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Akhtar, Asif test positive for steroid

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SMOKE SCREEN: The taxi driver who took Shoaib Akhtar and Mohammad Asif to the New Delhi airport removes a paper covering from the car window after successfully whisking away the Pakistan bowlers from the media. Photo: PTI
SMOKE SCREEN: The taxi driver who took Shoaib Akhtar and Mohammad Asif to the New Delhi airport removes a paper covering from the car window after successfully whisking away the Pakistan bowlers from the media. Photo: PTI

Vijay Lokapally

JAIPUR: `Disappointment' would not be an appropriate word to describe the mood in the Pakistani camp following the revelation on Monday that Shoaib Akhtar and Mohammad Asif had failed drug tests and were asked to return to Pakistan.

On the eve of the Champions Trophy match against Sri Lanka, Pakistan could not have imagined a worse setback. But the long-term repercussions of this doping scandal the second most important incident of this nature after the Shane Warne diuretics positive in 2003 could be far-reaching, according to observers.

Coach Bob Woolmer and captain Younis Khan were crestfallen at Monday's match-eve press conference as the issue rocked Pakistan cricket and left it short of two of its most potent weapons in the ongoing tournament.

"Very disappointed," was how Woolmer described his feelings about the result of the positive tests on Akhtar and Asif for the steroid nandrolone.

Under scrutiny

Interestingly, Akhtar had been under scrutiny for a while and the initiative to test the players was taken by Woolmer.

"The buck stops with the coach. You judge us by what we do on the field. I can only say that I initiated the idea of the drug test. It was done at the end of September and I take responsibility for what has happened," said Woolmer, known for his tough views on many issues that have confronted the game's administrators.

"This is the first time that drug testing has been officially instituted by the ICC. So we thought we will pre-empt that. As a coach my job is to ensure the players get the right environment and the best opportunities.

"Unfortunately the timing of the tests was not right, but there we are. If it is going to happen, it will happen. It is our responsibility to educate the players. Hopefully it won't happen again. I have not come across anything like this in my life but I know it will be exciting on Tuesday. I have to deal with it as it happens. It will be a wonderful experience for me."

Cleansing the system

It is learnt that Woolmer had suspected some of the Pakistan players to be indulging in drug abuse and was keen on cleansing the system. Skipper Younis Khan too had an opinion on this. "We all have to take responsibility because it is for our good that this malady be removed at the earliest," said the current Pakistan captain.

Akhtar and Asif were immediately withdrawn from the Pakistan team. By Monday evening, they had taken a flight home.

Unlike Warne, who tested positive for diuretics amiloride and hydrochlorothiazide in a test conducted by the Australian Sports Drug Agency (ASDA) in 2003, the Pakistani bowlers have tested positive in tests conducted by their own cricket administration.

And again, unlike in the Warne case, where the Australian Cricket Board could have pressed for a lesser punishment, a steroid positive carries a two-year suspension if the doping violation is established after a hearing process.

Akhtar and Asif will have the opportunity to plead "no fault or negligence" under WADA's and ICC's exceptional circumstances rule for a reduced sanction, but normally in such cases the player has to prove how the banned substance entered his body.

According to an ICC spokesman, the PCB had adopted the anti-doping code following the parent body tying up with the WADA and also educated the players on the doping policy, the do's and don'ts. The ICC became WADA-compliant in July this year and has a `zero-tolerance' policy.

The only surprise in the sequence of events on Monday was the PCB announcing the positive tests even before the `B' sample test and the ICC confirming the same. Normally, strict confidentiality is maintained till the `B' sample is tested or the right to have the test is waived by the player. Later, the `B' sample also tested positive.

No BCCI policy

It may be mentioned here that the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) is yet to formulate an anti-doping policy. "We are conducting only random tests on the players during the Champions Trophy but the Board has not framed any anti-doping policy. We do not conduct any mandatory dope tests on our players," said BCCI's Executive Secretary and ICC Champions Trophy Tournament Director Prof. Ratnakar Shetty.

Sri Lankan coach Tom Moody was critical of Akhtar and Asif indulging in such a practice. "In any sport use of drug is not welcome. It is sad but I am sure there are more things to come out with it. It is just unfortunate for cricket that two wonderful cricketers will not be on show in the Champions

Trophy. I am sure they would be disappointed," said Moody.

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