Ciricket: Botham in Sri Lankan puzzle

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The Independent Online
SRI LANKA'S bid to hang on to their title as one-day world champions, appeared to have received a timely boost after the president of the Cricket Board, Thilanga Sumathipala, announced that Ian Botham had signed a two- year contract as bowling coach. Unfortunately, the coup de theatre was short-lived and Botham later denied any knowledge of the deal.

Botham, who is in Ireland on a golfing trip, said he had first seen the news on Teletext yesterday morning. "I was approached nine months ago, but I've heard nothing since," he said. "I've certainly not signed any contract," a fact later confirmed by Botham's lawyer, Ninesh Desai. Speaking on Radio 5 Live, Desai said that "Ian was as confused as everyone else." Earlier in the day, the same radio station had Sumathipala claiming that Botham was all set to start.

Politics tends to play a big part in sport overseas, and it now appears that Sumathipala's claim to having secured Botham's services, was little more than a wheeze to secure his re-election as president of the Sri Lanka Cricket Board.

If such a fabrication sounds drastic it is, because the country's president, Mrs Chandika Kumarathunga, acting on allegations that Sumathipala has contacts in the world of bookmaking (not actually illegal in Sri Lanka), would like her favourite uncle, Clifford Ratwatte, instead to be installed. As nominations close today, Sumathipala obviously decided to play his trump card, though Botham's subsequent denial has made it look more like a joker.

In any case Botham, a commentator with Sky, is a busy man. With another length of Britain charity walk for Leukaemia Research scheduled for the autumn, any coaching would have been intermittent at best.

Ironically, it is not the first time Botham's name has been linked with Sri Lanka. Four years ago he was offered the coaching job, a post he declined. Undeterred, Sri Lanka's response was to go on and win the last World Cup in trail-blazing style. Their defence of that trophy begins against England at Lord's on 14 May.

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