Stanford 20/20 for 20 September 21, 2008

Don't abandon Marshall

'His confident, dazzling strokeplay against the quality Australian attack has all the makings of a star. Heaven knows, West Indies cricket needs some at present' © AFP

West Indies Cricket Board (WICB) chief executive Donald Peters got himself into something of a twist over the widely-reported secret last week that Xavier Marshall and Tonito Willett had failed a drugs test at a Stanford 20/20 camp.

Peters declared that the WICB has a "zero tolerance policy" on drugs but confusingly added that it "cannot take any action against them since they are not players on a retainer contract with the WICB".

"In fact, they were part of the Stanford 20/20 camp so that is not our matter to deal with," he told the Trinidad Express. Several questions arise from such contradictions.

Reportedly on legal advice, the Stanford organisation would state nothing more than that Marshall had been removed from its Superstars team for the US$20 million November 1 match against England and replaced by Travis Dowlin. It has still given no explanation.

In spite of his contention that his comments on the matter were taken out of context by Cricinfo, cricket's biggest internet site, that had identified Marshall and Willett as the offenders, Peters must have known that failure of a drugs test was involved. Everyone else did.

Given his organisation's "zero tolerance policy", should he not have got in touch with someone in authority at Stanford to hear the facts instead of dismissing it as "not our matter to deal with"?

Stanford, after all, is sanctioned by the WICB to the tune of a US$2 million licence fee as the official sponsor of regional 20/20 cricket. In addition, the November 1 showdown required WICB approval.

A damning report on any West Indies player in the Stanford group must also be of concern to the WICB-unless, of course, Peters' comment was to establish that the Superstars is not a team that "represents, purports to represent or could reasonably be perceived as representing the West Indies". That Marshall was dismissed from the Superstars team, eliminating his chance at the US$1 million each member of the winning side will earn November 1, indicates how seriously the Stanford organisation considered the offence.

As he has shown since he was a teenager, and confirmed in his debut senior series against Australia last season, Marshall is a young player of immense potential. His confident, dazzling strokeplay against the quality Australian attack, not least his first ball hook for six off Brett Lee in the Twenty20 at Kensington, has all the makings of a star. Heaven knows, West Indies cricket needs some at present.

The problem is that Marshall's brief career has been marked by indiscipline. More than once, he has been penalised by the Jamaican cricket authorities. He is not alone in that regard. The natural talent of thousands of young men and women throughout the Caribbean has been blunted by unruliness. More than we can afford, some prominent cricketers, have been ravaged by the effects of easily available drugs.

Marshall is 22, at the start of what could be an outstanding career. This is a real setback for him. He can now either drift onto the rocks to become another sad example of wasted ability or head in the opposite direction towards fulfilling his potential. It is largely up to Marshall himself but the WICB and its affiliates need to provide the back-up of the overdue academies that develop character as well as cricket.

It is not known whether it has its own drug-testing programme but, if it doesn't, it needs to establish one, not simply as a deterrent but to ascertain those who require help. As is the case with so much in the game these days, it would also do well to follow the Australian example in the recent case involving one of their gifted renegades, Andrew Symonds.

A seasoned, highly valued player, Symonds has transgressed several times on his way to the top, including turning up drunk on the morning of an ODI in England. His latest episode was to miss a team meeting to go fishing during the recent series against Bangladesh. Like Marshall has been now, he was dismissed from the team but also made to undertake a Cricket Australia-organised rehabilitation programme so he could "reassess his attitude".

Marshall could do with a similar rehabilitation programme. What he doesn't need is to hear from the WICB that his latest offence is "not a matter for us to deal with".