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The Boys Of Substance...

...substance abuse, that is. Match-fixing is passe, it's fixing of quite another nature that threatens to snowball into the next big scandal in the cricketing world.

The Boys Of Substance...
Pradeep Mandhani
The Boys Of Substance...
outlookindia.com
-0001-11-30T00:00:00+0553
Cricket may be on the road to purging itself of the slew of match-fixing allegations arrayed against it. But another scandal is simmering which threatens to engulf the game: the use of steroids and other sophisticated performance-enhancing drugs by cricketers to either overcome their playing deficiencies or give them an extra zip.

Cricketers are generally not subjected to doping tests. In its absence, drug use has become fairly common. Right now there is just a general warning from the International Cricket Council (icc) against substance abuse. But cricket bodies around the world will soon be forced to submit players to stern drug testing. "Random testing will be brought about soon," states an icc official.

Cricketers will come under scrutiny once the icc translates intent into action. icc spokesperson Mark Harrison clearly spelt out the plan, "Legislation in South Africa will make it compulsory for all sportsmen to submit to drug tests and this will apply to the 2003 cricket World Cup." That could be cause for worry to many cricketers.

Outlook's investigations reveal that many members of the current Indian team, including senior players, are guilty of using performance-enhancing drugs banned in all other sports. If former coach Anshuman Gaekwad is to be believed, then Rahul Dravid, Javagal Srinath and Ajit Agarkar, among others, use drugs to help augment their game (see interview).

Insiders point out that the use of drugs explains how the lean players of yesterday have turned into muscular machines. Nervousness has made way for unprecedented aggressiveness. And fitness levels have reached new heights. "For some years now, there has been this rumour around the world that cricketers take performance-enhancing drugs. Perhaps their use of over-the-counter drugs was a stepping stone to banned drugs," says cricket commentator Harsha Bhogle.

Adds a cricketer who was till recently in the Indian squad, "Everybody, from the Ranji to the national team, is taking drugs in one form or another. Amateurs rely on popping steroids and other energising pills while the professionals go for refined powders or intravenous drugs that cost a fortune." According to him, taking steroids is like going on a supplementary diet. "Every youngster knows exactly which tablet to take and its price could be Rs 8 for a capsule to Rs 16,000 in the black market for a heavy dose of injections like Erythropoietin, which improves endurance," he says. While dressing rooms store the drugs of personal choice of players, in the open, milder versions make up for the "energising drinks" during breaks and when refreshments come on the field.

But if some players are into steroids and such, there are many who strongly disapprove of it. "The bottomline is that if all players do the same workout and put in the same effort, why should a few gain an extra advantage by means of drugs? There should be dope tests in cricket. Why should cricketers be exempt and be given exclusive treatment?" asks former Indian captain Ravi Shastri. "This kind of phenomenal change in performance never happened during our time. The use of drugs that enhances performance does not go with the spirit of the game. The bcci, like the Australian Cricket Board, should ban drugs," says former wicketkeeper Kiran More. Another ex-wicketkeeper, Syed Kirmani, has a different take on the subject. "The use of drugs could be attributed to the fact that the calendar is full of cricket.In order to sustain one's stamina and fitness, players are perhaps resorting to artificial means of improving performance."

That the overdose of cricket could be a factor to the doses of drugs is borne out by another former Indian wicketkeeper, Saba Karim. "For recoveries and pain-killing, we take steroids and cortisone injections," he says. Cortisone, comprising corticosteroids, is itself a highly restricted drug banned by the International Olympic Committee (ioc). And these drugs could produce several toxic side-effects if their use is prolonged or administered under inadequate medical control. Former captain Mohammed Azharuddin was one player administered this drug for an extended period. "I had a back problem. It was taken after medical advice," Azharuddin told Outlook from London.

"Cortisone produces euphoria, so it obviously helps the cricketer play better under strenuous conditions. It's like you are at ease while opponents struggle hard to perform," says Dr P.S.M. Chandran, director, sports medicine centre at the Sports Authority of India (sai). Moreover, the use of corticosteroids is only allowed externally. In fact, ioc rules prescribe that a team doctor wishing to administer this drug by local, intra-articular injection or by inhalation must give written notification to the relevant medical authority.

But it is not members of the Indian team alone who could be in the dock. Outlook's investigations have shown that the use of banned drugs is rampant around the world. The general feeling after talking to a wide cross-section of players, ex-cricketers and cricket officials is that drugs have changed the face of cricket, enabling cricketers to dramatically improve attributes.

Realising that the rampant use of illegal drugs—banned by the icc in its code of conduct for players—has become a serious problem, the apex body has decided to crack the whip. "It's a complex area with many interpretations. That's why we're preparing a report to examine the issue in its full context and then implement it," says Harrison. He further told Outlook that incoming icc chief Malcolm Speed had been asked to prepare a paper on the "whole issue of drugs" in cricket for consideration by the icc executive board.

Considering that the demands of the game have become exacting—where flexibility, strength and endurance are absolute pre-requisites—cricketers have left nothing to chance in their search for that extra edge. It is not surprising then that a whole range of drugs that promise anything from muscular strength to enhanced alertness, delaying of fatigue and aggressiveness in mentally trying situations are available.

Androgenic anabolic steroids, amphetamines and stimulants are the most sought after, and all are banned by the ioc. While fast bowlers resort to the use of steroids for power and strength, batsmen go for amphetamines to induce extreme alertness.

Then there is the case of pain-killers like cortisone. The former doctor of the Indian team, Ravinder Chadha, admits corticosteroids have a euphoric effect. But he is quick to add that he never administered it to players. "Sachin (Tendulkar) was treated with common pain-killers like combiflam for his back and not the widely-suspected nandrolone," he says.

It was the use of this drug that led to Western Australian bowler Duncan Spencer's 19-month ban from domestic and international cricket in April this year. Spencer was being treated for his back injury and he tested positive for nandrolone after a random test following Western Australia's domestic limited-over series final against New South Wales in Sydney early this year.

Among the Indians, though, the tendency is to stonewall. Agarkar was markedly embarrassed when told his teammates had revealed he was taking drugs. He told Outlook from Harare, where he is playing the triangular series, "Okay... But now I am telling you that I'm not taking steroids. Don't write anything like that." Attempts by Outlook to contact Dravid and Srinath in Harare proved futile.

Other teams in the subcontinent, notably Pakistan, have also been plagued with allegations of drug abuse. Since the early '80s, the Pakistani cricket team has been under a cloud of suspicion over the use of narcotics and stimulants by its players. A senior member of the Pakistan Cricket Board told Outlook: "Look, there are no rules for drug testing. If there were, then a lot of players would be in a spot of bother, including our hurricane, Shoaib Akhtar." Former Sri Lankan cricketer Ranjit Fernando doesn't believe drug use is a "massive problem" in cricket but acknowledges the need for legislation to be brought in quickly as there are enough instances in cricketing history to count. "Random testing is necessary if one wants to prevent drug abuse," he says. A sentiment echoed by former World Cup-winning captain, Arjuna Ranatunga: "It is not a bad idea if cricketers like athletes are subjected to the same tests." However, on the subject of its use among the Sri Lankan players, Ranatunga leaves it at a cryptic, "I am not very sure."

Interestingly, the subject of drug usage has been focused on in the icc's Anti-Corruption Unit chief Sir Paul Condon's report on corruption in cricket in May this year. "My unit has received a number of allegations from different sources and locations in the world about the unlawful use of performance-enhancing drugs or its recreational use by players past and present," the report says.

Condon also refers to allegations of baggage and equipment on tours being used to facilitate the movement of illicit drugs. While saying that many of the allegations fell through because they could not be substantiated, Condon notes, "This leaves a small number of allegations from people who have shown to be knowledgeable and reliable of aspects relating to malpractice in cricket." In the end, he firmly maintains that "this should provide a wake-up call to the icc to ensure that it monitors the potential for drug abuse in cricket".

His assertion has a ring of truth. A cricketer told Outlook that drugs move with the baggage of the Indian team when they tour. To avoid embarrassment, players often pass it via their physiotherapists. In this context, former physio Ali Irani's statement in an interview to a Mumbai eveninger—"I received parcels and bags and I did so from everybody, not just Azhar. The bags were delivered to my room and the players came and collected them"—has an ominous tone.

One reason cricket bodies have not shown interest in enforcing a drug-free regime is they consider cricket a "low-risk" sport for drugs use. At present, only four Test countries have even the ability to test for drugs—Australia, New Zealand, England and South Africa.

But the 'low-risk' stand is countered by many athletic bodies. Some have even gone to court challenging the discrimination. Sunita Godara, an Asian marathon champion and director of a sports ngo, Health Fitness Trust, has filed a public interest litigation in the Delhi High Court. Godara's petition calls for a uniform dope control policy for all sports, including cricket."Even non-Olympic sports have endeavoured to join the anti-doping movement. Therefore, cricket too should be placed at par with other sports that have a strict dope control regime."

Dalbir Singh, a fitness scientist, told Outlook, "It is a great injustice to other sportspersons that they're pitted against cricketers who thrive on drugs while others have to go through the rigours of strict dope control tests." Chandran points out that a cricketer will take a dosage which is on par with sprinters or discus throwers. "So how can it be ethical for one and illegal for the other?" he asks. Another drug expert, Dr Alka Beotra, a scientist at the sai's Dope Control Laboratory, says: "One can easily make out by looking at the player whether he has been on performance-enhancing drugs. The most common symptom is weight gain and puffiness."

Tennis hero Leander Paes' father, Dr Vece Paes, who is also a sports medicine expert, also agrees that drug testing should be brought into cricket, like in the case of tennis. "Drug testing was started five years back in tennis where penalties are imposed," he says. The random tests have intensified after Czech player Petr Korda tested positive.

That it is a problem is not lost out on the bcci. Board secretary Jaywant Lele acknowledges the situation but is defiant. "Cricket isn't an Olympic sport, so we don't bother about dope guidelines. It's up to the icc to devise a charter; we won't do it on our own as there is no necessity." Incidentally, it was Lele who'd objected to Indian cricketers being subjected to dope tests at the Commonwealth Games in Kuala Lumpur in 1998 saying that such a move could invite embarrassment. "We have no problems with any medicine or drug that gives energy and helps you play better. As long as the players don't look drunk on the field, it is okay with us!" he says.

Till the scandal broke, the bcci never admitted match-fixing existed in cricket. It may still hope Indian cricket is safe. But hope and reality are two different things. "If drugs have become the order of the day in other sports, there is no reason to believe cricket will remain untouched by its invasion," says former India skipper Bishen Singh Bedi.

The adequate if still-in-the-closet examples of prevalent drug abuse should be a wake-up call to all cricketing nations. Having just about exorcised the ghost of match-fixing, cricket should not be besieged by another scandal.

And murali krishnan

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