Drug testing has been part of international events for years, but the revelation of Shane Warne being unable to take part in the World Cup is the first time at the international level that this has happened. It is a debatable point whether the substance Shane took is a performance-enhancing drug.
It is also debatable what effect drugs can have on cricket; indeed a calming drug is probably more beneficial than anything. I remember Alan Knott have two spoonfuls of milk of magnesia, which he said helped to calm his nerves.
In athletics and swimming, where people have to gain the edge by being faster than everyone else or stronger, there is a need to control the use of drugs. However, when it comes to cricket, it is how you perform the skills of the game that is paramount. I am not saying there should not be drug testing, as there are drugs in the market that can clear the mind and make decision-making better. The point I make is that the list of banned substances should take into account the parameters of the sport.
My initial reaction is one of real disappointment that I will not be able to see Shane Warne play. He is without doubt the greatest leg-spinner that the world has ever seen. Whatever the tests prove, or don't prove, it is a tragedy for cricket. I take my hat off to the Australian board, which has come clean, and also to Shane Warne, who has admitted that he took a banned substance. It would seem that he only has the results of the 'A' sample and the second or 'B' sample is still to follow. If he is cleared, he may well be able to fly back.
This World Cup is beginning to resemble a good soap opera. The Shane Warne incident, Jonty Rhodes's exit due to a broken hand, Rashid Latif swearing at Adam Gilchrist, and now Rashid wanting to sue Gilchrist (come now children settle down!!), England refusing to go to Zimbabwe for safety reasons, while, ironically, Heathrow airport is surrounded by a ring of steel because of a proposed terrorist attack, New Zealand turning down a visit to Kenya, Allan Donald being rested/dropped against Kenya and more...
It is becoming difficult to talk about the actual game, the tactics, the fantastic performance of the Canadians against Bangladesh; Holland bowling out India for 204; the superb hundred of Andrew Symonds against Pakistan; the excellent umpiring of David Shepherd, controlling what might have been a nasty situation when Waqar Younis bowled the second of two beamers. There has been plenty of great cricket to watch.
I cannot subscribe to the hounding of Allan Donald. Some of the newspaper comments are worthy only of the fish and chips that will be put in them later. One bad performance does not make him a bad bowler and I dare say he will be lauded for a performance or two before the World Cup is over.
I was fortunate to be at Kingsmead when Canada won, and to witness the scenes in the dressing room afterwards, and to see the graciousness in defeat of the Bangladesh manager, who wished the Canadians well. It was a special performance and Canada's first win in the World Cup. Holland's performance too was beyond expectations against the much-vaunted Indian batting line-up. In between Namibia and Kenya have suffered but it is good that they are competing.
What is very noticeable is that scoring runs late in the innings seems to be very easy. The kookaburra ball has either remained hard, or the batting team has managed to change it at the crucial period. This will make tactics pretty clear for all the teams. The pitches, too, look excellent and batsman-friendly, so the prospect of high scoring games seems to be on the cards.
Bowlers will have to find methods of making the ball move laterally and it will be interesting to see how the experts of reverse swing, Pakistan, make the ball deviate in the air late in the innings. Wasim Akram is a past master at this skill. I believe variation will be the key. Australia too have set their stall by wanting to bowl out the opposition as quickly as they can so that if the opposition are to survive 50 overs it is a continual struggle of survival.
The heatwave that South Africa has, and still is experiencing, will also test the fitness levels of all the teams. Sanath Jayasuriya suffered cramps in Bloemfontein and the back-up teams will be attempting to keep the players hydrated. As the tournament progresses teams like Australia and England, who have been playing a lot of cricket, will have their stamina tested. It was noticeable that Australia began to suffer fatigue-related injuries towards the end of the VB series.
Recently, at the World Science for Cricket Congress at the Spier wine estate just outside Stellenbosch, there was much discussion on the use of technology. Already there have been some borderline decisions and umpires are still under the cosh when the replays start. It is inevitable that one umpire is going to make a decision that will create controversy and I believe that the sooner cricket goes the whole hog to embrace Hawkeye and the Snickometer, the more honest cricketers will become.
For example, did Jayasuriya nick the ball against New Zealand? The TV pictures were not conclusive and the famous UK Channel 4 Snickometer is not in use. The umpire could not tell and gave the benefit of the doubt. New Zealand were batted out of the game!
However, it is common knowledge that very few batsman walk these days even if they know they have hit the ball, and while this is nothing new, the attitude towards walking has changed. I would like to see the introduction of the snickometer in all televised international games. It can genuinely distinguish between different sounds. Umpires could be trained to read the differences, combined with the stump microphone noises and the TV replays, and could come to a very accurate decision, far more accurate than, in fact, the naked eye and ear. In time, I suspect that if the batter does not feel he can get away with it, he just might start walking!
My own view is that the technology available is generally more accurate than the human eye and hearing. I think it would benefit cricket to go the whole hog. This is certainly one World Cup not to miss!