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For Shoaib, the nightmare has just begun

Lack of education and a crisis of confidence among players lie at the heart of the matter, writes Abdul Majid Bhatti.

india Updated: Oct 17, 2006 21:17 IST

On Monday, one day before Pakistan begin their CT campaign, they were handed a body blow. Shoaib Akhtar and Md Asif, who tested positive for the banned drug nandrolone in tests conducted by the PCB in late September, left the squad here in Jaipur, to return to Pakistan in disgrace.

It has been a long, long night for Pakistani cricket and Pakistan itself. The name of our nation has been dragged through the mud yet again and there are too many questions and no answers.

The events of last evening were startling. The Pakistani team's liaison officer here spent the latter part of Sunday running back and forth from a local shop recharging Shoaib's local prepaid connection.

Shoaib himself spent Sunday night on the phone, desperately trying to get in touch with family and friends in Pakistan and England. He is completely devastated ever since hearing the news in the evening, just after the Pakistan team management was informed.

I have spoken to Shoaib a few times since last evening and despite seeing him in some sticky situations, I must admit that I have never seen him in the state he is in now.

All he keeps saying is that he did not take anything on purpose and if there has not been a mistake, it has to be something to do with the medication he has been on during his recovery process.

At this moment, God only knows what the truth is but I suspect that lack of education among our cricketers in Pakistan has definitely contributed to this mess. And they are but a reflection of Pakistan's own poor literacy rate.

Shoaib, for all his starry airs, is not very educated and Asif, barely a year or so into his international career, is our equivalent of your Munaf Patel. He comes from an extremely poor family and was plucked out from a village in the vicinity of Sheikhupura and introduced to international cricket.

Despite his stint with Leicestershire this summer, he remains a simple man. He probably hasn't even begun to understand what is happening to him.

Still, Shoaib, nine years into his international career, should have known better. The news filtering in even as I write this is that his B sample is also positive. If that is so, then no one knows better than Shoaib that this could well be the end of the road for him. He is 31 and a two-year ban would be disastrous, in any case, how long can a paceman with the kind of injuries he has had go on?

He and the PCB should have been more careful, after all, this has been a very bad year for him, fitness wise. He has had orthoscopy on both knees in Melbourne in February, soon after that hairline fracture that he suffered during the Karachi Test against India last winter.

He was probably on a variety of medical drugs to speed up his recovery process. Of the rest of the players, they are obviously stunned and demoralized. Sunday night at the Rajputana Sheratonhas seen innumerable meetings but the morale is down. After all, with these two gone, they have lost two of their strike bowlers and are down to 12.

Of the two players who are due to replace them, left-arm spinner Abdul Rehman does not have an Indian visa and we are not sure how long it would take for him to get one. Like the remaining 30 Trophy probables, he had got a single entry visa stamped on his passport but he used that up to come to Dharamshala for Sialkot's game against Uttar Pradesh.

The other person who will come in if the ICC's technical committee allows replacements will be allrounder Yasser Arafat. Pakistan cannot replace bowlers of the calibre of these two, so what they are planning to do is shore up their batting instead and make use of their plethora of allrounders.

I think the responsibility for this also lies with the PCB's medical commission and Darryn Lifson, the physio travelling with the team. They should have crosschecked everything, they know our players.

In fact, the medical commission comprises Dr Nissaq Rizvi, a former international athlete and Dr Sohail Saleem, who coordinated the entire testing process. It would also be interesting to see how the new PCB regime led by Dr Naseem Ashraf copes with this, so soon after the Oval crisis. Pakistan has never had it so bad, so often.

(The writer is the senior Cricket Correspondent of Pakistan's Jung Group of newspapers.)

First Published: Oct 17, 2006 12:03 IST