The responsibility rests with the players

"Fast bowling is not like sprints in athletics. In fact, if the pacemen build excessive muscles, then it might lead to major changes in their action, which could actually prove detrimental." - DILIP VENGSARKAR-PTI

Do steroids enhance performance in cricket? Opinions vary from cricketers to fitness trainers to administrators as S. Dinakar finds out.

Do the use of banned substances enhance the performance levels in a sport such as cricket, which is based on skills? This is a pertinent question following the positive tests for nandrolone returned by Pakistan's fast bowlers, Shoaib Akhtar and Mohammed Asif.

Sportstar sought the views of some prominent former cricketers, physios, fitness trainers and administrators on the subject.

Dr. P. S. M. Chandran, Director, Sports Medicine, SAI, is an expert in this field. He says, "Drugs help all cricketers. Stimulants can delay fatigue and increase the concentration levels of the players and hence it is the drug of choice for batsmen and fielders who tend to tire out fast."

He goes on, "Anabolic steroids can help players in generating explosive power and hence pace bowlers go for them. Power comes from muscle hypertrophy and hence muscle development through steroids help."

Opinions vary though. Dilip Vengsarkar, Chairman of the National Selection Committee, believes the intake of steroids does not necessarily lead to improved performances in cricket. The former India captain points out, "You can say that these substances enable you to build muscles. But then, fast bowling is more about rhythm and technique."

As an elegant stroke-maker in the Indian middle-order, Vengsarkar has faced the quickest of bowlers. He says, "You look at guys who could be genuinely quick like Michael Holding, Jeff Thomson or Imran Khan, they were tall and wiry. They were not muscular guys. Fast bowling is not like sprints in athletics. In fact, if the pacemen build excessive muscles, then it might lead to major changes in their action, which could actually prove detrimental."

Vengsarkar's argument is not without reason. However, there are other elements involved here such as a player's recovery between matches and from injuries.

Former India physio Andrew Leipus has said that the pacemen ingesting steroids could add a few yards to their speed. They could also come back quicker from injuries. And these cricketers might also be spared of a few fitness concerns since "a stronger body is more resistant to injuries."

Javagal Srinath, arguably, the quickest bowler produced by India, was part of the only Indian team that underwent a drug test, ahead of the 2003 World Cup in South Africa.

The former pace spearhead from Mysore, like all the other members of that Sourav Ganguly-led team, tested negative. Srinath's career is a shining example of integrity and commitment on and off the field. He, like Vengsarkar, says that pace bowling is more about following the right methods. But he quickly adds, "I went through a study on nandrolone and discovered that the substance does enable a player recover quickly from an injury. This definitely gives the player in question an unfair advantage."

Says Srinath, "There are no short cuts. Every injury has a specific time-frame for recovery and the cricketer will have to be patient and follow the right path." The former India paceman says that for those competing at the highest level, "there can be no excuses for ignorance." Srinath feels a cricketer has to be his own doctor first. "It is his responsibility to go through the list of substances that are banned. Even while taking additional food supplements, he has to get it cleared by the doctor or the physio. If a cricketer does not do that, he has to face the consequences."

The cricketers need to be educated at the junior level. Says former India batsman Mohinder Amarnath, "The cricketers should know what is right and what is not right to consume when they are young. This is crucial."

Mohinder, a fearless batsman against fast bowling in his time, is also of the opinion that the Indian Board should conduct regular drug tests at the under-19 and the Ranji Trophy levels. "If you eliminate the menace of drugs at an earlier stage, then it would definitely help. Also, all our cricketers need to be aware of the facts before they represent the country. You see some of the cough syrups could also contain banned substances."

He does not think that drugs could actually enhance performances in batting, running between the wickets or fielding. "Concentration and the ability to last at the crease are things you develop as a batsman. These are part of your mental attributes. I do not think these can be bettered through the use of drugs. And most teams, from the junior levels, have a fitness trainer. So the fitness levels have gone up. You can say the drugs could mainly help the pacemen regroup from matches and from fitness worries. But an international cricketer should be responsible and he should know. If somebody is hauled up, no leniency should be shown."

For a cash-rich Board, the BCCI, surprisingly, does not have a proper programme in place for bringing the cricketers under the drug scanner. The cricketers in the country, both at the junior level and the first class stage, do not have to undergo any test for detecting the use of banned substances. And the International Cricket Council only conducts random tests during its tournaments.

Queried about this, the BCCI secretary, Niranjan Shah, says, "We believe in educating the cricketers. Mr. John Gloster, who is our physio, monitors the players. He gives them material on the subject to read. He checks whatever they eat." Gloster, who maintained that explosive power was a part of cricket, confirmed it.

Mr. Shah's reasoning is interesting. "We can conduct the tests before every tour or tournament. But even if these are done, there is a possibility that a cricketer who does not get detected here, tests positive at a later date, perhaps, during the tournament. He could take something later. So our policy is to educate the cricketers and leave it to their integrity."

"There are no short cuts. Every injury has a specific timeframe for recovery and the cricketer will have to be patient and follow the right path." - JAVAGAL SRINATH-THE HINDU PHOTO LIBRARY

Ramji Srinivasan, the fitness trainer of the Tamil Nadu Ranji Trophy team, says cricket is more skill-based than physical. But he adds that drugs could enable a cricketer to overcome fatigue sooner. This is a critical factor in the era of hectic schedules with the gaps between games and tours reducing quite drastically. The demands on a cricketer's body are greater, and in an era of super bucks, the temptation to rush back is higher.

Then he dwells on anabolic steroids and blood doping. "Anabolic steroids increase the testosterone levels. They increase the muscle mass. A fast bowler consuming them might have greater power and strength, and could bowl faster but he still has to be accurate. This is where the technique and skill come in. Sheer power will not help. Then there is blood doping, where the drugs can be masked. The drugs can be hard to detect here, since the blood rejuvenates constantly."

India needs to be pro-active. The BCCI has to put together a foolproof drug detection system in place. The Board has the resources. All it requires is the will.

DRUG BUST-UPS IN OTHER SPORT

1988: Canadian Ben Johnson tests positive for stanozolol after winning the 100m in a World record 9.79 seconds at the Seoul Olympics. He is then stripped of his gold medal. He later admits to using the steroid even when he ran the 100m in a then world record time of 9.83 seconds in 1987 and the IAAF erases the mark from the record books.

Ben Johnson returns to the track in 1991, but in 1993 he is caught again for doping at a race in Montreal and is subsequently banned for life.

1998: Czech Republic tennis star Petr Korda returns a positive test for nandrolone at Wimbledon and is banned for one year. The ban marked the end of his career.

1999: Italian cyclist Marco Pantani, popularly known as `Il Pirata' (The Pirate), flunks a blood test at the Giro d'Italia. The winner of the Tour de France and the Giro d'Italia in 1998 dies of cocaine overdose in 2004.

Cuban high jumper Javier Sotomayor, the winner of the world titles in 1993 and 1997, the Olympic champion in 1992 and world record holder at 2.45 metres, tests positive for cocaine use during the Pan-American Games in Canada. On appeal his two-year ban is reduced to one year.

Linford Christie, the Olympic champion in 1992, tests positive for nandrolone during an indoor meet in Dortmund, Germany. The British athletic federation subsequently declares him innocent, but the IAAF overrules it and confirms suspension.

2004: The 2003 World Time Trial Champion, David Millar admits to using EPO and is stripped of his title and suspended for two years.

2005: The founders of California-based BALCO (Bay Area Laboratory Co-operative) plead guilty to steroid distribution. The names of top athletes such as Dwain Chambers, C. J. Hunter, Marion Jones and Tim Montgomery, and baseball stars Barry Bonds and Gary Sheffield are dragged in the aftermath of the scandal.

Argentina's tennis player Guillermo Canas is suspended for two years for the use of a diuretic called hydrochlorothiazide.

2006: Barely a week after winning the 2006 Tour de France, U.S. cyclist Floyd Landis tests positive for an elevated testosterone/epitestosterone ratio after his stunning come-from-behind victory in the 17th stage.

Around the same time the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency reveals that sprinter Justin Gatlin, winner of Olympic and World 100m titles and a joint World record holder with Jamaican Asafa Powell, tests positive for testosterone. He is banned for eight years.