a number of cricketers' views on ball tampering. Khan is being sued by Botham and his cricketing colleague Lamb for allegedly describing them as racist and as people of poor breeding in an interview in the magazine India Today. In addition, Botham is taking action over a Sun article in which, he claims, Imran branded him a cheat.

Mr Carman appealed to the views of prominent cricketers to prove Imran was not the only person to suggest ball tampering has been part of the game for years. Asked whether he agreed with Atherton's view in his autobiography of ball tampering as "accepted practice", Botham replied: "I'm in no position to comment on Mike Atherton's remarks. I suggest you ask Mike Atherton."

Mr Carman said that Atherton and David Lloyd, the present coach of the English team, will be called as witnesses. Lloyd, a friend of Botham's, has gone on record saying ball tampering was the "in-vogue thing" on the county cricket circuit and has admitted he has applied lip salve to the cricket ball.

Botham told the court how he had spoken to Lloyd about his forthcoming appearance as a witness. "[He] rang me up and told me he had been subpoenaed ... I laughed with him about it." Mr Carman replied indignantly: "You don't think this case is a joke, do you?" Botham replied: "No. But when I asked him [Lloyd] he said most of those extracts [quoted by Mr Carman] were from a book on after-dinner speaking."

The court was shown an extract from The Devil's Advocate, a television programme broadcast on Channel 4 two years ago in which Geoff Boycott, the "Yorkshire Legend", joins in a ball-tampering debate. He even predicts this week's events. "It's a very emotive subject," he says. "Someone's going to say, 'Imran called him a cheat. We've got libel and slander. We're going to be in the courts of law and everything.' "

The jury was shown the clip of Botham allegedly "picking the seam" for a second time. Mr Carman implied that Botham had been picking the seam with his finger nails, an illegal practice. Botham held out his hands for inspection. "What fingernails, sir?" he asked. "I've bitten my nails since I was a kid."

Mr Carman continued: "You will agree that your thumb is in a position that, if you had nails, you would agree that your nails would be impacting on the ball." "No, sir," Botham said.

Earlier, Mr Carman questioned Botham's anti-racist credentials. In 1989, he said, Botham was happy to go on a "rebel tour" to South Africa "if the price was right". But Botham insisted: "Race was the reason at the end of the day why I didn't go."

The case continues today.