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November 1, 2006

The drugged cricketer

A peculiarly Pakistani muddle

Kamran Abbasi

Amid the shame of the verdicts against Shoaib Akhtar and Mohammad Asif, one aspect of this whole business is bothering me. The Pakistan Cricket Board sensibly handed the matter over to an independent tribunal. Smart and fair move. The tribunal has delivered its verdict. Tough but fair? Well, perhaps not.

Any legal case--and that is exaclty what this was--requires a due process, and that includes the opportunity for the defendants to test the evidence and present their defence in a proper manner. The tribunal has tried to argue that Pakistan's premier bowlers were given the opportunity to defend themseves. M'lord, I beg to differ.

The simple point is that neither player had legal representation. Asif, who the tribunal has tried to portray as some kind of village idiot, defended himself. Shoaib, who the tribunal has tried to portray as a charlatan, was defended by a doctor turned administrator turned journalist. Now all professionals must recognise the limits of their profession. Doctors are not lawyers, and it might have been better for Shoaib if his good doctor had butted out.

You might say that this was not a formal court case but a quasi-legal process. You might say that the players exercised choice. But I'd say that it is the responsibility of the court (quasi or otherwise) to ensure that the defendants are adequately defended, and in this regard Shahid Hamid has failed. Indeed, if it is true as reported that Hamid was chatting about the drugs hearing during another case and before the verdict was out, he has prejudiced the hearing and called into question its integrity. Add to this the incredible sensitivity of this issue in Pakistan and you might imagine that a wise lawyer would insist that the evidence against the players is tested as robustly as possible by the defence.

The point of this is not to come up with some ruse to find the players not guilty. The point is to ensure that the process has been a proper and fair one. If after such a process the verdict stands then they must be punished--and let's be clear that the tribunal's decision to punish the players differently is barely credible. But my interpretation of the tribunal proceedings is that this was not an adequate process. How can justice be done without defence lawyers? If there was one lesson from the Hair controversy it was that you should never leave for a cricket hearing without a lawyer, better still a whole team of them.

The verdicts have been given face validity by whisperings from Shaharyar Khan and others around the team about their suspicions of Shoaib's illicit drug use. Well, if that is the case then when was that evidence produced at the hearing? If such senior people knew of such misdemeanours or even suspected them why was Shoaib allowed to play for Pakistan at all? If Shaharyar Khan knew, you can't tell me that Nasim Ashraf didn't.

The Pakistan Cricket Board is hoping that it will be given credit by the international community for its tough stance. Truly, all drug cheats must be banned. Unfortunately, gaining credibiilty is not simply about draconian punishments. It is also about due process. I fear that Pakistan's pace bowlers--guilty or not--have not had justice. If I were them and I were innocent, as they insist, I would appeal and I would beg and borrow to gather the best lawyers I could lay my hands on. These cricketers have been badly advised throughout their treatment and now through their disgrace. This whole incident has the hallmark of a peculiarly Pakistani muddle.

Kamran Abbasi is an editor, writer and broadcaster. He tweets here

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Keywords: Drugs

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Posted by Prudence on (November 12, 2011, 19:07 GMT)

Big help, big help. And superlative news of crsoue.

Posted by Mathew Byars on (December 5, 2006, 11:56 GMT)

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Posted by David Furrows on (December 5, 2006, 9:11 GMT)

As I wrote earlier today, and on 6 November, the decision to pick such adjudicators as Haseeb Ahsan and Fakhruddin Ibrahim has led to the players being let off.

But the extent of the whitewash will backfire on the PCB, because I see the ICC contesting it and referring the matter to the Court of Arbitration for Sport, which will probably ban BOTH players for the full two years.

It was plausible for Asif to have his sentence shortened (but not overturned) because he had not attended the PCB anti-drug course. But for Shoaib to be exonerated is just too rich, and Ibrahim (already unrespected overseas for originally exonerating Salim Malik, and stating that Warne and May "concocted the charges for reasons best known to themselves" has really over-stretched himself this time.

This verdict will harm the PCB, and will result in Asif being banned for much longer than he otherwise would have been.

Posted by David Furrows on (December 4, 2006, 21:31 GMT)

Mark my words from 6 November: the sentences will be commuted on appeal today, and I bet the mitigating factors for Asif will be virtually exactly as I wrote a month ago!

Posted by Ammar on (December 4, 2006, 13:31 GMT)

Well whatever the circumstances were the thing could have been handled lot well.....the bowlers are not to be blamed only their are other people involved like coach and the physio who are responsible to look for players.... above all these guys are needed for world cuP so lets hoPe tht these to return back and make the team stronger

Posted by Blaise Kessler on (November 21, 2006, 13:46 GMT)

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Posted by Ushna Rizwan on (November 20, 2006, 17:02 GMT)

I love Asif and no one dare say anything against him!!!!!

Posted by Talha Ahmed on (November 11, 2006, 10:52 GMT)

I thought the advantage of internal testing was to save Pakistani players from an ICC ban. Since, the tests were not official, PCB could have protected its players by not exposing them to ICC tests. Lets trash the objectives - To save PCB from embarrasment ... to enforce the law ... Who are we kidding! the whole of PCB has been running under no constitution for seven years!

One thing is for sure ... It is cheating if we let players who will test positive for nandrolone, to play in a cricket match. So no matter what, intentional or not, the two should not be allowed to play until their levels come down naturally to the acceptable region.

Posted by Waqas on (November 7, 2006, 19:33 GMT)

Will you all stop whining and get your facts straight? Two grown up(assumably) men tested positive for a banned substance in their urine. Theres no denying that. First of all the levels of nandrolone in their urine cannot be acheived by eating suppliments or by diet. The results are clear evidence that they both "intentionally" took the substance. Secondly how stupid/illitrate do you have to be to know what the concequences of taking these drugs would be. I dont think you need any one to tell you that taking any sort of steriod is ILLEGAL. Thirdly, if i was innocent i would have had the PCB test my urine samples A through Z. Explain to me why they backed out of a retest? So stop convincing your selves that these guys didnt know what they were doing. As for the role of PCB in all of this. They never forced these players to take anything. So they cannot be blamed at all. What the PCB has done here is that they have sent out a clear message to every player on the team, that use of these drugs will not be tolerated, regardless if you are a bowler or batsman. Regardless how important you are to the team, regardless if you can or cannot understand english. These players not only represent themselves but a whole nation.They should be EXTRA careful about stuff they eat or take. The PCB could help, but in the end the sole responsibility lies on the players. Bottome line is, these guys were not expecting to be caught and once they were confronted , had no idea on how to come up with a good enough excuse for their results. Having said all that, lets get our acts together and try to make best use of the little time we have before the world cup. Lets stop crying over split milk and utilize whatever resources we have to prepare for the future.

Posted by David Furrows on (November 6, 2006, 23:40 GMT)

Call me a cynic, but I'm beginning to suspect a devious plan here.

The composition of the original three man panel could normally be expected to produce a harsh sanction, while I would expect Hasib Ahsan and his colleagues on the appeal panel to be considerably more charitable.

Moreover, the lightweight composition of the bowling "attack" selected for the West Indies series (even in Asif and Shoaib's absence there is no place for Rana Naved or Sami) makes me suspect that a place is being kept warm for Mohammed Asif.

I can already imagine the verdict....

"We uphold Asif's appeal. There is no evidence that he had ever participated in education about illegal drugs.....he ceased to use the substances as soon as instructed to by the team physio....his limited English and educational background make it unrealistic to expect him to be aware of illegal doping regulations....there is no evidence of any intent to cheat...we find him technically guilty of consuming the drugs, but belive that his lack of intent to break any rules and lack of education mitigate the offence and we commute the 1 year penalty to a suspended sentence".

The PCB secured excellent publicity with the original sound processes and strong punishments. If my prediction of a commuted sentence for Asif comes true we will know that it was all just a front.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Kamran Abbasi
Kamran Abbasi is an editor, writer and broadcaster. He was the first Asian columnist for Wisden Cricket Monthly and wisden.com. Kamran is the editor of the Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine. @KamranAbbasi

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