Pakistan give lengthy bans to Shoaib and Asif for positive tests

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The Independent Online

The Pakistan pace bowlers Shoaib Akhtar and Mohammad Asif have been handed lengthy suspensions for testing positive for the banned steroid nandrolone.

Shoaib, who is 31, has been banned for two years and must now fear his career over, while the 23-year-old Asif has been given a one-year suspension. Both are set to miss next year's World Cup.

They tested positive for nandrolone during an internal testing programme carried out by the Pakistan Cricket Board as part of their requirements prior to the Champions Trophy tournament in India.

Shoaib, one of the fastest bowlers in the game, protested his innocence when the initial positive test was announced. "I just want to assure everyone that I am innocent," he said. "I have not knowingly taken any performance-enhancing drugs and would never cheat my team-mates or opponents in this way."

The Pakistan coach, Bob Woolmer, later speculated that the pair may have tested positive after buying over-the-counter products designed to help bulk them up, without realising the impact of their use.

"We know what we've given to the players," Woolmer said. "Our doctors, our physiotherapists, are very strict. That's why it came as a shock to me. If anything is happening outside our sphere of influence, then I don't know about it. They might have been taking a build-up powder which we didn't know about."

Woolmer and the two players yesterday faced a PCB tribunal in Lahore along with the team trainer, Murray Stevenson, and the physiotherapist Darren Lifsun.

"We have banned Shoaib Akhtar from playing international and domestic cricket for two years, and Mohammed Asif has been banned for one year for playing international or domestic cricket," the chair of the tribunal, Shahid Hamid, said. "We were helpless and our hands were tied.

"There are no mitigating circumstances which would justify the imposition of a sanction less than the minimum prescribed namely a ban of two years," the tribunal added about Shoaib.

However, the tribunal said the circumstances justified a more lenient view in the case of the more inexperienced Asif.

Shoaib has taken 165 Test and 208 one-day wickets and broke the 100 mph barrier bowling at in the 2003 World Cup. Asif is a relative newcomer to international cricket but has already taken 30 wickets in six Tests. Both bowlers have said that they will not challenge the results of their positive tests.