Cricket bowls against drugs

When the mouse saw that it contained a mousetrap, he ran around the farmyard, yelling: “There is a mousetrap in the house! There is a mousetrap in the house!” The chicken said it could not be bothered by it. The pig said it was not his business, and the cow said she was not concerned. Now, now, Mr Banda, is Sunday Sport now Sunday Tale? No, no, my friends, let me continue. That very night, there was the sound of the mousetrap shutting. The farmer’s wife rushed to see what had been caught. Unbeknown to her, it was a snake. It bit her. The farmer rushed her to hospital. She returned home with a fever. Now there is a belief that you treat a fever with fresh chicken soup. But the farmer’s wife did not getter better. The farmer butchered a pig for the visitors. Then the wife died. The farmer slaughtered the cow to provide enough meat for all the mourners. The mouse watched this whole drama play itself out, through his crack in the wall of the farm-house. Now that you have come to the end of your Sunday Tale, what about the sport bit, Mr Banda? Patience, mon ami. The morale of the tale is that when one of us is threatened, we are all at risk. When drug-taking and drug-cheating wreaked havoc on the world of athletics, other sports watched and felt it could not happen to them. Track demanded speed merchants. Field asked that winners jump higher or further, and that throwers be the strongest to be able to throw the furthest. All these disciplines required of their practitioners long and strenuous bouts of practice before long and strenuous series of heats and then the finals proper. Other sports may have reasoned that their practitioners were safe from drugs, because their practice did not demand similar rigours of them. Then the Ben Johnsons of athletics were followed by the Diego Maradonas of soccer. Then the drugs craze also hit other sports and, before we knew it, it seemed like it was going to be the way of sport. That that was going to be how sportspeople would practise their craft. That that was going to be how they would compete. But there were some sports that appeared to be just so blest it seemed they would remain gentlemen’s games. Sorry, my sisters, gentlemen’s and ladies’ games! But the menace was not to be stopped. The menace was not to spare any sport. In 2003, the world of sport shook to news that one of the greatest bowlers cricket has ever known had failed a drug test. Australian leg-spinner Shane Warne had tested positive for diuretics. The failure left him out of the International Cricket Council (ICC) Cricket World Cup tournament hosted by South Africa, with Kenya and Zimbabwe as sub-hosts, that year. It has never been made clear whether he jumped or was pushed. Warne guilty? It just was not cricket. But others said it was. That the positive test was the latest negative in a trail of deterioration fuelled by the rising crass commercialism that informed the many contractual disputes and match-fixing scandals blighting the game. In 2004, roughly half of the county cricketers in the United Kingdom were tested, as 211 doping control tests were carried out by UK Sport. Out of these tests, carried out on behalf of the England and Wales Cricket Board, only one cricketer, Graham Wagg of Warwickshire, tested positive. He was given a 15-month ban for using cocaine. “Despite the latest positive test, cricket does not have a drugs problem,” a spokesperson for UK Sport was quoted as saying by BBC Sport. Earlier, in 1997, all-rounder Paul Smith was banned from cricket for 22 months, after testing positive for cocaine. He also played for Warwickshire. His club-mate, Keith Piper, was also caught in 1997- for cannabis use. Last year, the Warwickshire veteran was banned for four months after testing positive for the recreational drug. Bounce the above against the statement by the UK Sport spokesperson and you can see the drugs dilemma in cricket. A cricketer is not likely to take performance-inducing drugs because he cannot improve his performance through boosting his strength or building muscle bulk; cricket is not weight-lifting or discus-throwing. Please, Mr Banda, of course it is not. Is that not why it is called cricket and not something else? Give us a break, Mister. Alright, my friends- sometimes I get the feeling you enjoy hurrying me along. The point is that unlike other sports that rely on the athlete being stronger to propel themselves faster than the competition as in track, or being fitter to endure better as in lifting or boxing, or being stronger to come out better in contact as in rugby or American football, cricket relies largely on hand-eye coordination. So why worry about drugs in cricket? Well, one: because the drugs can benefit injured cricketers. And so in 2002, an Australian fast bowler with a back problem was suspended after attempting to heal it by taking an anabolic steroid. Two: because in Warne’s case, while he was right that diuretics are not performance-enhancing drugs, they increase the passage of water and dissolved drugs through the kidneys and so may be used to mask the use of steroids. This suspicion was moreso in Warne’s case as he had made a remarkably quick recovery from a career-threatening shoulder injury suffered in December of 2002. And three: that even if the drug is recreational, what does that say to the young who look up to the sportspeople? And so the sporting world has welcomed the adoption by the International Cricket Council (ICC) of an anti-doping policy that complies with the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) Code. As recently as the eve of the ICC Cricket World Cup 2003, only four Test playing nations had clear and formulated procedures for submitting cricketers to drug tests. In fact, the South Africa 2003 was the first international tournament in which the ICC devised a testing programme. Speaking after the Executive Board meeting in Dubai last week, where the first major step in formalising the ICC commitment to drugs-free sport was taken, ICC President Ehsan Mani said: “While there have been anti-doping programmes at all of the ICC’s recent major events, these have been formulated on an event-by-event basis and have contained variations from the WADA Code. Once it has been approved by the Annual Conference in July, this new WADA-compliant policy will become mandatory for all major ICC events beginning with this year’s ICC Champions Trophy in India.” The importance of the ICC move cannot be over-emphasised. When it looks through its crack at the drugs drama unfolding, the mouse will not see cricket among the victims.

March 2006
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