Afghanistan wicketkeeper-batsman Mohammad Shahzad has been handed a retrospective one-year ban by the ICC. The 29-year old was found to be in breach of the ICC Anti-Doping Code, having ingested the banned substance Clenbuterol.
A statement on the ICC website said Shahzad had "inadvertently ingested the prohibited substance, as a contaminant of a weight-loss product he was taking, Hydroxycut." On Thursday, the global governing body announced that Shahzad has been suspended from all cricket-related activities for 12 months after pleading guilty to breaching Article 2.1 of the ICC Anti-Doping Code.
The ban has been applied retrospectively from January 17, 2017 for that was the day Shahzad gave his urine sample for testing. In a form submitted alongside, he had ticked "nil" when asked if he had taken any prescribed or non-prescribed medication or supplements.
A World-Anti Doping Association (WADA) certified laboratory in Utah (USA) confirmed the presence of Clenbuterol, which is on the 2017 list of banned substances. The ICC charged Shahzad on April 13. On April 26, he was provisionally suspended. And on June 28, he admitted to his offence.
"Mr Shahzad admitted the violation and a twelve-month suspension has been imposed, backdated to 17 January 2017, the date of his sample collection. Mr Shahzad will, therefore, be eligible to return to cricket on 17 January, 2018," the ICC said in a media release.
But Shahzad has played cricket in the time he was not meant to. He represented Afghanistan in 10 ODIs, seven T20Is and one four-day Intercontinental Cup match between January and March this year. His statistics from those games will now be expunged.
"In accordance with Article 10.8 of the Code, all individual results obtained by Mr Shahzad since the date of his sample collection (17 January 2017) until the date of his Provisional Suspension (26 April 2017) are disqualified with all of the resulting consequences, including forfeiture of any individual medals or other prizes awarded," the ICC said.
It is understood that the ICC can only stop a player from participating in a match after the issuing of a provisional suspension. Shahzad was handed the penalty on April 26 and he has not played since. It is also understood that the ICC decided to backdate his ban to give Shahzad credit for admitting to his mistake. As a result, he will be eligible to return to cricket in just under six weeks, well in time for Afghanistan's campaign at the World Cup qualifier in March in Zimbabwe.*
The key to the relative leniency of the punishment appears to be the ICC's satisfaction that the ingestion of Clenbuterol was "unintentional" and "inadvertent".
Shahzad mounted his defense by saying the Afghanistan team management had asked him to shed "8 kgs" of his weight in October 2016. He said he had received advice from the owner of a gymnasium in his hometown of Jalalabad to take Hydroxycut to lose weight. This was in 2013.
After being told to get in better shape, Shahzad checked with Afghanistan physiotherapist Azeem Malik if he could take Hydroxycut. Malik, having checked if it contained banned substances or supplements, gave the nod. So Shahzad took one capsule of Hydroxycut from mid-October to early December 2016. He lost the 8kg of weight in that period.
Nevertheless, Shahzad continued taking Hydroxycut right up to when he was tested by the ICC in Dubai, where he was playing the Desert T20 Challenge. An analysis done by an expert on the pill revealed "small amounts" of Clenbuterol. The ICC then asked the WADA laboratory in Lausanne, Switzerland to verify the expert's finding and tally it with Shahzad's original test. Eventually, the ICC was told that Shahzad's explanation could be "valid."
"In making the decision, the ICC accepted that Mr Shahzad had inadvertently ingested the prohibited substance, as a contaminant of a weight-loss product he was taking, Hydroxycut," the ICC said. "Mr Shahzad was able to satisfy the ICC through evidence and submissions prepared on his behalf that he had no intention to enhance his sporting performance through the use of prohibited substances or to mask the use of another performance enhancing substance and had, instead, inadvertently ingested the prohibited substance after taking Hyrdoxycut supplements which were contaminated with Clenbuterol."
The anti-doping violation for which Shahzad was found guilty carried a punishment of four years. But the ICC, satisfied with his explanation, halved that to two years. Subsequently, it considered factors like Shahzad not being fluent in English and his limitations in searching for information on the internet and ruled that "the ICC accepts Mr Shahzad has established No Significant Fault or Negligence pursuant to Article 10.5.2 of the Code thus enabling the two year period of ineligibility to be reduced by upto 50%".
*0944 GMT Friday, December 8, 2017. An earlier reference to Andre Russell's suspension has been removed. Mohammad Shahzad's suspension was decided by the ICC while Russell's suspension was imposed by the Jamaica Anti-Doping Commission.
Nagraj Gollapudi is a senior assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo