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Horror before last hurrah

Johannesburg, Feb. 11: The list grows longer: champion sportsmen with a tragic flaw in character.

Diego Maradona, Mike Tyson and now Shane Warne — all the best in their business and all bad boys.

Warne, the greatest leg-spinner ever, pulled out of his swansong tournament today after failing a drug test and may never play international cricket again if a second test confirms the result of the first.

A stony-faced Warne, speaking half-an-hour before Australia’s game, added: “I’m shocked and absolutely devastated because I didn’t take performance-enhancing drugs.”

“I never have and don’t condone them in any shape or form.”


Four years ago, he had held aloft the World Cup as part of Steve Waugh’s ruthless winning machine. Waugh, not picked for the squad this time, said after today’s revelation: “I know how much it meant to him this last one-day tournament… He wanted to make an impact on the world stage.”

At 33, this tournament was to be his last one-day appearance and he was desperate to play, overcoming a shoulder injury in December that had appeared at the time to have ruled him out of the African safari.

He was desperate for a last shot at glory and in that desperation lay his possible ruin. Like Maradona, who played some of the best football ever seen as Argentina became the world champions in 1986 and then walked off in the middle of the 1994 tournament. Also 33, and with a body battered by a punishing sport and reckless living, Maradona tested positive for drugs. His career was over.

Tyson does not have a drug scandal weighing on his powerful shoulders, but bad boys have never come badder.

As Warne packed his bags for Australia while his team-mates prepared to take on Pakistan in their first match, hope of his return lay in a test of what is called the B sample. How thin that hope was was indicated by the Australian Cricket Board (ACB)’s decision to seek permission to call up a replacement.

If proven guilty, he could face a maximum two-year ban under ACB rules. At 33, two years is a long time. ACB chief executive James Sutherland said Warne had asked to go home after testing positive for diuretics.

Diuretics are often used to help weight loss or as a masking agent for other drugs.

Both possibilities are alive in Warne’s case. In the last World Cup in England, they called him a “whale”. Before this one, the chubby blond assassin lost 13 kg in a year. And then he recovered miraculously fast from his December injury to be fit for the Cup

Warne, who has been involved in several controversies, including being fined for accepting money from an Indian bookmaker in 1995, failed a test taken on January 22 in Australia. The test was carried out by the Australian Sports Drug Agency, which informed Warne of the result on Monday. He then told the ACB.

“I took a fluid reduction tablet... which I did not know contained a prohibited substance,” Warne said. “The tablet actually dehydrates you and gets rid of any excess fluid in the body.

“I’m proud of the shape I’m in at the moment and that is due to nothing other than hard work and looking after myself with diet. I’d like to thank the World Cup squad for their support and friendship and I believe they have the talent and spirit in the team to win the World Cup with or without me.”

Sourav Ganguly was one of the first to react. “It’s really sad news for world cricket. He is a champion of the game. To make it worse, it was the last World Cup of his career... all the players in South Africa will miss him.”

The news came as a major blow to the tournament organisers who are still battling to persuade England and New Zealand not to boycott matches in Zimbabwe and Kenya.

Cricket, often regarded as a low-risk sport, has never had a major drug scandal before.

 

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