Cricket has to deal with drugs

As with a tournament of that stature, there have been results, and there have been results. Bangladesh and our beloved Zimbabwe found the going tough and were eliminated in the preliminary round, leaving Sri Lanka and defending champions West Indies ‘ the unlikeliest of qualifying round candidates ‘ to vindicate the cricket scriptures by proceeding to the second stage where they joined Australia, England, India, New Zealand, Pakistan and South Africa.

Losers to Stephen Fleming and New Zealand by 87 runs in their first match in Mumbai, the Proteas came right at the right time on Tuesday- reversing the numbers, and their fortunes in the process, when they beat Mahela Jayawardene and Sri Lanka by 78 runs.

Graeme Smith and the lads were left with one hurdle to clear en route to the semi-finals of the tournament. They needed to beat Younis Khan and Pakistan in a winner-take-all match in Mohali on Friday, to acquire a ticket to the best-four stage.

The South African players coolly absorbed the pressure of the must-win match against Sri Lanka, and proceeded to do what they had to do. With the bat, they posted 219 for nine wickets built around an 80-run partnership for the fourth wicket between Jacques Kallis (43) and AB de Villiers (54).

With the ball, they dismissed Sri Lanka for 141 runs. Such was the dominance of their seam attack that featured Messrs Jacques Kallis, Justin Kemp, Andre Nel, Makhaya Ntini and Shaun Pollock, skipper Smith did not even call on left-hand spinner Robin Peterson or his own part-time service.

Pollock was named Man of the Match for his two wickets for 21 runs in an unbroken 10-over spell, which followed an unbeaten 21-run stand with the bat during the South African innings at the Sardar Patel Gujarat Stadium in the Ahmedabad suburb of Motera.

But the sub-text of India 2006 has been the story of some cricketers who are alleged to have done what they should not have done.

Pakistani fast bowlers Shoaib Akhtar and Mohammad Asif are no longer taking part in the ICC Champions Trophy.

They were flown home on the first available flight, after testing positive for the banned steroid nandrolone.

They were flown home on the first available flight, leaving their colleagues preparing to play Sri Lanka in their opening Champions Trophy match in the Pink City, Jaipur. The ICC then approved Yasir Arafat and Abdul Rehman as replacements.

Should they be convicted of using the performance-enhancing drug, that is if their B samples also show traces of nandrolone, Akhtar and Asif, Pakistan’s best new ball pairing, face bans of up to two years each.

Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) chairman Nasim Ashraf has promised Akhtar and Asif a fair hearing should there be another positive result.

Spare a moment for Pakistan: from allegations of ball tampering in the fourth Test against hosts England at the Oval to allegations of body tampering in the place of the majestic pink palaces- Jaipur.

Spare a moment for Pakistan: Inzamam ul-Haq not available as captain after the England debacle, Younis Khan refusing to be a “dummy” replacement, then PCB boss Shaharyar Khan resigning the next day because of the captaincy debacle and Khan being reinstated by Khan’s replacement.

If I have confused you then I have achieved my objective. It has not been easy following the goings on there.

But praise should be given where praise is due. It was the PCB’s initiative to conduct the out-of-competition doping tests last month.

The tests on 25 players were part of the PCB measures to ensure there are no illegal doping practices in its game.

As ICC chief executive Malcolm Speed rightly pointed out ‘ because the PCB was not required to do the tests, it could easily have sent its players to the ICC Champions Trophy and taken its chances as to whether they tested positive or not.

Further, September’s were not the first doping tests the PCB has run. It has done them before, and the results then were negative.

Spare a moment for cricket: that sport of which the President of the Republic of Zimbabwe, His Excellency Cde Robert Mugabe, who is Patron of Zimbabwe Cricket, said in 1984: “Cricket civilises people and creates good gentlemen. I want everyone to play cricket in Zimbabwe; I want ours to be a nation of gentlemen.”

Spare a moment for cricket: that game, at its vintage, played over the ages in the manner of the clothing of its players- pristine white. That game in which no player takes advantage of either opponent or umpire, and over the years, has opted to walk than talk.

Goodbye to the age of innocence, paradise lost!

In my head the old song by Don Henley, “The End of the Innocence,” played on:

Offer up your best defense

But this is the end

This is the end of the innocence

Who knows how long this will last

Now we’ve come so far, so fast

But, somewhere back there in the dust

That same small town in each of us

But praise should be given where praise is due. The world cricket-governing body is not giving up without a fight. It is fighting hard to preserve the best of that “small town in each of us.”

In July, the ICC Annual Conference agreed to sign up to the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) Code. During India 2006, random tests are being carried out at six matches, with four players tested on each occasion and their samples taken to a WADA-accredited laboratory in Malaysia, which, incidentally, is where the Pakistani test samples were sent.

The ICC needs to do that, and to continue doing that. While cricket is generally regarded as a low-risk sport insofar as drug abuse is concerned, it cannot afford to relax in the face of this chemical chimera that threatens to undo all that sport stands for.

Thus we applaud the ICC move to stand alongside other sports on the platform of zero tolerance to doping and substance abuse.

Anything less would not be cricket.

October 2006
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