James Lawton: Terrible tragedy should act as a wake-up call for English cricket

Several of Tom Maynard's team-mates have denied the existence of a playboy culture

A jury decision that the tragedy of Tom Maynard was a matter of accidental death unfortunately does not release English cricket from the charge that the destiny of his extremely promising life was left rather too much to chance.

His club Surrey, historically one of the great forces in the county game, have recently won much praise with their recruitment of such iconic figures as South Africa captain Graeme Smith and the great Australian Ricky Ponting.

The point of such initiatives, apart from augmenting recent success on the field, is the admirable one of strengthening a culture of competitive discipline and the schooling of young players. There is, however, a more basic requirement and Surrey in particular and the game in general could hardly have been alerted to it more pressingly than in the details of Maynard's condition when he was found dead on the electrified rails of a London Underground track.

The 23-year-old, widely tipped to graduate to the England team in the footsteps of his father Matthew, had fled his Mercedes in the small hours of the morning after being stopped by police. Blood samples showed four times the permitted level of alcohol and there was also evidence of cocaine and ecstasy.

A girlfriend told the inquest that she had pleaded with him not to drive to see her after he confessed to being down and depressed.

It is not the picture of the happy young man of talent and great prospects painted by his team-mates and inevitably it has, along with the medical evidence that he had been using recreational drugs for some time, provoked an immediate promise of tougher and more frequent testing.

For cricket, which has long had a disturbing reputation for inducing depression in some of its most outstanding performers, the obligation is to bring its testing procedures up to the level of those in football and rugby union.

Angus Porter of the Professional Cricketers' Association reported that he was in urgent talks with the English Cricket Board designed to impose a new regime.

Currently cricketers are tested in competition at around three or four times a season and with some out-of-season tests made with the specific target of performance-enhancing drugs. Porter added: "We have a comprehensive programme of testing in and out of competition for performance-enhancing drugs very much in line with Wada [the World Anti-Doping Agency] and also testing for recreational drugs. What we are now in discussion with the ECB on is whether we need to extend the testing for recreational drugs to out of competition and I think we are both agreed that it is a good idea."

Several of Maynard's Surrey team-mates have been at pains to deny the existence of a playboy culture at The Oval: "I have heard rumours but they are not true at all," says wicketkeeper Steven Davies. "We are a very professional outfit and we've had some good results, winning promotion back to the first division as well as the Pro40 title. You are not going to do that if that reputation is true."

Maynard's father insisted that a life filled with both promise and achievement could not be defined by some decisions made in the hours leading to the tragedy.

Of course that was right. However, it hardly deflects from the burden of care on a game which gives to talented and naturally exuberant young men an enviable lifestyle, considerable celebrity and often extremely demanding pressure.

The presumption that Tom Maynard was equal to such a challenge was, at least according to superficial evidence, a reasonable one. English cricket now knows better.

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