October 17, 2006

A nation in turmoil

Pakistan was in shock yesterday after the withdrawal of Shoaib Akhtar and Mohammad Asif from the squad for the ICC Champions Trophy, writes Zahid Hussain in The Times.

This may be the end of the road for Shoaib, 31, an immensely popular and mercurial player, regarded by many as a flawed genius. Nicknamed the Rawalpindi Express for his blistering pace, his career has been a mixture of brilliance and waywardness. Any ban would be a serious blow to the career of Asif, the talented seam bowler who has taken 30 wickets in six Tests at an average of 21.16 and 19 wickets in 17 one-day internationals. The 23-year-old is considered to be the brightest fast-bowling prospect in Pakistan.

"It's easy to see why pacemen are tempted," writes Angus Fraser in The Independent.

To play the game, which involves standing in 40C heat for more than six hours a day, a player needs endurance. Fast bowlers need to combine this with up to 150 explosive deliveries and, as of yet, there is no substance that provides both in equal measure.

Derek Pringle concurs in The Daily Telegraph by saying that cricket is 'no longer a game of tea and sandwiches'.

Also in The Times John Goodbody says "Cricket, like so many sports, has often believed that it was immune from the scourge of doping. Now it must fear that its reputation has been tarnished". While Richard Hobson reports that Shoaib left the Champions Trophy in tears to return to Pakistan.

What is nandrolone? Tom Lutz gives us the dope on the dope in The Guardian.

George Binoy is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo