The drugged cricketer July 14, 2008

Asif's tragedy is an indictment of Pakistan cricket

It is something of a fantasy to expect the Pakistan Cricket Board to be ranked with the world’s leading national sporting bodies

It is something of a fantasy to expect the Pakistan Cricket Board to be ranked with the world’s leading national sporting bodies. But it is entirely reasonable to expect competence.

The reign of Dr Nasim Ashraf has been filled with grand intentions and destroyed by grand misjudgements. The recent farce of leaked emails and bugged phone conversations is symptomatic of an organisation crippled by a critical breakdown in relationships between senior management.

All this unwelcome controversy, however, fails to distract from the PCB’s greatest mistake under Dr Ashraf, which is its mishandling of the drugs problem. The issue of drugs in sport cuts to the heart of sporting professionalism and administrative excellence. It is a marker of integrity and an examination of the robustness of a cricket system.

While Mohammad Asif was rotting in Dubai custody, a routine urine sample taken in India was fermenting an overpowering stench. The decision makers in Pakistan cricket must ask themselves how a young cricketer—a bright star—could be allowed to transgress so soon after another scandal almost ended his career?

Asif must share a hefty burden of responsibility. There was a time when the mere thought of representing your country filled cricketers with such pride that they would not risk damaging their careers. Now it seems that these young stars achieve too much fame too soon. Cricket is played in the head but that is also where careers are broken. Only the strongest and most focused minds can expect longevity.

Ignorance, as Asif will discover, is no mitigation for a crime. Last year’s narrow escape should have taught him to avoid all suspect substances. The only conclusion is that either Asif is incredibly stupid or his international career does not matter to him sufficiently.

Nor has the PCB done Asif any favours. By treating him as a special case, a misled innocent, and focusing its anger on Shoaib Akhtar, the PCB has led Asif to believe that he is blessed and will always be shown leniency.

While Asif and Shoaib have brought damnation upon themselves, the PCB has passively and actively indulged their irresponsibility.

Primarily, a cricket board’s duty is to ensure its cricketers play by the spirit of the game. Cheating and rule breaking of any kind must be actively discouraged. Players who lack education have to be closely supervised, and loose cannons require clear direction instead of freedom—a problem child like Shoaib, for example, was allowed to follow his own training regimes.

Once the drug scandal broke it became clear that the cricket board’s education of its cricketers was insufficient. Its adherence to international standards was haphazard. And its handling of the crisis followed a process that was laughable at best and devious at worst.

The cricket board’s desire to clear its players by any means was a most cynical exercise in double standards. Indeed, attempts to enforce discipline have been undermined by the PCB’s own failure to apply discipline in a consistent manner.

Unfortunately, such shameless conspiracies and amateurism have become the hallmark of Pakistan cricket. Other boards are stricter with discipline. Andrew Flintoff was stripped of the England vice-captaincy after a drunken midnight jaunt on a pedalo in the West Indies. Shane Warne missed the 2003 World Cup after taking his “slimming pill.” Ian Botham was banned for three months after admitting in a newspaper article that he smoked marijuana.

The point of these bans was as much to demonstrate that top international sport requires discipline and international cricketers, especially star players, have a responsibility to set the right example to youngsters.

Meanwhile, the Pakistani way has become one of creating poor processes and regulations, applying them inconsistently, and bending the rules whenever the opportunity arises to indulge public and personal sentiment.

Instead of becoming valuable role models for the next generation of Pakistan fast bowlers, Shoaib and Asif have abused their positions and brought disgrace upon their country. They have diminished their talents and their places in history.

But should we damn them outright? No. Their extravagances and their errors have been facilitated by the PCB, which has failed to manage stars so that they maximise achievements and eliminate weaknesses.

Were Imran Khan, Wasim Akram, and Waqar Younis models of perfection? I guess perfection is not in the nature of fast bowlers. But their imperfections were managed in such a way that Pakistan cricket was able to flourish. The current dynamic of players and administrators is an imperfect storm ripping apart the soul of Pakistan cricket.

Mohammad Asif, a player who held the future of Pakistan cricket in his hands, has just become flotsam. It is almost beyond belief that his international career could have ended before Shoaib Akhtar's.

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