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July 14, 2008

The drugged cricketer

Asif's tragedy is an indictment of Pakistan cricket

Kamran Abbasi
Mohammad Asif prepares to bowl, Durban, September 11, 2007
 © AFP
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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

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Keywords: Drugs

© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.

Posted by rauf sheikh on (August 20, 2008, 16:20 GMT)

mohd asif second test came positive mohd asif should go to drug rehabilation centre to fight agianst it and come clean to play for pakistan he is the future of pakistan bowling line and if the player like him is doing such kind of thing is shameful thing

Posted by rashi on (August 19, 2008, 18:02 GMT)

i feel Md Sami is a marvellous talent and shouldn't be wasted in ICL. PCB should try to settle the controversy between PCB and players joining ICL. After all it is India's internal issue. It is not necessary for Pak to ban the players only because India is doing so

Posted by Saad on (August 3, 2008, 18:20 GMT)

I felt that Muhammad Asif is Able to play in ICC trophy . PCB wants to give a chance to play in ICC .

Posted by Owais on (July 24, 2008, 7:59 GMT)

Kamran, I dont any point in bashing PCB over this. Any reasonable person who might have been involved in a high profile drug abuse case more than a year back would have and should have stayed 1000 miles away from any drugs, hakimi nuskhas, nandrolanes etc etc. Asif is responsible for this and he should be disciplined. Atleast 5 year ban should be served upon him.

Posted by Mikso Mocha on (July 23, 2008, 6:43 GMT)

On Thursday the Champions tropy will likely be moved to SL for secuity of players and teams involved. The ICC security consultant says 50/50 chance only Pakistan will host trophy. Hope it is moved. Will be wise decsion for world cricket as a Munich 72 like incident in cricket is highly undesirable after the doping scandal of Asif and Shoaib.

Posted by irfan on (July 21, 2008, 14:11 GMT)

I am sure WADA has already made the distinction b/w performance enhancing and recreational drugs. It would be a waste of time of every body’s if Asif gets dinged just using cannabis or hash as he was believed to have in possession at Dubai airport. Unless one or both are classified as performance enhancers there is no point in going on at this.

His injury, just for the sake of argument is another concern. But, that’s where the sports administration should have maintained a handle on the situation by knowing what medicines is being used or prescribed or even having to force him to use a doctor of boards choosing. Had he failed to follow the instructions then he would be guilty as hell. In my personal opinion the guy has enjoyed a free ride before and it is time to make an example out of him. Period!

Posted by Arshad Jamal on (July 20, 2008, 4:00 GMT)

Kamran, do you have a clue what is the meaning of the following post:

Posted by: Imran Ahmed at July 16, 2008 5:05 AM

My brother Joseph Pereira a Pakistan fan if there ever was one might have had some strong words to say about this latest incident.

Sadly he passed away in Canada a few hours ago and I'll never get to know his opinion.

Posted by Prasad Tate on (July 17, 2008, 16:38 GMT)

India and Pakistan in Cricket, be it the respective cricket boards or the players, are friends. Even the India media admires Pakistani players. To suggest that this is a conspiracy by Indian public is naive and stupid.

Posted by Nancy on (July 17, 2008, 16:30 GMT)

It is not as grave as some of you have made it sound. After all Ian Botham has been given the Sir Title, way long after his known drinking problems and Mary Jane love.

Posted by Dexter on (July 17, 2008, 15:29 GMT)

First thing required to make public are all facts. Just saying found guilty is not enough. IPL should mention exactly what they found. There are multiple types of drugs & if it was recreational type than it should be treated differently as it has nothing to do with performance enhancement.

Also there should be a mention for the reason to this announcement. If IPL was concerned over performance enhancement or fairness then this should have been made announced before the tournament not so late after RR has already lifted the cup.

This seems rather a lame effort from IPL to distant themselves from the controversy that was bound to happen after Asif‘s detention- prompting everyone to think how Asif was able to fly directly from India to Dubai with the banned substance. This is also yet to be seen why he was tested negative in Dubai while his test shows positive result in India. The real drug name has to be announced in all fairness and so the reasons for news delay.

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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 international editor of the British Medical Journal. @KamranAbbasi

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