Reverse swing ball stumps QC in cricket libel case

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The Independent Online
CLARE GARNER

Neither of the two famous cricketers in the High Court witness box yesterday could throw any light on the technique behind the controversial "reverse swing ball".

On the fifth day of the cricket libel trial George Carman, QC, counsel for Imran Khan, was at pains to establish the difference between a "breach" of the Laws of Cricket and a "technical breach".

In particular, he wanted to ascertain whether applying sweat to the rough side of the ball in order to achieve a reverse swing should fall into the first or second category.

The first witness, John Emburey, had left the ongoing game between his current cricket team, Northamptonshire, and his old county, Middlesex, to come to court. Mr Carman suggested to him that while it was legal to apply sweat to the shiny side of the ball, it was a technical breach of Law 42 to apply sweat to weight the ball - as Ian Botham described earlier in the week - since it would be "changing the condition of the cricket ball."

Mr Emburey listened to the explanation and said: "You seem to be more aware of the reverse swing than me. I've been playing the game 23 years and still can't understand it."

When the laughter had died down Mr Carman replied: "Flattery will get you everywhere. I assure you I know little about these things."

The second witness, 66-year-old-Brian Close, said: "I think it's all poppycock ... I've bowled a few swingers in my time. I could make it go both ways without worrying. I didn't think about reverse swinging."

Botham and his cricketing colleague Allan Lamb are suing Imran for libel over an "offensive personal attack" on them in the magazine India Today.

Botham is also suing Imran over a story published in the Sun in May 1994 which, he claims, accused him of ball tampering.

Mr Close was shown a video clip of Geoff Boycott telling a television studio audience that ball tampering is commonplace. Mr Close, who has known Mr Boycott for 34 years and played with him for Yorkshire from 1962 to 1970, preferred to call him "a colleague in the same team" rather than "a friend".

He said he was not surprised by Mr Boycott's views, "knowing his personality". "You say he's an honest man, though, don't you?" asked Mr Carman. "I wouldn't like to answer that", replied Mr Close.

He added: "I was brought up to play the game properly, where the priorities were the game first, the team second and the individuals last. We would never have abused the moral code of conduct of the game."

The hearing continues on Monday.

David Aaronovitch, page 16

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