It was with shock and disappointment that, when listening to the radio yesterday, I heard that Shoaib Akhtar and Mohammad Asif had been sent home from the Champions Trophy after failing a drugs test conducted by the Pakistan Cricket Board. It would be naïve of me to believe that no cricketer had ever taken a banned drug in the hope it could enhance their performance, but it was reassuring to know that no player had yet tested positive for steroids.
Several English cricketers - Ed Giddins, Graham Wagg and Keith Piper - have failed tests but each was found guilty of taking recreational drugs. The most high-profile doping incident involved Shane Warne, who tested positive for a diuretic, and was banned for a year.
Despite there being no evidence that taking nandrolone - the anabolic steroid found in the A samples of Shoaib and Asif - will increase the rate at which an athlete recovers from injury, this is the suggested reason why the tests were positive. It is no coincidence that fast bowlers are the cricketers who have been caught. It is they who have the most physical jobs and they who sustain the most injuries.
This is not to excuse the pair, who should be hit hard, but it is easy to see why bowlers may be tempted to go down this dangerous path.
Ironically, I was on my way to the gym when I heard the news. My regular visits seem to make very little difference to my appearance these days but the increased amount of time cricketers spend there, along with the desire of coaches and physiologists to make them bigger and stronger, has increased the chances of coming into contact with certain substances.
During my career, I spent as much time training in the gym as any cricketer. I also spent a fair amount of time injured, but not once in 19 years was I offered or encouraged to use steroids. The use of drugs was pretty widespread among fast bowlers but they were not on the banned list and I took anti-inflammatory or painkilling tablets during the last 10 years of my career.
Each night, before bed, I took tablets to try to rid my body of aches and pains caused by a day's bowling. If I was feeling particularly tired or sore, I would take ibuprofen dispersible powder during the tea interval. It refreshed you and left you with lots of energy. I used to think that if this was what legal drugs did to you, heavens knows what those on the banned list could do.
The England players dabbled with a supplement called creatine at the start of the 1995/96 tour of South Africa to increase muscle strength, energy and endurance but I, along with several players, did not like the concept and stopped after a couple of weeks. We were delighted with our decision when, several years later, there were reports it caused brittle bones.
There are several reasons why drug use in cricket is low. To play the game, which involves standing in 40C heat for more than six hours a day, a player needs endurance. Fast bowlers need to combine this with up to 150 explosive deliveries and, as of yet, there is no substance that provides both in equal measure. Cricket also requires a lot of skill, and I am not aware of any drugs that can help hand/eye co-ordination. I hope this remains the case.Reuse content