Warne's Shame

Print edition : March 14, 2003

Shane Warne. - GLEN HUNT/AP

FROM Brian Lara's sublime innings in the opening match against South Africa to John Davison's stunning 66-ball century (a World Cup record) for Canada against the West Indies, the 2003 World Cup has been witness to some riveting cricket. Despite all the cricketing twists and turns, controversies have played a large part so far, and none bigger than Shane Warne's unceremonious exit from the World Cup.

Prior to Australia's opening match against Pakistan, the Australian Sports Drug Agency (ASDA) found the diuretics hydrochlorthiazide and amiloride in a sample taken from Warne on January 22, the eve of the first VB series final against England. On February 22, the Australian Cricket Board (ACB) handed Warne a one-year ban from domestic and international cricket.

Warne has been plagued by off-field controversies throughout his career, including admitting to supplying information to an Indian bookmaker in 1994. He may be fortunate since a two-year ban is the penalty prescribed by the ACB's anti-doping code for such offences. Warne says he intends to appeal the verdict. Meanwhile, the ACB has named off spinner Nathan Hauritz as his replacement.

A visibly upset Warne reacted to the verdict thus: "I feel I am a victim of the anti-doping hysteria. I also want to repeat, I have never taken any performance-enhancing drugs and never will. I feel a 12 months suspension is a harsh penalty for not checking what I took with anyone." Diuretics are not performance-enhancing drugs but can be used as masking agents to prevent the detection of performance-enhancing drugs. Performance-enhancing drugs such as steroids can hasten the healing process after injuries. Warne raised suspicion after his unexpectedly speedy recovery from a dislocated shoulder he sustained in a one-day match on December 15.

Warne claims that he inadvertently took a diuretic pill given to him by his mother, believing it was a "fluid tablet" that would dehydrate him. Some reports indicate that the appearance-conscious Warne might have taken the pill for cosmetic purposes. Despite such claims, Warne's case raises suspicions. His plea of ignorance is not very convincing since Australia regularly administers drug tests and actively educates athletes about drug use. Further, most players would have been aware that random testing procedures were in place for this World Cup. One major question remains unanswered. Why was a seasoned campaigner, from a thoroughly professional and fitness-conscious side, taking a dehydrating agent on the eve of a match? Surely, Warne has seen enough instances of cramps on the cricket field, particularly in the midst of a hot Australian summer, to be wary of dehydrating agents.

If the ban signals the end of Warne's career, cricket will not only be deprived of a legend but also of one of its most colourful personalities.

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