Drugs in cricket December 5, 2006

Shoaib and Asif acquitted

The saga continues: First the ban and, then, complete acquittal © Getty Images

Shoaib Akhtar and Mohammad Asif have been acquitted by the tribunal appointed to review their appeals against the drugs ban imposed on them by an earlier committee. The three-man committee, headed by Justice Fakhruddin Ebrahim, voted two to one in favour of the acquittal. Haseeb Ahsan, former Test cricketer, and Ebrahim were in favour of the acquittal while the third member, Danish Zaheer, dissented.

"This appeal committee holds that Shoaib Akhtar and Mohammad Asif will not be deemed to have committed a doping offence," Ibrahim told reporters in Karachi. "The ban and punishment imposed by the earlier tribunal is hereby set aside as being contrary to the provision of laws."

A 30-page plus judgement (to read the full text of the judgement click here) for released by the committee detailed the reasons for their decision and though they are extensive, one significant theme that emerges from it is problems with the workings of the previous committee.

In particular, concern has been raised over the fact that while the original body was constituted to work within the guidelines of the PCB's anti-doping policy, the punishment it decreed - and the benchmarks it derived them from - were based on the ICC's anti-doping regulations.

The ruling concludes that both players were able to prove 'exceptional circumstances', in that neither was fully aware of the substances they were taking. Crucially, it points out that 'exceptional circumstances', as defined by the PCB and the ICC were signficantly different and that while the previous committee used ICC's definition of the term, it was bound to use the PCB's.

The role of the PCB in ensuring their players were not only fully aware of banned substances but also understood the literature that they had been provided has also been highlighted in the report. "It is plainly evident that neither Shoaib Akhtar nor Mohammad Asif were ever warned or cautioned against taking supplements," the judgement reads.

"Hence, this committee is of the considered view that both players have successfully established that they held an honest and reasonable belief that the supplements ingested by them did not contain any prohibited substances."

The report also includes an 11-page note of dissent from Zaheer, the third member of the committee. He points out flaws in the testing procedures carried out by the PCB and argues, on that basis, that the whole process should be repeated, new samples provided and fresh verdicts given.

Bilal Minto, one of the lawyers representing Shoaib, told Cricinfo that the decision was a good one, but highlighted that the PCB had also let down the players. "We are very happy about the judgement obviously. But it is clear that the PCB's level of educating players about anti-doping legislation is poor. As lawyers, even we struggled to make sense of their anti-doping regulations so expecting players to be able to understand it is not right."

Shoaib, banned for two years, and Asif, for one year, appealed after they were found guilty for testing positive for the banned anabolic steroid nandrolone in dope tests that were internally conducted by the PCB at the end of September.

Pakistan's doping appellate committee chairman, retired Justice Fakhruddin Ibrahim announces the decision © AFP

The ICC did not have any immediate reaction. "Malcolm Speed is currently in Uganda and we can't comment on the issue unless we have all the details," said Brian Murgatroyd, the ICC spokesman. "We need to go through the judgement and also get the PCB's version before making any comment."

The World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA), in charge of monitoring drugs in sport, said they needed to discuss the matter with the ICC. Frederic Donze, their media relations officer, told Cricinfo: "We will now review the reasons for the decision, liaise with the ICC and consider whether to exercise its right of appeal to the Court of Arbitration for Sport."

The original tribunal which had imposed the ban was chaired by barrister Shahid Hamid and included Intikhab Alam, the former Pakistan captain, and Waqar Ahmed, a doping expert.

Osman Samiuddin is Pakistan editor of Cricinfo