Sri Lanka wicketkeeper-batsman Kusal Perera has said support from family, the board, and fans kept him upbeat through his five-month suspension due to doping charges that have now been withdrawn by the ICC.
He had been preparing for the Test leg of the New Zealand tour when he was informed of having failed a doping Test. In addition to that tour, he also missed a bilateral T20 series in India, the Asia Cup and the World T20 due to the suspension.
"I think people believed me through the whole ordeal," Perera said. "I said I hadn't taken illegal then, and I still say it now. The board believed me, and the media believed me and left me alone. The fans also believed me, so I don't think there has been much damage done to my reputation."
His plight appeared bleak when his initial sample had tested positive for the performance-enhancing drug, 19-Norandrostenedione, but it grew bleaker when the B sample returned identical results, in January. Perera said that despite the findings, he was intent on maintaining his innocence.
"People told me after the B sample also was shown to have the substance, that it would be better to accept my fault and hope for a shorter ban. But I didn't want to accept a wrong that I hadn't actually committed. If there had been any wrongdoing, I would have accepted it. For four years I had played with no problem."
Perera had also spent a substantial amount of his own money in fighting the WADA-approved lab's findings. His campaign to be cleared had included a trip to England for a polygraph test, a hair analysis and a separate urine test, as well as substantial coordination with his main legal team, which was based in the UK. He received news of his being cleared on Wednesday evening, but he had already begun to focus on making a return to the game, he said.
"I can't think much about the personal cost to me, because all I want to do is play cricket again. I've been out of the game for five months. I need to get back to practice soon. I'm really not thinking much about the financial losses. The first priority is to play for Sri Lanka and get back to form."
Perera is theoretically available for Sri Lanka's Tests in England, which begin on May 19, but appears unlikely to join the squad immediately, as he has been forced to miss official team practices or training sessions since December 7. It is conceivable that he will play in the limited-overs leg of the tour to UK and Ireland, which starts on June 16 after the three Tests. There is also a full home tour against Australia in July and August.
"The first month of the suspension I couldn't train much because I was getting a lot of legal advice," Perera said. "I did try to find time to train with a coach. I also worked on my fitness through the period.
"I need to do a bit more practice before I think about tours. That's how I'll get my form back. Through this period I couldn't work with the Sri Lanka trainer, so there will be work to do on my fitness as well."
Perera thanked a range of people for assisting him in both clearing his name, and in staying positive through a difficult period.
"I'm very happy about being able to come back to cricket. I got the news from Thilanga Sumathipala last night. I'm really happy that the board and fans trusted me. A lot of people had made supportive comments.
"I need to thank by family. My brothers were there for me especially. [My manager] Ravi helped me. And a lot of coaches helped me and gave me words of encouragement as well, which helped me along."
Former captains Kumar Sangakkara and Mahela Jayawardene came out in support of Perera's charges being cleared.
So happy that matter solved and KJP can play again.Disappointed with system and proses.@ICC player should allow to play until all hearings— Mahela Jayawardena (@MahelaJay) May 12, 2016
No one is guilty till proven and every one deserves a explanation. Let's learn from this .— Mahela Jayawardena (@MahelaJay) May 12, 2016