Holland, circa 2000. There was unusual activity and heightened nervous tension around the club prior to a league game. Apparently, officers from the anti-doping department had made a surprise visit. They had to select two players from each team at random and check them for illegal substances.
No one got caught, the match began with a minimum of fuss and soon, the incident disappeared into the recesses of my mind. I kept playing first-class cricket at home and abroad and that one time at a little Dutch club remained my only brush with the dope police.
Actually, no one may really have thought of using banned substances till all hell broke loose before the 2003 World Cup in South Africa. Shane Warne tested positive and was banned from international cricket for a year. But again, I thought it was a one-off.
Then, while playing in England last summer, I heard of a similar incident. A Warwickshire cricketer, Keith Piper, tested positive for cannabis and received a four-month ban from first-class cricket. Since then, the past year has seen a flurry of positive cases, not in cricket but elsewhere, across the sporting world.
As I idly read through yet another Lance Armstrong-related revelation and Marion Jones’ let-off after her second sample tested negative, I wondered about Piper again, how he was coping with the embarrassment of being caught out and what he was doing. After all, everyone makes mistakes and one presumes there is life after dope.
Finally, I decided to give him a call. And frankly, I’m glad I did. He was a fount of information.
The ECB has been conducting these tests for long and Keith had been tested before too but they didn’t test him for cannabis and he got away. He told me he’d been having cannabis for 12 years and it wasn’t to enhance his performance. It worked for him as a relaxing agent after a tiring day on field.
Here, in England, the ECB and PCA (Professional Cricketers’ Association) try and work together on player-related issues and this certainly was one of them. The ECB is responsible for co-ordinating tests and UK Sport is responsible for actually doing them. These tests are always held at random but sometimes, they target certain players too, based on secret tip-offs.
Even while the job of punishing the guilty began in right earnest, the PCA took charge of educating cricketers all over the country on the problems of drug abuse in any form, its effect on their lives and future.
Ian Smith has been touring the country and before summer’s end, he would have had a one to one session with every single professional cricketer here.
Coming back to Keith’s case, what really struck me was how his rehabilitation was organised at the priory in Southampton for a month by the PCA. No one shunned him. He got rid of this habit and announced his retirement from first-class cricket soon after.
The PCA was very supportive, as was Warwickshire, his county. They didn’t punish him for his mistakes and gave him the opportunity to live again with dignity. He’s been drafted in as coach for the second XI and at the county’s academy.
I keep wondering, what would have happened if a player from the subcontinent had tested positive? I can practically guarantee that it would have been dubbed a national outrage, a betrayal of the country and people. He probably would have become a pariah. And at the same time, we don’t have any real testing procedure in place. How does one keep perspective?
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