Pakistan fast bowlers Shoaib Akhtar and Mohammad Asif have had their bans for doping overturned, the chairman of an appeals committee said on Tuesday.
The committee found neither player was advised on taking vitamin supplements which may have led to them testing positive for the banned steroid nandrolone, committee chairman Fakhruddin Ibrahim told reporters in Karachi.
"This appeal committee therefore holds that Shoaib Akhtar and Mohammad Asif will not be deemed to have committed a doping offence," said Ibrahim, a retired judge.
"The ban and punishment imposed by the earlier tribunal is hereby set aside as being contrary to the provision of laws."
A tribunal banned Akhtar, 31, for two years in October for doping while Asif, 23, received a one-year ban for the same alleged offence.
Shoaib and Asif pleaded innocent to the charge and filed their appeals which were taken up by the appellate tribunal.Hasib Ehsan, a former Test player and a member of the new tribunal, said the tribunal found the PCB had not followed some procedures for dope test properly.
"That is why we decided to exonerate them completely of the charges," said Hasib.
Ebrahim also admitted that there was a discussion in the tribunal that before exonerating the players, they should make them undergo a fresh dope test.
He said this was the opinion of Dr. Danish Zaheer, who heads the Pakistan Sports Medicine Association and who was the third member of the tribunal.
"But the majority decided there was no need for a fresh dope test for us to reach a verdict, which was clear to us," Ebrahim said.
PCB's Director of Cricket Operations Saleem Altaf said he would not comment on the tribunal's decision as the detailed judgment was still awaited.
"But the Chairman has already said the decision of the appeals tribunal would be acceptable to us," he said.
"Shoaib and Asif will not be deemed to have committed a doping offence. The ban and punishment imposed by the earlier tribunal is hereby set aside as being contrary to the provision of laws", Ebrahim said adding the three-member tribunal made its decision by a 2-1 majority.Ibrahim said the committee found that the bowlers were never warned or cautioned against taking supplements.
Asif was only told to discontinue taking the supplements when he himself told team physio Darryn Lifson about them in August 2006, he said. Neither player was "even provided with any international or local publication warning them against the use of supplements."
It was the committee's "considered view that Shoaib Akhtar and Mohammad Asif have successfully established that they had an honest and reasonable belief that the supplements ingested by them did not contain any prohibited substances".
They were cleared under exceptional circumstances according to PCB's laws.
Shoaib and Asif were banned amidst tall claims by the PCB that they were keen to set an example and that there was no place for cheaters in the game.
The bowlers had returned home in disgrace from India, which hosted the Champions Trophy in October-November, after it was revealed that the duo had tested positive in out of competition tests conducted by the Board before the event.
A dope tribunal, headed by Barrister Shahid Hamid, was set up to probe the scandal. The tribunal ruled that the bowlers could not satisfy the members that they had taken the banned substance inadvertently while handing them the bans.
The ruling was welcomed by International Cricket Council which praised the PCB and the tribunal for their handling of the case and for imposing the penalties.
Former Pakistan captain Moin Khan said the decision of the board-appointed tribunals showed something was wrong somewhere but added that he was happy for the players as their careers were on line.
"It is good news for Pakistan cricket that they are available for selection now. It will strengthen our bowling a great deal on the South Africa tour and in the World Cup," Moin said.
Sources said the appeals tribunal had disagreements over the final outcome and before Ebrahim announced the verdict, he held an hour-long meeting with Hasib in his chamber.
"One can say with surety there was no absolute majority in the decision," one source said.
He said the PCB would now have to contend with the ICC and World Anti-doping Agency (WADA) as they were likely to ask how such long-term bans were lifted in such a short time.
"The ICC and WADA are not involved in this matter as it is an internal matter of the Pakistan board but we expect them to raise questions," one board official said.