For the second time in three years, an international cricket tournament has been besmirched by a doping scandal. The Pakistani fast bowlers, Shoaib Akhtar and Mohammad Asif, were yesterday sent home from the Champions Trophy after testing positive for the performance-enhancing drug nandrolone.
In 2003, Shane Warne of Australia left the World Cup in South Africa in similar disgrace after it was revealed that he had taken a banned diuretic. The Pakistan duo, who were tested late last month, await the results of their B sample following the World Anti-Doping Agency's finding that the A sample contained the illicit substance. But team officials confirmed that they would take no further part in the competition and they requested the International Cricket Council to allow them two replacements.
If the findings of the tests are substantiated - the B samples results are due today - and the pair have no adequate defence for the presence of the drug in their system, each faces a two-year ban under Wada regulations. For Shoaib, the world's fastest bowler, that might effectively mean the end of his career since he would be 33 on his return, not the sort of age to resume trying to propel the ball at speeds above 90mph.
Shoaib denied any wrongdoing, saying: "I just want to assure everyone that I am innocent of doing anything I shouldn't have. The President of Pakistan has asked me not to comment in any detail at this stage and I want to respect his wishes, so I will keep my message short.
"All I can say is that I have not knowingly taken any performance-enhancing drugs and would never cheat my team-mates or opponents in this way. I have always played the game fair and I give 100 per cent and do not feel I need to take drugs to help my bowling."
It can be safely presumed Asif holds identical views.
Rumours were rife around the Pakistan camp that a third player could yet be implicated. Pakistan carried out private tests on 19 players at the instigation of their coach, Bob Woolmer. He was anxious that the team fell into line behind the ICC which has had regular testing procedures at its tournaments for four years but became a signatory to the Wada code only in July.
England's players are tested regularly and randomly by Sport England.
It was always tempting fate to dedicate the Champions Trophy to the spirit of cricket, and the precarious nature of the venture was starkly evident yesterday after the news broke in Pakistan. Woolmer has been no stranger to controversy since becoming coach of Pakistan two years ago. One of his bowlers, Shabbir Ahmed, is serving a year's ban for throwing. Recently, Woolmer has had to contend with The Great Ball-Tampering Incident at the Oval, followed by the suspension of his captain, Inzamam-ul-Haq, and the resignation and reinstatement of the stand-in captain, Younis Khan. But even he was stunned by the latest turn of events. "It was a policy decision [that] all our players should be tested so that there wouldn't be any recriminations at tournaments," he said. "This came as a shock but my feeling is that cricket is greater than all this and it's just part and parcel of what happens with people in life."
The general opinion was that if Shoaib and Asif were injected with nandrolone, which increases muscle bulk, it was to try to accelerate their recovery from injury last summer. Both bowlers missed much of Pakistan's tour of England, in Shoaib's case because of ankle and knee injuries and in Asif's because of an elbow injury. They eventually returned and, at the time, following a gloomy initial prognosis, there was some surprise. Their fellow bowler Rana Naved-ul-Hasan also came back after injury.
Woolmer said: "They have both been treated in Pakistan for injuries for which they have both had injections and which may have contained the substance. We're hoping that is the reason."
Not that it would necessarily be an excuse. Warne also pleaded ignorance when it transpired he had taken a slimming pill given to him by his mother. But he was generally considered to be fortunate to escape with a one-year ban from Cricket Australia. Wada expressed its displeasure.
The procedure now is for Shoaib and Asif to receive the results of their B sample. If this proves positive, the Pakistan Cricket Board will then set up a doping tribunal to deal with the case, which is likely to include at least one former Test cricketer. If this finds the case to be proven, there would not be much room for manoeuvre as the PCB and the ICC both recognise the Wada protocol.
Woolmer, however, sounded mildly optimistic that the pair might be able to return for the World Cup next spring. "As a coach I would like them to play, but if they're not going to be there, I can't do anything about that." The ICC's chief executive, Malcolm Speed was careful to avoid expressing an opinion on the players' guilt or innocence. But he said that cricketers had been tested since 2002 and believed they should be well aware of the substances on the proscribed list.
"Nandrolone has most commonly caused problems for other sports," said Speed. "It's not unusual or uncommon and has been on the ICC list since 2002. Over that period there have been a number of times when the list has been advised to the boards, and the boards have been directed to make sure the proper protocols are in place so their medical practitioners are aware of the substances on the list and the players are properly educated. In relation to doping, illegal substances and drugs, the ICC takes a zero tolerance position."
The substance of that claim will be tested by the treatment of Shoaib and Asif. Their departure will focus attention on the Wada tests being carried out at seven games in the Champions Trophy where four players will be asked to give urine samples. Nobody will be surprised if Pakistan's match against Sri Lanka today is one of them.
Caught out: Four other players who had dopey moments
Banned for a year after testing positive for a diuretic before the 2003 World Cup. Warne said he took it for weight loss and claimed his mum gave it to him.
Banned for three months by the Test and County Cricket Board in 1986 after he admitted that he had smoked marijuana.
Banned for 19 months and sacked by Sussex after testing positive for cocaine in 1996. Moved to Surrey before retiring in 2003 but later banned for five years for betting on Surrey to lose a match.
Thrown out of a restaurant in Christchurch during the 1996-97 tour of New Zealand after management deemed him responsible for the smell of cannabis emanating from the toilets. Cleared by England but later fined and given a suspended ban for failing to provide a sample.Reuse content