Botham obliged to play it by the book

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The Independent Online
WELL, DID he spend a cocaine-enhanced night with Miss Barbados? Did he smoke funny cigarettes? What about that punch-up with Rodney Hogg? And did he really bash a passenger on a Perth plane?

I'm afraid I can't tell you. The press at the launch of Ian Botham's book, My Autobiography, had no desire to explore such trivia. They were far more interested in asking 'Beefy' (beefier now than he ever was, despite all that walking) whom he would have taken to Australia this winter: 'Dominic Cork, because I think he is the best all- rounder in the country.' Did he approve of taking Gooch and Gatting? 'Form is temporary, class is permanent.' Was he missing cricket? 'No, not at all.'

But maybe you wouldn't expect a team of cricket writers and Botham fans, crowded into the National Sporting Club at London's Cafe Royal, to ask the great man irrelevancies about sex and drugs and rock 'n' roll. If you had an audience with God, would you ask Him why He invented mosquitoes?

The book's launch - it is subtitled Don't Tell Kath - has coincided with a rash of tabloid yarns, from the Daily Star's tale of 'Beefy's Amazing Bender' (triple- rum cocktails that supposedly left Kath in tears and begging for help as he trashed the bedroom and plastered the walls with takeaway pizza) to 'How I Sabotaged Boycott the Bore' (Daily Mail). But most are taken from the book.

It appears he has told Kath anyway. Asked about his wife's input, Botham said: 'She jogged my memory a little bit.' But did you allow her to read it beforehand? Beefy sidestepped the googly. 'She could read it at any time,' he said enigmatically.

Botham is greying at the temple and sides now, but he's acquired some wisdom with the grey hairs, flicking away even the trickiest questions with the same aplomb as when he deposited Lawson, Alderman and Lillee into the crowd.

What of the media, his tormentors and greatest admirers, he was asked? In the book, Botham says: 'People have often asked me what is at the root of the kind of character-assassination I was subjected to at the hands of the media. I happen to believe it is a peculiarly English phenomenon. For some reason, we distrust winners.' Yesterday, he was more placatory: 'I would like to thank some of the editors. They have given me a lot of publicity over the years.'

The publisher, Collins Willow, is enthusiastic. The first print run is 100,000, and it hopes to sell 300,000 worldwide in hardback alone. At pounds 15.99, that adds up to more than Botham was fined for all his misdemeanours. Much will depend on the star's promotional ability which, judging by previous performances, will be immense.

He says he has not got a free day until April (though he's going salmon fishing on the river Tay next week). It's a frantic schedule. Two weeks pushing the book, followed by another of his charity walks, this time a 529-mile stroll from Liverpool to Yeovil. Then off to Australia to promote the book, where it should sell well - 'I'll never fall out of love with Australians,' he writes. Christmas will see him in Cinderella, though not in the starring role or even as an ugly sister, he claims. There will be road-shows with Allan Lamb, and a new series of A Question of Sport to film.

No time for mischief? We'll see. It's a foolish man indeed who would predict that Ian Terence Botham has made his last tabloid headline.