Pakistan rocked by doping scandal
Nicknamed “The Rawalpindi Express” for his blistering pace, Pakistan paceman Shoaib Akhtar’s career has been a mixture of brilliance, frustration and injury, but his latest misdemeanour could well be his last.
On Monday, Shoaib and new ball partner Mohammad Asif left Pakistani cricket in a state of shock after they were withdrawn from the Champions Trophy squad in disgrace after testing positive for the steroid nandrolone in pre-tournament screening.
Despite the turbulent history of Pakistan cricket, this latest scandal has rocked the cricket establishment to its core and may well signal the end of Shoaib’s career, a player many observers and critics regard as a flawed genius.
“He has had a lot of talent, but has always been a difficult person to deal with,” former Test captain Javed Miandad told Reuters.
“It is a shame because next year’s World Cup was a stage set for him to finally showcase his full talents on the world scene.”
At 31, Shoaib is unlikely to take part in the World Cup in the Caribbean next March after Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) director of cricket operations Saleem Altaf said he expected both players to be handed two-year bans.
Rated as the fastest bowler in the world, Shoaib has taken 165 Test wickets and more than 200 in one-dayers since his international debut in 1997.
He has been reported for a suspect bowling action three times and dogged by fitness problems for almost a decade.
In 2004, he faced a inquiry for a lack of commitment in a Test against India and has been dropped from the team and fined on disciplinary grounds on several occasions.
However, each time he has made impressive comebacks, the latest in the one-day series against England in August after six months out through injury.
This time, a comeback appears slim with the prospect of two years on the sidelines looming large on his horizon.
By comparison, the 23-year-old Asif can return to resume a promising start to his international career that saw him take 30 wickets in just six Tests.
The latest scandal is a continuation of disciplinary problems in Pakistani cricket.
From accusations of match-fixing and internal revolts against captains, to players being charged with sexual assault and drug use, Pakistan cricket has seen it all since it gained Test status in 1952.
But even for the most-hardened Pakistani cricket fan, the news that both Shoaib and Asif tested positive for a performance-enhancing substance must come as a complete shock.
“It is a big shame for us. The initial reports are not good but I just hope they may have taken the drugs by mistake,” national selector Iqbal Qasim told reporters.
Miandad was less generous and blamed the authorities for a failure to keep players disciplined.
“Players have been allowed to do what they like. Tell me when has the board ever taken strong action against any player for any indiscipline?” the stalwart of 122 Tests asked.
Miandad was in the team that went to the West Indies in 1993 and in Grenada, four players—Wasim Akram, Waqar Younis, Mushtaq Ahmed and Aaqib Javed—were arrested for possessing marijuana.
The PCB let them off with a minimum fine and a warning.
In 1997, again in the West Indies, a member of the under-19 team, Zeeshan Pervez, was accused of raping a woman in Jamaica.
He was later exonerated by a court.
Miandad and Wasim have both also been victims of internal revolts against their captaincy.
This August, Pakistan became the first team ever to forfeit a Test match after captain Inzamam ul-Haq and his men refused to continue playing in the fourth Test against England at the Oval in protest over the umpires’ decision to penalise them for alleged ball-tampering.
Inzamam was later cleared of the ball-tampering charges but is serving a four-match one-day international ban for bringing the game into disrepute.
Worse was to follow in early October, when his deputy Younis Khan stepped down as captain for the Champions Trophy saying he could not be a “dummy captain”.
One day later, PCB chairperson Shaharyar Khan resigned and Younis was convinced by the new chief to take back the captaincy.
The board itself has never been stable.
Run on the direct orders of the President on an ad-hoc basis since the 1999 World Cup, it has had five chairpersons in the last seven years, appointed ten different captains and ten coaches in the last decade.—Reuters