Warne's case is a warning signal to ICC

Whether Shane Warne is a cheat or not is irrelevant at this juncture; the episode in itself, when cricket is on the centre-stage in South Africa, damages the image of the sport and its practitioners.

That the career of a classy and competent cricketer is on the line is indeed sad. Whether Shane Warne is a cheat or not is irrelevant at this juncture; the episode in itself, when cricket is on the centre-stage in South Africa, damages the image of the sport and its practitioners. Is he destined to join the rogue's gallery of the infamous, like Diego Maradona or Ben Johnson?

The episode of Shane Warne, opting out of the Australian team an hour before the opening match against Pakistan, brings back to memory of the 1988 Olympic Games in Seoul. Ben Johnson, then, tumbled from Hero to Zero.

The Australian Sports Drugs Agency declared the test of Warne as positive. The sample contained the traces of the banned substance, diuretics. Although diuretics is not classified in the category of performance enhancing substance, its use is prohibited since it is considered a masking agent for other enhancing drugs taken by an athlete.

Warne pleaded his innocence and ignorance like any other offender. Reports indicate that Warne's mother without realising implication of it suggested the medication. It is quite apparent that Warne does not require any performance-enhancing drug to prove his proficiency. Intriguing however is the speed of his recovery from the shoulder injury sustained in the recent VB one-day series in Australia.

Diuretics are administered to flush out fluids. There are views that Warne, to be fit for the World Cup in time, could have resorted to this quickest possible route to shed some weight.

Even if the second test, B sample, exonerates the Aussie icon, will it wash away the stain? Warne always has the knack of getting into problems. He was allegedly involved in a match-fixing scandal in Sri Lanka, pilloried by the media for making obnoxious calls to a member of the opposite sex in England. But everything was buried and forgotten by the magnificence of his gift, the art of leg spin bowling to which he added a new enchanting dimension.

Quite predictably, the incidents in Warne's career throw up a mood of despair among the administrators, notably the International Cricket Council. It is pretty obvious that the ICC did not heed to the warning sounded by Sir Paul Condon, who investigated the match-fixing scandals that almost devastated the confidence of the spectators.

Among the points he had catalogued, one was urging the ICC to pay greater attention to chances of doping slithering into the sport. The mandatory dope testing for all teams to meet the stipulation laid down by the laws of South Africa has only confirmed the fears of Sir Paul Condon.

It is not as if cricket has remained unaffected from charges of drug abuse. Though it may not be in the same scale as that of athletics, swimming, weightlifting and cycling — disciplines on which the International Olympic Committee and its Medical Commission have declared a crusade — several instances of doping in cricket surfaced in the Nineties. The case of the England all-rounder, Ian Botham is one such. The burly star was charged of using cannabis during the New Zealand tour and faced a period of suspension. So did Ed Giddins of Sussex suspected for cocaine abuse. Another English cricketer, Phil Tufnel failed a dope test.

New Zealanders, Dion Nash, Adam Parore, Shane Thompson, and Mathew Hart were charged with smoking pot during the tour of South Africa. There were reports, though not substantiated, linking the Pakistani skipper, Imran Khan, and Qasim Omer, with doping. Even stars like Wasim Akram, Waquar Younis, Mushtaq Ahmed and Aquib Javed were accused during the tour of West Indies in 1993, but a follow up was not done seriously in the interest of completing the tour. In West Indies, the former wicket-keeper, David Murray, even served a jail term for possession of drugs.

In what way Shane Warne's story will unfold in the coming weeks is not easy to guess. The Aussies are clearly embarrassed by the event and may well feel that it has dented their national pride as a country known for its sporting ethos and character. Critics of the cricketer demand that he should be banned according to the rules governing such cases of doping — a suspension for two years — but his admirers are in disbelief.

More than the Australian Cricket Board, the responsibility cast on the ICC is greater at this juncture. The ICC should not only design punishment, but also acquire the will to enforce it without any fear or favour. What the ICC needs now is the full support and co-operation of the constituent units, each one of whom must be vigilant to prevent doping in any form entering the system at any level. Failure to do so is a prescription to the ruination of what is still called a gentleman's game.