The Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) has made the right decision in banning fast bowlers Shoaib Akhtar and Mohammad Asif for doping. Akhtar received a two-year suspension from the PCB’s tribunal for using the anabolic steroid nandrolone, while Asif was let off with a lighter one-year ban. Under the rules of the International Cricket Council, a two-year ban is the minimum penalty for a first offence and Akhtar’s reported admission that he took “supplements, isotonic treatments and herbal medicines”, unaware of their potential illegality, qualifies for it.
This marks a sad chapter in Pakistan’s cricket story as the absence of Akhtar and Asif will be a blow for the depleted Pakistani bowling line-up in the World Cup only four months away. Pakistan had been one of the favourites to lift the Cup. Without the two pacemen spearheading the attack, Pakistan’s chances have certainly receded. The ban couldn’t have come at a worse time for 31-year-old Akhtar, in particular, as it puts an end to his playing career. It’s a shame that we may never see the pace ace — the only bowler ever to officially clock a 100 mph delivery — in action again. Who can forget the way he tore through Australia in Colombo in 2002, dismissing both the in-form Waugh brothers for a duck in crippling heat and draining humidity?
Professional cricket today is prone to performance pressure like any other sport. A player needs to get to the top and stay there for at least eight years. This calls for consistently good form and fitness. For fast bowlers — the one discipline in cricket where physical strength is as important as skill — injury is always threatening. Which perhaps explains why players like Akhtar are tempted to try anything that allows them to recover quickly. Curiously, Asif's defence — that he had never attended an anti-drugs lecture or received a list of anti-doping regulations before — seems to be a reality check for cricket administrators, as it clearly exposes the limitations of the game’s current drugs policy.