Khan plays straight bat in defence

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The Independent Online
They were the words that the public gallery was waiting for. "I swear by Allah ..." Imran Ahmed Khan Niazi was finally in the witness box and ready to rattle off his defence at such a speed that his counsel, George Carman QC, asked him to slow down. "Do it slowly," he begged. "You're doing it at a fast-bowler pace at the minute."

On the eighth day of the cricket libel trial at the High Court, the former Pakistani cricket captain faced the jury square on and told them how he had never accused either Ian Botham or Allan Lamb of being racist, cheats, uneducated or from an underclass.

He had never used the word "cheat" against anyone but himself; he did not believe in a class system and he had made it quite clear that in his opinion ball tampering did not amount to cheating, he said.

His wife, Jemima, 22, daughter of Sir James Goldsmith, looked proudly at her husband as he told the jury: "I have never, at any stage in my life, believed in a class system. I don't look at what class people belong to. That was impressed on us, not only by my father, but by my background - Pathans have always been egalitarian. I'm a tribal person ... I have written a book called The Warrior Race about the dignity a man has in a classless society, and the indignity in a class-led society."

Having retired from the game to concentrate on his cancer hospital in Lahore, Mr Khan wanted to explain that he had been misquoted. "I didn't want to get into a cricket thing with former colleagues. My life had moved on," he said.

The world class all-rounder said he had been upset by "Paki Cheat" headlines in the tabloid press. "The word Paki became almost abusive . . . any Pakistani feels a bit touchy, especially reading the headlines in the tabloids. I'm not the only one. It caused a lot of hurt in the Pakistani community in Britain."

Mr Khan said he had admitted that he had once, in 1981, used a bottle top to tamper with the ball in order to clarify the demarcation between "cheating and common practice".

"I've never called anyone a cheat to this day ... the umpire is solely authorised to decide what is fair and unfair play. I'm no one. How can I call someone a cheat? If I ever use the word, it's when I described my own bottle-top incident."

Mr Botham and Mr Lamb are suing Mr Khan for libel over an "offensive personal attack" on them in the magazine India Today which called them racist, undereducated and lacking class and upbringing. Mr Botham is also suing Mr Khan for a story published in the Sun newspaper in May 1994 which, he claims, accused him of cheating.

Earlier, the England cricket captain Michael Atherton and England coach David Lloyd gave evidence on the eve of the test match against Pakistan.

Mr Atherton reiterated the views expressed in his autobiography A Test of Cricket. Know the Game. "I'm not alone in thinking the laws should be changed to allow current actions which the players tacitly accept as part and parcel of the game."