| Shoaib Akhtar (left) and Mohammed Asif walk to the pavilion during a drinks break at a practice match in Jaipur on October 12. (Reuters)
Jaipur, Oct.16: Clearly, these aren’t good times to be a Pakistani.
First came the ball-tampering allegation, then the first-ever forfeiture of a Test.… Inzamam-ul Haq was cleared of the damning charge, but banned for scripting The Oval forfeiture. The tamasha didn’t end there as Younis Khan took centre stage in the captaincy drama. While he was persuaded to return, poor Shaharyar Khan lost the Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) chairman’s chair.
This morning, yet another controversial chapter got added when spearheads Shoaib Akhtar and Mohammed Asif tested positive for the banned Nandrolone, usually used to enhance performance. By the evening, even their B sample showed drug abuse. The 17 others tested a few weeks ago, at the PCB’s initiative, came through unscathed.
The results, from a World Anti Doping Agency (Wada)-accredited lab in Malaysia, came in the lead-up to Pakistan’s opening match of the Champions Trophy -- against Sri Lanka tomorrow. Both disgraced players quickly left for New Delhi and, then, boarded a PIA service for Lahore.
Neither commented before leaving, but a website quoted Shoaib as saying he was innocent. Both stand suspended and the issue will now be dealt with by the PCB’s drugs tribunal, informed International Cricket Council (ICC) chief executive Malcolm Speed.
The buzz is that Shoaib and Asif used the drug to “enhance recovery” after injuries this summer. But, then, the former’s CV has minuses and nobody has quite forgotten his penchant for rushing to his personal physician instead of respecting team protocol.
Both the ICC and PCB are signatories to the Wada Code and, if found guilty, the first-time offenders are going to be banned for two years. Such a penalty could end Shoaib’s career, besides causing irreparable damage to the promising Asif.
“Look, everybody isn’t Shane Warne. Everybody doesn’t have his toughness. So, if a ban is imposed, then I’m not sure about their future,” former India captain Ravi Shastri told The Telegraph. He added: “In simple terms, Pakistan have been crippled.…” Indeed, coach Bob Woolmer likened the stunning development to a “hurricane”.
While the Pakistanis are definitely embarrassed, there's also relief that the duo didn’t get caught in an ICC-conducted test. As announced, 24 players will be tested during the Champions Trophy -- two from each team in six “randomly selected” matches.
The tournament’s technical committee headed by Dave Richardson, meanwhile, has okayed PCB’s request for replacements. One understands all-rounder Yasir Arafat and left-arm spinner Abdul Rahman are going to join the squad “at the earliest”.
Usually, replacements are for the injured (an exception being Inzamam), but the committee must have been guided by the Warne example on the eve of the 2003 World Cup. The genius, it may be recalled, tested positive for Diuretics in a test by Cricket Australia (then the Australian Cricket Board) and was replaced by Nathan Hauritz. Warne’s punishment was 12 months.
Strangely, despite the sport attracting billions of dollars, only half the Test-playing nations — Australia, England, New Zealand, Pakistan and South Africa — have an “in-house” structure for dope testing. The ICC, of course, has made it mandatory at its events from early 2002.
Asked if the Board of Control for Cricket in India would now make dope-testing compulsory before the squad is picked for mega events (next being the World Cup), secretary Niranjan Shah said: “Difficult to say. The point is that we keep educating our players. They’re responsible and know what’s banned.”
Fair enough, but what if there's a slip up' In any case, it’s unlikely that cricket will continue to be seen as a “low-risk sport”.