CRICKETER Geoffrey Boycott learned a lesson in court yesterday - you can't give evidence off your own bat.

The former Yorkshire and England opener had been called away from his TV commentating duties at Lord's to give evidence as a defence witness for Imran Khan in the High Court libel case.

Producing a cricket shoe, Boycott said he wanted to make a statement about evidence given earlier in the trial by Brian Close.

He called the former England player ``a bitter and angry man'' who had ``cast aspersions on my honesty and integrity''.

But Mr Justice French stopped him in mid-swing.

``We play this procedure - I would not call it a game, because it is rather more serious - according to rules,'' said the judge.

``One of the rules is that each side asks questions and it is sometimes dangerous for the witness to volunteer something from outside.''

Undeterred, Boycott said there were other things which went on against the laws of cricket apart from ball-tampering.

``One of the witnesses, Brian Close, said he and his teams played in accordance with the laws and rules of the game, but......''

Mr Charles Gray QC, representing Ian Botham and Allan Lamb in their case against Khan, intervened: ``I feel I owe a duty to Brian Close to object.''

When Mr Geoge Carman, Khan's QC, asked if there were other illegal practices which might affect the condition and movement of the ball, Mr Gray objected that he could not see the relevance of the question.

Mr Carman then asked if Boycott agreed with Close's comment ``the game first, team second, and players third''.

Boycott said he did not understand the comment.

The judge: ``This is getting out of hand, Mr Carman.

``It appears to me that this witness's evidence is in danger of getting out of hand and I think that, having been examined, cross-examined, and re-examined, he should now leave the witness box.''

Mr Carman, after complaining that he had not really had the chance to re-examine, asked one further question and then told the witness: ``Thank you, Mr Boycott. Perhaps you would like to return to the sunnier climes of Lord's.''

Botham and Lamb are suing Khan over an ``offensive personal attack'' on them in India Today magazine, which they say called them racist, uneducated, and lacking class and upbringing.

Botham alone is suing over a May 1994 report in the Sun, which, he says, accused him of ball-tampering - something he says he has never done.

Khan, who denies libel, says his words were taken out of context and he was only trying to defend himself.

Boycott, a veteran of 108 Tests, told the jury that ball-tampering had gone on for as long as he could remember. He did not regard picking at the seam of the ball as cheating.

``You tell me someone has kept to the speed limit all his life. We are all a bit naughty and knock on over 30 mile an hour when we shouldn't.

``We keep looking over our shoulder for the policeman and hope he won't catch us. It's just a fact of life.

``It's definitely technically a breach of the rule but cheating - no, it's too emotive a word.''

He agreed with Khan and England captain Mike Atherton that the laws on ball-tampering should be reviewed.

``They should have been dealt with years ago. The ICC takes a long time to do anything. It's slower than a tortoise.''

Boycott said he liked the Pakistan team.

``They are exceptionally talented players. I don't have a problem with them.

``They are headstrong. Only yesterday I spoke to someone and said `you want your damned heads knocked together some of the time'.

``If they play as a united force, which they did when Imran was captain, they can beat anyone in the world.

``But when they become fragmented with in-fighting and politics between themselves, they become so disorganised, it's worse than the Yorkshire committee.''

He was referred to Close's evidence earlier in the case when - with regard to Boycott's views on ball-tampering - he said he would not like to answer a question about whether Boycott was an ``honest man''.

Mr Carman asked: ``Has he any reason to doubt your honesty?''

Boycott said it was fair to say that Close did not come to court ``as an unbiased witness'', as he (Boycott) had been very critical of Close in his books and to his face.

``I think he's a bitter and angry man trying to get his own back, which is why he came here and cast aspersions on my honesty and integrity.

``Who you believe is up to you.''

The hearing was adjourned until Monday, when the jury will hear closing speeches from counsel.