Acquitting both Shoaib Akhtar and Muhammad Asif has been like a tonic for both the players and for the Pakistan cricket.

KHALID BUTT, Bureau Chief, Lahore
Dec 11 - 17, 2006

Being a born optimist it always feels good when things start moving in cheerful mode. One had taken increasingly to follow the sporting world over the years when politics were sidelined to be replaced, by poor options with funny names. From basic democracy to devolution of power all treaded on the same path leaving you with no choice but to follow sports to drown your sorrows.

However, in due course sports too were overtaken by a familiar pattern of same authoritarian rule visible elsewhere. The results were naturally inevitable. Pakistan lost its hold gradually in all games where it once ruled the world. Cricket was however an exception, which for some time was showing signs of resilience and came back to its old glory. Then came the surprising choice to saddle the game with an old fossil dug up from somewhere to play havoc during his stay. It was only his somewhat ignoramus and controversial departure those things are suddenly stirring in the game. One was amazed at the various actions taken by PCB during that period. This included the timing and manner of the dope test carried out and its aftermath. Equally surprising was the choice of the Anti Doping Commission headed by Shahid Hamid and induction of Intikhab Alam as its member. While Shahid Hamid had apparently no stature or relevance, Intikhab Alam, a former Pakistan captain, had long history of controversial role of someone who has been anti-player and biased over the years.

Starting from his dubious role in the ouster of former captain Saeed Ahmed during Kardar's era to the incident of Mike Gatting vs Shakoor Rana, his part made him a poor choice. Quite predictably he openly showed his bias and venom as well as poor judgment in the case. It is quite obvious he has been all along looking for a job in PCB and was out to play the familiar part of a known toady he all along has been in his career. It was by a stroke of good luck that the choice of tribunal members was made on the right lines. Justice Fakhruddin Ebrahim, a former Supreme Court judge, attorney general and governor, is not only an eminent jurist but known for his independent views and above all on innate knowledge of the game. The other member Haseeb Ahsan too fell in the same category and the result has been the landmark judgment delivered on Tuesday last.

Acquitting both Shoaib Akhtar and Muhammad Asif, while the detailed verdict was still to come, the announcement itself has been like a tonic for both the cricketers and for Pakistan cricket. It was also virtually a slap on the face of the Commission which had taken long and dithered over the matter to finally pronounce their shocking two-year ban on the players. Theirs was a decision which had created widespread controversy, and doubt about their judgment especially the flippant way they handled the whole issue.

One feels happy and tend to rejoice over the news which is bound to lift not only the careers of two fallen stars but also prospects of Pakistan cricket prior to the coming tour of South Africa and later the all important World Cup in March. Here is wishing both Shoaib and Asif, best of luck and advising PCB to be wary in choosing known sadist people like Shahid and Intikhab, for such sensitive assignments in future.

Meanwhile, the historic verdict by Appellate Tribunal has made headlines the world over. It was shocking for few and heartening for some as the Pakistan Cricket Board's Anti-doping Appellate Tribunal acquitted both Shoaib Akhtar and Muhammad Asif from a ban earlier imposed on them for using banned drugs. "This was a PCB conducted test and punishment should also given under the PCB rules and not the ICC or WADA," was the verdict of the appeal committee chief Fakhruddin G Ibrahim in Karachi and further elaborated to media by Chairman PCB Dr. Nasim Ashraf in Islamabad. The duo would be available for selection from right now. However, chief selector Wasim Bari is not in favour of injecting them straightaway and wants that both should play at domestic level before making a case for inclusion in the nation team.

When asked about possible reactions by International Cricket Council and the World Anti Doping Agency on this latest decision, he said they had nothing to do with it because the tests were taken out of the competition by the PCB. "I don't need to communicate any international body on this issue because these tests were taken purely under PCB rules and it should decide the players fate," he said. He added that both the players viewed in their appeals that they knew nothing about the legal status of nandrolone. The report also includes a note of dissent from Dr. Danish Zaheer, who was medical expert of the Appeal Committee. He pointed out flaws in the testing procedures carried out by the PCB and also stated that the whole process should be repeated and a fresh verdict should be given.

PCB chairman admitted that the education of players regarding doping issues was not sufficient and more steps were needed. "We would educate players and teach them about these issues," he said. He, however, said that the whole episode has left a positive impact on the players and now everybody would be conscious about sensitivities of the intake. "They would be much careful now," he added. He said that this was PCB's credit that it conducted this test and no other board took the lead on this matter. International community should appreciate it instead of criticizing the appeal body's decision, he replied when pressed about the international reaction. He said that PCB handled the issue in all fairness and honesty. "We had called Mark Gay from UK to assist the committee and help provide justice to all," he said.

When asked to comment, Shoaib Akhtar summed up the decision with these words, "I am breathing again, my life was jolted by the ban, I can't describe the feeling. I was so disappointed that I was not sleeping properly. I am thankful to the Almighty Allah to give both of us a proper chance to fight the ban."

Mohammad Asif reacted with the remark: "I am delighted to hear that I will be playing again. These two months have been the worst of my life and only today I resumed training. I had lost six pounds through this painful process. I hope the bad days are over now. I badly want to play and it was only through the support of my captain Inzamam-ul-Haq and Coach Bob Woolmer that I kept myself going".

PCB Chairman Nasim Ashraf recorded his impression about the landmark verdict with these words: "We respect the decision because the committee was set up and acted in an open, transparent manner it has considered evidence from all parties, it has given players ample opportunity to present their case and come to a decision based on that".

Shahid Hamid Chairman of the original committee accepted the fact the PCB rules should have applied to the matter and that it was an internal matter. But the judgment his tribunal gave was according to WADA and ICC rules. It was this technicality that formed the crux of the new decision. Also, in light of the lawyers for Shoaib Akhtar arguing that providing players booklets and lists were not enough, Ashraf acknowledged that the PCB would have to become more strenuous in the future. "I think there are lessons form this to be learnt for everyone. For all players this is a very good lesson because the responsibility ultimately lies with them for what goes into their body. But the PCB will have to be much more stringent and strenuous in educating players of the dangers of such issues. Under our own policy appeals are allowed for players and they have used that to establish that exceptional circumstances did exist.