As the cases of Shah and Perera show, cricket must stay vigilant on doping — talking points

Doping in cricket, the retirement of Brendon McCullum, Osman Samiuddin offers his take on the biggest talking points from the world of cricket.

Yasir Shah has been provisionally suspended bu the ICC after a sample tested positive for a banned substance. Kamran Jebreili / AP Photo
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Doping in cricket, the retirement of Brendon McCullum, Osman Samiuddin offers his take on the biggest talking points from the world of cricket.

Cricket and doping

By and large, cricket has no deep problem with use of performance-enhancing drugs. There have been cases, of course, most infamously those of Mohammed Asif and Shoaib Akhtar, or Shane Warne. And there is a fair stock of cases over recreational drug use.

But the sport is not a dope-free zone, as the case of Yasir Shah, and the Sri Lanka wicketkeeper-batsman Kusal Perera a little before him, makes clear. Yasir and Perera tested positive for banned substances in random tests conducted by the International Cricket Council (ICC).

Both are under provisional suspension and, according to reports on Christmas Day, the results of Perera’s ‘B’ sample matched those of his positive ‘A’ sample. It could, at worst, mean a four-year ban. Ultimately, Yasir could also face similar punishment. Both cases highlight the need for cricket to remain vigilant.

Farewell Brendon

Since becoming New Zealand captain, Brendon McCullum has done things very much his own way. No captains are alike, but McCullum is perhaps more unlike others than any recent captain.

So it was both surprising and, actually, not so surprising when he announced this week, out of the blue, that the home series against Australia in February 2016 will be his last in international cricket. At 34, and with a record 100th consecutive Tests since debut approaching, McCullum was never going to be around for much longer. His all-action style at the crease and especially in the field is hard to sustain.

Gallery: Mohammad Amir returns to Pakistan cricket fold — in pictures

But to go before the World Twenty20 in March in India was surprising. McCullum is more than just a T20 basher (if there even is such a thing), but he remains indelibly associated with the format after that landscape-changing hundred in the first IPL game ever. That, and maybe a world title, would have been a fitting end, as much as the one he craves in front of a home crowd.

The PCB op-ed

The news release was subjected — ominously — “Muhammad (sic) Amir — Re-integration”. It came from the Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) and, well, its purpose initially was unclear.

It was laying out the entire case, point by point, for why it was allowing him back — gradually — into the national fold.

It cited other athletes who had cheated and been allowed to return, even arguing that Islam calls for forgiveness in such cases. It was as good as an op-ed.

It became clear why they felt the need to explain when Mohammed Hafeez and Azhar Ali refused to attend the national team training camp specifically because Amir would be present.

Hafeez has been a long-time objector to Amir’s return. Azhar, the ODI captain, was a new one.

Eventually the players agreed to attend, reportedly after more Amir apologies and a talking-to from the PCB chairman. It is clear, though, that this issue is far from over and will continue to fester for a while. Expect more strange PCB news releases.

Talking points: Amla form, Steyn comeback and attitude of England batsmen will determine series

Last week’s results

New Zealand vs Sri Lanka ODI series

1st ODI — New Zealand won by seven wickets

New Zealand vs Sri Lanka Test series

2nd Test — New Zealand won by five wickets (winning series 2-0)

Afghanistan vs Zimbabwe ODI series

1st ODI — Afghanistan won by 49 runs

Game of the week — Afghanistan v Zimbabwe

It might not be attracting as much attention as some of the other international cricket on at the moment. But Zimbabwe’s ODI tour of Afghanistan, in the UAE, could be an excellent one to keep an eye on. On Friday in Sharjah, Afghanistan pulled off an outstanding result, defending a meagre 131 comfortably in the end.

Player of the week — Matt Henry

With Tim Southee, Trent Boult, Adam Milne, Mitchell McClenaghan and Doug Bracewell around, New Zealand’s current deep stock of fast bowling riches means that Matt Henry often goes under the radar. Not this week: he was front and centre in sparking a collapse that saw Sri Lanka fall to 27-5 in their first ODI.

Rankings (ODI batsmen)

1 — AB de Villiers (SA)

2 — Virat Kohli (Ind)

3 — Kane Williamson (NZ)

4 — Tillakaratne Dilshan (SL)

5 — Hashim Amla (SA)

6 — MS Dhoni (Ind)

7 — Shikhar Dhawan (Ind)

8 — Ross Taylor (NZ)

9 — Glenn Maxwell (Aus)

10 — Quinton de Kock (SA)

This week

New Zealand vs Sri Lanka ODI series

2nd ODI — Monday

3rd ODI — Thursday

4th ODI — Saturday

South Africa v England Test series

2nd Test — From Saturday

Afghanistan v Zimbabwe ODI series

2nd ODI — Tuesday

3rd ODI — Saturday

Match-up of the week

Afghanistan’s first win over Zimbabwe was sensational in its defence of a small target. Zimbabwe have generally improved as an ODI side over the last year, but Afghanistan are looking hungry every time they play. A series win here would be a massive result.

Player to watch

Brendon McCullum does not need an invitation to attack. That is standard setting. But now that he is leaving the game soon, it might free him up even more. His 25-ball 55 in the first ODI against Sri Lanka was spectacular and there may be more in a similar vein.

Stat of the week

7: The number of wickets Australia have lost in the Test series against the West Indies so far. They have only batted two innings in two Tests and much of their lower-middle order has not even had a bat. They could play a whole series without batting a second innings.

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