If Giddins has a drug problem, he should have been treated as Paul Merson was by the FA, with sympathy and firmness

At The Oval this weekend, the chances are that England will lose to Pakistan. But don't worry: there is still one department of the game in which we lead the world - the ability to run things really badly.

Last week the Test match ended on Monday evening, and by 10.30 next morning six England players were playing in a semi-final for their counties. The man responsible for this curious arrangement, Tim Lamb, is about to be rewarded with the top job in English cricket - chief executive of the Test and County Cricket Board.

Yesterday the board's disciplinary committee met to pass judgement on Ed Giddins, the Sussex player noted for his fast bowling and fast living, who had failed a drug test earlier in the season. The committee, chaired by Gerard Elias QC, decided to ban Giddins from professional cricket for the whole of next season. For good measure, he was sacked by his county.

The double whammy would have been harsh but justified if Giddins had been convicted of using performance-enhancing drugs. But the drug in question was cocaine, the positive effects of which would last for about two overs. One day, no doubt, a laboratory somewhere will come up with a tablet that makes lanky young men better at patrolling the fine-leg boundary. But at the moment cricket is drug-proof.

What it is not, alas, is idiot-proof. I have not met Gerard Elias QC, and have no reason to doubt that he is a fine legal brain and a cricket lover who has only the best interests of the game at heart. You just wouldn't know this from his judgements. There have been two of them this season and they have both been ridiculous.

Giddins's drug-taking was evidently social. Yes, he was breaking the law, but only in a small way; the law, had it caught up with him before the TCCB did, would probably have taken a relaxed view and let him off with a warning.

Yes, he was setting a bad example, but in an even smaller way. If Elias thinks that the young people of today take their cue from county cricketers, then he is even more out of touch than this judgement makes him look. Young people are influenced by pop stars, film stars, footballers and, above all, each other. Kids who are innocent and old-fashioned enough to be influenced by Sussex seam bowlers are far too innocent and old-fashioned to know that coke is anything other than a drink, let alone where to get it and what to do with it.

If Giddins has a drug problem, he should have been treated as Paul Merson was by Arsenal, with firmness and sympathy. If he doesn't have a problem, he should have been given a stern warning as to his future conduct.

Which is exactly what Raymond Illingworth should have got when he was hauled up before Elias in June. Illingworth's crime was to have broken the confidentiality of the selection process, by writing a book and some newspaper articles replying to Devon Malcolm's articles criticising his management. Malcolm, who had broken his TCCB tour contract, was let off with a warning. Illy, who had no contractual obligation to keep his mouth shut, was found guilty of bringing the game into disrepute and fined pounds 2,000.

He has been wandering about like a wounded bear ever since. Every wicket Malcolm takes for Derbyshire adds to the feeling that Illingworth must take most of the blame for their falling-out. But that is one thing, and the subsequent war of words is another. Illingworth, more than anyone in cricket except perhaps Ian Botham, likes to have the last word. By answering Malcolm's broadside, he was only doing what came naturally.

Illingworth leaves the game - for good, he says - in two weeks' time. Giddins is probably lost to it, though it would be a shame: a man who is described as having disconcerted some of his team-mates with his independent way of life sounds like just what county cricket needs. And both departures could so easily have been avoided.

With not just a new chief executive but a new chairman, too, in the shape of Tesco's Sir Ian MacLaurin, now is the time to take a hard look at the TCCB's disciplinary procedures. "Bringing the game into disrepute" is a phrase so stuffy, nebulous and archaic that it brings the game into disrepute itself.

Tim de Lisle is editor of 'Wisden Cricket Monthly'.

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