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Khan v Lamb and Botham; Botham steps up to crease for libel battle

Ian Botham played a straight bat against his cricketing rival Imran Khan as he stood in the dock yesterday afternoon, denying that he was a racist and a ball-tamperer. The jury was well briefed on the lingo and aerodynamics of the game. Charles Gray QC, representing Mr Botham and Allan Lamb, delivered an ABC guide to cricket - even though he admitted that his definition of a twelfth man was wide of the mark.

As the most expensive libel case in cricketing history got under way at the High Court, Khan revealed a fresh line of attack on England's record- breaking all rounder. It emerged that just last week Khan's defence team had announced it was making fresh allegations - this time of ball-tampering by Botham - and that it would be showing video footage of the two offending occasions, one during Pakistan's first innings in the Test match at Lord's in 1982 and another in the first innings of the Test match at the Oval in the same year.

The two cricketing legends are battling it out over racism, breeding and cheating. Botham is suing Khan, the teetotal, Oxford-educated former Pakistan captain, for allegedly suggesting that he was racist, not properly educated and of inferior social standing. Both men are supported by their wives, Kath and Jemima respectively, who sat beside their husbands for the hearing.

The saga began in 1994. In a dramatic interview with Shekhar Gupta, senior editor of India Today, which took place in the magazine's London bureau, Khan is quoted as saying: "There's a lot of racism here. When Bob Willis and Freddie Trueman were tearing the heart of Pakistan batting we never heard an outcry ... Australians can get away with anything because they are white. There's a lot of racism in this society. Look at people such as Lamb and Botham making statements like 'I never thought much of him anyway and now he's been proved a cheat'. Where is this hatred coming from?"

Khan allegedly went on to say that England suffers from a "class problem". He pointed to the difference in class and upbringing between education "Oxford types" like Tony Lewis, Christopher Martin Jenkins and Derek Pringle and others like "Lamb, Botham and Trueman".

Rolling a cricket ball in the palm of his hand, Botham told the court had he had first read Khan's accusations in the Independent. "Anger" he said. "I was just very screwed up inside. I couldn't understand what this was about. I thought we'd got rid of the day of amateurs and professionals. To me it's open to anyone to play. It's not an elite sport." Botham described his background, of which he said he was "very proud". He left his secondary modern school in Yeovil, aged 15, to play cricket at Lord's and appreciated the sacrifices his parents made on his behalf. His mother would be very upset to hear the exact nature of the accusations, "and rightly so," he said.

Racism was something he had fought all his life. He wasn't bothered whether a player was "green and yellow with red spots and comes from Mars." He recalled a time he had intervened, when Viv Richards, the former West Indian captain, was called a "black bastard" and explained how he left his home county club of Somerset in protest over its treatment ofRichards and Joel Garner, both Afro/Caribbean players.

But despite the seriousness of the occasion, Botham wasn't averse to cracking jokes. The irreverent moment elicited a ripple of laughter from the public gallery, while Khan and his pregnant wife, Jemima, fixed their adversary with a steely stare. When he asked whether he was "fussy" about who he shared a room with on tour Botham replied "Derek Randall [the Nottinghamshire and England batsman] could have been a worry. He snores like hell. But apart from that, not at all." He had shared with coloured people on many occasions, he added.

On the subject of fair play, he said you could stretch the laws of the game "to a point" - but only so far. Tampering with the ball was alien to him, he said. "I've never lifted the seam, not even in the nets."

And as for explaining the phrase "looking after the ball a bit better" he said wearily "I understand it [the phrase] a bit better now."

The case continues.