Cricket: Dexter attempts to smooth over Botham blunder: England's chairman of selectors apologises for interview that 'somehow went wrong'. Martin Johnson reports

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TED DEXTER yesterday apologised to Ian Botham for suggesting that the Australians might be more confident about retaining the Ashes with Botham in the England team rather than out of it.

The England chairman's number of bizarre public utterances since he took over when the Australians were last here in 1989 is a good deal higher than the number of Tests England have won under his guidance, and he was again in sparkling form when interviewed by BBC Radio's Mark Saggers during the tourists' game against the Duchess of Norfolk's XI at Arundel on Sunday.

Invited to comment on Botham's bowling performance (2 for 29 in 10 overs, including the wicket of the Australian captain, Allan Border) Dexter said: 'Maybe the Australians were trying to get him into the team.' When Saggers followed up with two more Botham-related questions, puzzled Radio 5 listeners were greeted by prolonged periods of deafening silence.

Yesterday, Dexter said that he had been promised not to get 'a whole lot of questions on Botham'. Asked on to the programme at a 'social game', he had had 'no time to prepare'. 'It was intended as a light- hearted, tongue-in-cheek reply which somehow went wrong,' he added.

The inference from this, presumably, given the current regime's near-Cyclopic accent on preparation, is that the annual coaching courses at Lilleshall will now contain lessons on how to answer awkward questions from people with microphones.

Dexter added yesterday that his radio comments (or silences) had in no way been intended to belittle Botham's performance at Arundel, although it is difficult to imagine what other interpretation could be placed upon them. On the credit side, this was as close to an admission of a cock-up as Dexter has made in his four- year term of office, having ended his first summer (a 4-0 home defeat by Australia) by announcing himself to have been unaware of any errors he might have made.

As Dexter's post-mortem after the India-Sri Lanka debacle last winter revolved less around England's performances on the field than the suggestion that there was nothing much wrong with the team that a stick of shaving foam and a razor blade wouldn't cure, it was only natural that he should have been present when Graham Gooch took the hint yesterday and shaved off his beard.

This was an even more curious event for the fact that it did not take place in the privacy of Gooch's bathroom, or at a barber's shop, but in front of several rows of cameramen at The Oval. Gooch, however, was not so much removing the beard that had replaced his designer stubble to curry favour with those Test and County Cricket Board malcontents who had tut-tutted about England's sartorial inelegance last summer, as for the fact that he was getting paid for it.

Wilkinson Sword, not slow to spot a commercial opportunity, used the occasion to announce that they were not only sponsoring the three electronic replay screens for selected Test matches this summer, but were also sponsoring Gooch personally.

How long this liaison will last is a moot point as the England captain would not rule out a return to his Desperate Dan look if and when the mood took him. As for Dexter, he said that he was 'quite sad' to see Gooch's beard disappear as he thought it looked 'rather nice'. Dexter explained this apparent about-turn by saying 'It's the in-between stuff I don't like'.

It is beginning to look more and more as though England's best chance of regaining the Ashes this summer is if the Australians all die laughing.

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