BOTHAM ALL SET FOR ANOTHER WALKATHON

N. SRIDHARAN

Ian Botham is leaner and fitter as he plans to set out on another of his celebrated walks to coincide with the Ashes, while Dean Jones, Allan Border and a few other Test cricketers of their generation will walk from Melbourne on Boxing Day to Adelaide on Australia Day. Over to TED CORBETT.

February 27: Back in the unreal world of cricket logic, I find myself confused by what is happening at Headingley. Geoff Boycott lives 20 miles down the road for more years than I can remember and has very little, if anything, to do with the Yorkshire club. Last summer he and his wife Rachael up sticks and head off to South Africa to a very pleasant location on a golf course. Wouldn't we all like to do that. But now his home is 6,000 miles away and Yorkshire make him a non-executive director. "I always believe they ought to make more use of my knowledge — or Fred Trueman's or Ray Illingworth's," says our Geoffrey. So times change and of course it will be easier for him to fly into England this summer since he will be part of the small team producing highlights for Channel 5 who will have a 45-minute programme every evening during the Tests and one-day international matches.

February 28: It is 20 years since my only other visit to Nagpur during that eventful 1984-5 tour. Some of us think the hotel is less than six star, especially when we hear that we will all have to share rooms. I decide to spend the night on the town. I cannot remember the whole sequence of events but one way or another David Gower and I and one or two of my colleagues find ourselves in a night club where there is, at about midnight, no music, no dancing, no drink and certainly a distinct absence of pretty girls. We fall into an argument with the staff at the end of a narrow passage leading to the area where a reasonable man might expect to find all the fun of the fair. Suddenly, I feel a push in my back and there, to the surprise of no-one except the two foreigners, there is a large cow which has better luck in getting past the bouncers than we do. I repeat there was no drink in this establishment or I may suspect I am under the influence. No such luck. I say: "If this cow is going to stay I am going to leave." We go back to the undesirable hotel — in a police van although just why I cannot remember. The person with whom I am sharing snores all night and keeps me awake until it is time to go to the ground. (He is, by the way, a multi-millionaire now, one of the top men in an international company but that night a less reasonable man than myself might easily have heaved him out of the nearest window.)

March 1: In the streets of Nagpur a barefoot child follows me for half a mile asking for ten rupees. Back home, Simon Hughes, fast bowler with Middlesex, turned fast talker on television and now earning a fast buck with books about his travels round the world, reveals all about his financial circumstances to an inquisitive newspaper, including his 100,000 pounds a year income and his weakness for buying 200 pound sweaters. His philosophy about cash? "Don't worry about it. You can get by without very much." Tell that to the little girl on the mean streets of Nagpur. Much more important to be happy with the family, Simon says. The Budget announces that in India walking sticks and glasses will be more expensive. I imagine that makes life harder for the poor of the aptly named Nagpur. Funny old world, eh?

March 2: Six months of negotiating come to an end with the decision by Channel 5 to use Sunset & Vine to produce their highlights package every evening. Geoff Boycott and Simon Hughes will be the commentators and Mark Nicholas will act as host. Nicholas is much in demand, including as host for the Commonwealth Games Channel Nine programmes in Australia where Englishmen with public school accents are more often subject to mockery than admiration.

March 3: There is trouble for television crews all around the sub-continent. In Karachi a bomb explodes near their hotel and they decide to quit while they are still alive. In Nagpur the elite commentators are in a hotel especially chosen for its swimming pool. Unfortunately there is a dispute between hotel and a next door neighbour which results in the swimming pool being emptied of water and full of all sorts of garbage. On the first day of the Nagpur Test the lunches for the crew — and some of them are stuck with their cameras for eight hours at a time — go missing. Not all glamour this television work.

March 4: Ian Botham is leaner and fitter as he plans to set out on another of his celebrated walks to coincide with the Ashes while Dean Jones, Allan Border and a few other Test cricketers of their generation will walk from Melbourne on Boxing Day to Adelaide on Australia Day. Dean tells me he is also trying to get fit so that he can take part in the professional veterans golf matches. He put himself in the hands of a professional coach a couple of years ago when he had a handicap of eight. The golf expert tells him to start at the beginning, which sends his handicap soaring to 17 until, one bright day, all the hard work click into place and now his handicap is three. "I have to make improvements," he says, "and of course this is just a dream. But it keeps me going and I will put as much hard work into this programme as I ever did into my cricket."

March 5: I hardly finish writing an appreciation of my friend Bruce Wilson than news comes of the death of another colleague: John Thicknesse, long-serving cricket correspondent on the London Evening Standard. His great days are 40 years ago when he begins work for the Standard and is immediately sent to report an attempt on the world speed record by Donald Campbell at Coniston Water in the Lake District. The two men hit it off straight away and spend most of the next month playing cards. The night before Campbell dies — when his boat hits a piece of debris during a record attempt — they play poker together. Campbell, a superstitious man who always carries a tiny pet teddy bear as a lucky mascot, finds one of the hands hints at his demise. He is dealt — by Thicknesse — the Dead Man's Hand of two black aces and two black eights, the hand Wild Bill Hickcock is holding when he is shot in the back and killed. The whole story is a great scoop for the young Thicknesse. Naturally, he keeps up his love of cards for the rest of his life but recently he returns home from a game of bridge and tells his wife Anne he has a lot of discomfort in his back. An examination in hospital reveals that cancer has taken a firm hold and a few days later John dies. John, Bruce and, five years ago, Chris Lander, another cricket writing mate, all come to the end of their lives soon after feeling only slightly unwell.