Cricket: Botham back in England fold

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The Independent Online
No sooner has Raymond Illingworth turned his back on the England Test scene than Ian Botham, effectively barred from office during Illingworth's term as chairman of selectors, has strolled in at the invitation of David Lloyd, the England coach, and will act as technical adviser on this winter's tour of Zimbabwe and New Zealand.

Botham, who has been limited to media work since his retirement as a player three years ago, will be on the winter tour as a Sky TV commentator. But, as Lloyd revealed yesterday, he will also be involved in bowling coaching as England try to prepare for next summer's Ashes series against Australia.

Lloyd said: "I have wanted Ian to be involved with us for some time. And this winter we will be using his technical skills - especially on the bowling side. Ian is very happy to be asked - and the invitation has come from me. I have been mates with him for a long time and this is a personal arrangement."

It is not thought that any money is involved but Botham's unofficial appointment represents a major coup for Lloyd, who took over as England coach on a full-time, two-year contract at the end of the summer after initially being given the job on a trial basis back in April.

The England team leave for their 14-week tour on 25 November and Botham is expected in Zimbabwe shortly before the first of two Tests against the Zimbabweans either side of Christmas. England then play three Tests in New Zealand in the New Year.

Botham was frequently outspoken during his record-breaking but turbulent Test career, most notably in his description of the England selectors as "gin-swilling dodderers". That and a number of other transgressions, including smoking cannabis - for which he was banned for three months - and being charged after an assault during an aeroplane flight in Australia, ensured that Botham would not find it easy to get back into the England set-up at any level following his final Test match, against Pakistan at Lord's in 1992.

At the start of last season he was nominated as an England selector by Northamptonshire and Derbyshire but was soundly beaten in the election by Graham Gooch and David Graveney. Botham's newspaper and television commitments, plus his own admission that he did not relish the prospect of watching endless hours of county cricket, undoubtedly counted against him.

Later in the summer, along with his former England team-mate Allan Lamb, Botham lost a protracted and costly libel action against the former Pakistan captain Imran Khan, which many observers felt did little for the game's image, or that of Botham himself.

Now Botham, whose coaching at the moment extends to the Sultan of Brunei's son, has been given the green light by Lloyd but, great all-rounder though he was, it remains to be seen whether he has the capacity to translate his extraordinary natural ability into language that less gifted players can understand.