Giddins banned until 1998

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Ed Giddins, the Sussex fast bowler, was yesterday banned for 19 months after the Test and County Cricket Board found him guilty of taking cocaine, which showed up in a random drug test earlier this season.

The reconvened disciplinary committee hearing, chaired by Gerard Elias QC, considered three charges: that Giddins had a prohibited substance in a urine sample; that he had knowingly used a prohibited substance; that by virtue of his conduct he had behaved in a manner which may bring the game of cricket into disrepute. The committee found all three charges proved. They rejected Giddins' contention that he had ingested the drug inadvertently, deciding that his taking of the drug was a deliberate act.

They concluded that the use of a prohibited substance, and particularly an illegal drug, was a grave breach of regulations and something which had the potential to put at risk the safety of fellow players and officials. To that end the England 'A' bowler had his registration terminated with immediate effect and he is suspended from playing in any match under the jurisdiction of the TCCB until 1 April 1998. That bars him from all first and second XI matches as well as Minor Counties cricket, but, under the current set up, the 25-year-old will be able to turn out in club and benefit matches. The ban is certain to become worldwide since the TCCB will be informing the boards of all the other countries in the International Cricket Council and will be looking for them to support it.

The severity of the punishment for what is regarded as a social drug, rather than a performance enhancer, contrasts sharply with the fate of others in sport who have either failed the Sports Council-run random test or admitted their guilt. In November 1994, Arsenal's Paul Merson confessed to alcohol and gambling addiction and to having taken cocaine, and the Football Association suspended him while he attended clinics for treatment; he was allowed to return to the game last February. Jennifer Capriati, the tennis player, was arrested for possession of drugs and spent a year in a rehabilitation centre, but she was never punished by the game's authorities for her misdemeanour.

The most celebrated "confessor" is the former England all-rounder Ian Botham, who was banned for two months in 1986 after admitting smoking cannabis. Four years ago, the TCCB accepted the explanation by the then Worcestershire, now Yorkshire, left-arm bowler Richard Stemp that his drink had been spiked with amphetamines. He went unpunished.

There are no hard and fast rules for sport's governing bodies to follow when meting out punishment. Although the Sports Council runs the drug testing scheme, which costs pounds 200 per test, they leave the punishment to the respective governing body. A spokesperson for the Sports Council said of the ban on Giddins: "It is nothing to do with us, but in principle the Sports Council supports strong action against people who take drugs, because we regard them as cheating."

The TCCB underlined their attitude by insisting that they wanted to send out the following message: "[That] Cricket, its players and administrators, would not tolerate in its ranks those who indulge in the use of a prohibited drug. The committee was sure the public would rightly demand nothing less."

Giddins, nicknamed "Geezer", who sat through more than four hours of the hearing on Monday before it was adjourned until yesterday, left the TCCB offices after 25 minutes via a side door in an effort to escape the waiting media. Before being driven away, Giddins, who has 14 days in which to appeal, muttered: "I have absolutely nothing to say. I wish I could."

His older brother Charles, a golf professional at a municipal course in Hastings said last night: "He's going to be hurting inside. Cricket is his life. It seems a bit harsh and it is such a shame. It looked as if his career had just taken off, with him going on last winter's England 'A' tour. Things were going well for him."

Giddins's captain on that tour to Pakistan was the Essex and England batsman Nasser Hussain. He said yesterday: "There aren't that many quick bowlers around. It's disappointing. He will be missed."

The Sussex secretary, Nigel Bett, who said Giddins was rendered speechless when the sentence was pronounced, did not condone the player's actions, but having known him since his debut for the county in 1991, insisted: "There is no evidence that he has done this before or since. I think he's been misguided on this one occasion. I think anyone with the talent that Ed has is a great loss to the game."

He has taken 231 first-class wickets at an average of 30. The last 33 came with the hearing hanging over his head following the drug test in May.

An extrovert, Giddins numbers among a list of various previous jobs being a topless waiter in Australia. His entry in the Cricketers' Who's Who under "Overseas teams played for" includes Discovery Bay Hotel, Barbados and Bondi Surf, Sydney. Those sides may have an unexpected overseas player in their ranks over the next 19 months or so.